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Lawsuit Asks for more Water for Snake, Columbia Rivers

by Associated Press
The Oregonian, February 23, 2000

The litigation says three federal agencies have failed to meet
minimum flows needed for salmon survival

Adding another dimension to the fight over removing dams, environmentalists and commercial fishermen filed a lawsuit Tuesday demanding federal agencies increase flows in the Columbia and Snake rivers to benefit salmon at the expense of Idaho farmers.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Portland under the Endangered Species Act, the lawsuit contends that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation have failed to meet minimum flows necessary for salmon survival set by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1995. All three agencies were named as defendants.

The key to survival of young salmon migrating downriver to the ocean is river flow, the plaintiffs argue. Dams have slowed and warmed the river to the point that salmon are vulnerable to predators and disease.

The lawsuit is the latest development in a fight over whether to breach four federally owned hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River. Last week, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber came out in favor of breaching the dams, the first major political figure to do so.

Short of removing four dams to return 140 miles of the lower Snake River to free-flowing conditions, agencies would have to boost flows with hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water now allocated to farmers in Idaho for irrigation, said Glen Spain of the Pacific Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

"It puts into bold relief the two options for the Snake River," Spain said. "Either you have to remove the four dams, or you take a lot more water from Idaho than is currently being done. That could be astronomical in terms of cost to Idaho agriculture."

The Army Corps of Engineers did not immediately return a telephone call for comment.

The Fisheries Service does not comment on pending litigation, however, keeping the four lower Snake dams will require sacrifices in other areas, said spokesman Brian Gorman.

The Bureau of Reclamation has seasonally met its obligations to boost flows by 427,000 acre-feet a year by buying water from willing sellers, said agency spokeswoman Diana Cross.

Federal agencies are now reviewing a range of options for restoring dwindling populations of Columbia River salmon, 12 populations of which are on the endangered species list.

The most controversial option is a proposal to breach four dams on the lower Snake River: Lower Monumental, Little Goose, Ice Harbor and Lower Granite.

Environmentalists, Native American tribes and fishermen who support breaching argue it is the best single step that can be taken to benefit salmon in the Snake River basin. It would restore spawning habitat for fall chinook and reduce mortality for juvenile fish migrating to the ocean.

But farmers, barge operators and aluminum smelters who oppose breaching argue it would eliminate cheap barge transportation of commodities between Lewiston, Idaho, and Pasco, Wash.; lower reservoirs used for irrigation; and eliminate 5 percent of the power sold by the Bonneville Power Administration.

Associated Press
Lawsuit Asks for more Water for Snake, Columbia Rivers
The Oregonian, February 23, 2000

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