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Idahoans Mixed About Outcome of Dam Case

by Rocky Barker
Idaho Statesman, November 30, 2009

Norm Semanko of the Coalition for Idaho Water hopes last week's praise of the White House's dam and salmon plan by a judge in Portland means the 19-year effort by Idahoans to protect their water from a federal takeover is nearly over.

And Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United, hopes U.S. District Judge James Redden isn't ready to relieve the pressure that has forced the Pacific Northwest to change how it operates hydro dams, and has kept salmon from going extinct.

Both men are crossing their fingers that Redden will uphold their ideals as an Endangered Species Act debate helping to shape the Northwest gets close to wrapping up.

Semanko hopes that Idaho may soon be rewarded for its commitment to send 487,000 acre feet of water from southern Idaho reservoirs to help salmon migration under a water rights agreement with the Nez Perce Tribe. The 2005 deal included other measures, such as funding to improve salmon habitat in tributaries like the Lemhi and Pahsimeroi.

Scientists have suggested sending more of the Snake River's warm water downstream in the late summer and fall would be detrimental to salmon.

And in court last week, attorneys for the two Indian tribes still suing the federal government, the Nez Perce and the Spokane, told Redden more Idaho water wasn't needed.

That was proof for Semanko that the collaborative negotiations that led to the Nez Perce agreement have paid off for Idaho's water users.

Semanko's coalition of Idaho interests includes the Port of Lewiston, which would be unable to ship grain and other freight downriver to the Pacific if the four Washington dams were removed.

The Obama plan returned the idea of breaching the dams to the table, but wouldn't even allow preparations to begin until upriver salmon stock numbers get nearly as bad as they were in 1995.

If Redden keeps this trigger in place, Sedivy worries that by the time this last resort measure is taken, it would be too late. The plan as it sits also would stop spilling water to aid migration, instead relying on fish slides developed to help divert the salmon away from turbines.

"They still do not offer adequate contingency plans," Sedivy said.

Redden told federal officials to go through another series of legal procedures to add the contingency plans to the Bush administration's "biological opinion" to make it legal. He said he would send them a follow-up letter with his view of other changes that might be necessary to make it legal.

How major those changes will be will determine whether the Obama administration believes it can make them and resubmit the plan, or whether Redden is forced to issue an order to complete the process. Redden made it clear he wants to get it done.

But the plan will only be in place for 10 years, and while the scientists who reviewed it endorsed it, they also said that issues like global warming leave a lot of uncertainty to address.

Rocky Barker
Idahoans Mixed About Outcome of Dam Case
Idaho Statesman, November 30, 2009

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