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Commentaries and editorials

Straight from the Playbook

by Norm Semanko
Idaho Falls Post Register, November 12, 2003

Asking eastern Idaho farmers to pick
between their irrigation water or four dams on the lower Snake River (in Washington)
is a false choice that ignores real progress in salmon recovery

A lone salmon J. Robb Brady makes some pretty strong points in his editorial warning to Idaho irrigators. Unfortunately, he raises them just the way the environmental community apparently wrote them. His painful regurgitation of flawed scientific assumptions was hard enough to read. It read like an Idaho Rivers United press release - long on rhetoric but devoid of fact.

But what boggles the mind is his call for Idaho to simply surrender state sovereignty over its water. Excuse me, but did I read his column - Idaho "needs pragmatic leadership that can objectively determine how best to protect eastern Idaho water" - correctly? In other words, let's be pragmatic regardless of the facts; let's let Idaho's fortunes be dictated by the whim of 118 members of Congress, the vast majority of whom have never set foot in our state and have absolutely no concept of the issues that are germane to Idaho water. Not a good idea.

Pragmatic leadership in Brady's book apparently means Idaho should follow the path of least resistance; never mind whether it's the right thing to do. Does he really believe we should turn control of our destiny over to the extremist de jure that threatens us? Are fiercely independent Idahoans really ready to give up control of their water to the environmental extremists or the federal government? I don't think so.

His argument centers on the idea that Idaho should now support removing four dams on the lower Snake River as the only way to avoid upper Snake River water from being taken for flow augmentation down river. That "hold Idaho water hostage" mentality is exactly the approach the environmental community takes in bringing legal threats to force the taking of Idaho's water. Brady says the "question for eastern Idaho irrigators is why they defend the lower Snake River dams." That idea comes straight out of the environmental extremist playbook. It is this false "either or" reasoning that has consistently been the barrier that prevents Idaho from finding a meaningful and workable solution to the salmon recovery issue. It is also the kind of thinking that puts Idaho's water and its economy at great risk. Does Brady really think removing dams or draining Idaho reservoirs is the solution? He blows right past the fact that the salmon runs have been increasing steadily in the past several years. He conveniently ignores the fact that irrigators have willingly cooperated in providing as much as 427,000 acre feet of water for flow augmentation each year (see fishflow.htm), even though it provides no apparent benefit to the fish.

Brady repeats the environmentalists' myth that taking out the dams will restore the river to its original, natural state and that the resulting flow levels will magically bring back the historic levels of returning salmon - all without a demand for even one drop of Idaho water. Right. He conveniently ignores the fact that there is not enough water in the entire Snake River system to meet the down-river flow targets the environmentalists say are required. How soon he seems to have forgotten the economic devastation caused to the Klamath Basin two years ago. Perhaps the more appropriate question is why Brady and his newspaper choose to ignore the facts and can find no valid reason to defend the livelihood of irrigators and communities throughout eastern Idaho. Brady says the Idaho Water Users Association needs to pull its head out of the sand and go along before Congress imposes a "clumsy solution."

A far better solution would be for Mr. Brady to take his head out of the environmentalists' playbook long enough to remember where he lives.

by Norm Semanko, executive director and general counsel of the Idaho Water Users Association.
Straight from the Playbook
Post Register, November 12, 2003

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