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100 Reps Back Breaching Study

by Associated Press
Lewiston Tribune, November 7, 2003

Bill co-sponsored by McDermott finds 99 other supporters

BOISE -- Salmon advocates praised members of the U.S. House Thursday for supporting new studies into breaching four lower Snake River dams to boost fish migrations. Breaching is the term for breaking a dam down to let water flow through.

The number of House members backing the bipartisan Salmon Planning Act hit 100. The measure was introduced by Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and Thomas Petri, R-Wis.

The Save Our Wild Salmon coalition contends the only way to finally preserve the wild fish runs is to restore the natural flow through the four lower Snake River dams in eastern Washington state.

The bill authorizes removal of the four dams if that is determined as the best way to revitalize the runs.

The congressional support for the salmon act comes on the heels of an Oct. 10 letter from 118 House members urging President Bush to consider "all scientifically credible options," including dam removal, as his administration draws up a new salmon plan.

That letter angered Idaho water users, who fear salmon recovery efforts could draw much of the water on the upper Snake and pull 2 million acres of eastern Idaho farmland out of production.

Those water users have been in negotiation with environmental groups, which announced in August their intent to file suit unless the operation of upper Snake reservoirs was re-evaluated.

Also Thursday, the Idaho Department of Water Resources reported that the water supply outlook for dams on the upper Snake River is grim heading into winter.

In mid-October, that system of upriver dams held the lowest amount of storage water ever recorded.

On Oct. 11, the reservoirs on the upper Snake held 385,000 acre-feet of storage water, 9 percent of their total capacity of 4.3 million acre-feet. The previous record was 1977, when only 386,000 acre-feet remained.

Nearly half the carry-over is in Idaho's Henry's Lake and Wyoming's Jackson Lake.

The rest is spread across the system.

Water Resources officials said long-range weather forecasts are not optimistic for above-average snowfall to refill those reservoirs before next year's irrigation season.

Based on existing conditions that included limited flows out of the reservoirs, water in storage is increasing by just 8,500 acre-feet a day since the official end of the irrigation season last week.

At that rate, the dams would only be holding back about 1.5 million acre-feet on April 1, just 36 percent of capacity.

That figure would virtually guarantee severe irrigation water shortages during the 2004 irrigation season, state officials said in a statement.

Meanwhile, leaders of a coalition of water users in Idaho warned that legal maneuvering by environmentalists threaten efforts to maintain state sovereignty over Idaho water.

Several conservation groups asked a federal judge in Portland, Ore., to include operation of the dams on the Upper Snake River in Idaho in the overall legal debate over how to preserve and revitalize Northwest salmon runs.

Associated Press
100 Reps Back Breaching Study
Lewiston Tribune, November 7, 2003

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