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Regional Groups Join Water Users

by Associated Press
Lewiston Tribune, October 24, 2003

Port of Lewiston, local chambers and grass growers
sign up in fight over upper Snake River water

BOISE -- A coalition of about 20 Idaho water user groups say another 15 organizations have joined up against what they consider is an environmentalist grab for upper Snake River water.

The Coalition for Idaho Water Thursday announced new members. They include the Idaho Association of Counties and the Association of Idaho Cities. The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, Port of Lewiston and Idaho Irrigation Equipment Association also joined.

Other new members are the Lewiston and Clarkston chambers of commerce, Amalgamated Sugar Co., Idaho Bean Commission, Food Producers of Idaho, Idaho State Grange, Idaho Weed Control Association, Nez Perce Prairie Grass Growers Association, Wilder Farm Labor Committee, Idaho Alfalfa and Clover Seed Growers Association, and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association.

"It's particularly encouraging to see associations of local governments from all over Idaho recognize the severe economic threat posed by recent warnings of lawsuits that could dry up 2 million acres of productive farmland," said Norman Semanko, executive director of the Idaho Water Users Association, another member of the coalition.

Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Conservation League, American Rivers and the National Wildlife Federation notified Interior Secretary Gale Norton Aug. 22 they would file suit in 60 days unless the operation of 10 dams and reservoirs on the upper Snake in Idaho was re-evaluated to avoid harm to imperiled salmon and steelhead.

But, following negotiations with the water users and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, the conservation groups backed off their intent to sue to spur further discussions and talk with their supporters.

Semanko's consortium also reacted angrily to an Oct. 14 letter to President Bush from 118 bipartisan members of Congress who want the administration to consider every credible way to save wild salmon -- including breaching four lower Snake River dams.

Semanko said the city and county associations recognize local governments do not need to lose more of their property tax bases because of farm land without water. He said the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry endorsement is significant.

"The most influential business group in the state recognizes the critical contribution irrigated agriculture makes in Idaho, and the extended impact that the dry-up would have on industry and other sectors of our economy," he said.

Beginning in the early 1990s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation leased water from the upper Snake River, providing 427,000 acre-feet as flow augmentation to help the migrating fish through the lower Snake River dams. But with the long-running drought, the government-set river flow targets have gone unmet the past three years.

Semanko has labeled that flow augmentation a "failed experiment."

The conservationists contend flow augmentation would be unnecessary if the four lower Snake River dams were breached. But that option is unpalatable to Idaho leaders who instead favor projects such as improving habitat in spawning areas.

Associated Press
Regional Groups Join Water Users
Lewiston Tribune, October 24, 2003

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