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Irrigators Support No Water Increase

by Associated Press
Spokesman Review, November 20, 2002

Power planning council hears from Burley, Boise

BOISE -- Irrigators and power utilities support reducing spring water releases from the upper Snake River intended to foster salmon recovery.

But advocates for endangered salmon and steelhead say that until the four lower Snake River dams are breached, additional water must be allowed to flow in mainstream rivers to keep fish stocks at viable levels.

The Northwest Power Planning Council took comments Monday and Tuesday at hearings in Burley and Boise.

The council, which guides the Columbia River Basin fish and hydropower policy, no longer endorses sending 1 million acre-feet of water from the Upper Snake River in eastern Idaho as a flow augmentation for the fish.

Releasing that much water downstream would put thousands of acres of farmland out of production and bump electric rates higher, said water users testifying at hearings in Burley and Boise.

The panel says their reversal is based on the latest research that questions whether releasing more water downriver in the spring will increase survival rates of juvenile salmon headed to the ocean.

Twin Falls Canal Co. General Manager Vince Alberdi said Monday that the potential reduction of spring water releases is "probably the best Christmas present we can get in the Magic Valley."

Pat Ford, executive director of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition in Boise, said at Tuesday's hearing in Boise that his organization has always agreed that flow augmentation in the mainstream rivers would save endangered salmon stocks -- only breaching the four lower Snake River dams would achieve that.

"But in the absence of lower Snake River dam removal, additional flows in the Snake River are needed to help retard the downward spiral of endangered salmon and steelhead," he said. "It is what we have left to help these fish survive until we can do what is really required."

Since the mid-1990s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has leased up to 427,000 acre-feet of water a year from an Idaho water bank to meet flow augmentation recommendations.

The planning council also earlier recommended releasing an additional 1 million acre-feet to flush juvenile salmon to the ocean in the spring, if the water could be found.

It never happened. Now the council is proposing to remove the 1 million-acre-feet recommendation altogether.

The prospect of sending so much water downstream has caused "absolute consternation" among user groups, Idaho Water Resources Department spokesman Dick Larsen said.

"That's like taking American Falls Reservoir out of the system," Larsen said.

Other proposed changes include shifting when flow augmentation releases are made to better manage water for winter power generation and resident fish such as bull trout or sturgeon.

Associated Press
Irrigators Support No Water Increase
Spokesman Review, November 20, 2002

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