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Another Summer of a Reservoir without Recreation?

by Jim Fisher, Lewiston Tribune
May 23, 2000

Anyone who thinks federal fisheries managers are requiring Northwesterners to share the sacrifice to help endangered fish runs hasn't been to Dworshak Reservoir. There, one of the Orofino area's strongest recreation magnets has been demagnetized.

The dam that created the reservoir is still there. The boater-access pocket campsites the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed along the shoreline, complete with flush toilets, are still there. And the gorgeous hillsides of the North Fork of the Clearwater River canyon are still there.

There's even a relatively new hiking trail between Dworshak State Park at Freeman Creek and Big Eddy.

All that's missing is water, or enough water to make the reservoir usable for many other than daytime anglers and hikers. The steep, muddy bathtub ring that separates the on-shore amenities from the water level also separates people along the shoreline from the water and people on the water from the shoreline.

The only exceptions are those few places where boat ramps have been extended to the depths at which the water line is kept these days. Boaters cannot get to the campsites, and hikers cannot get to the water.

It's no wonder, then, that state Sen. Marguerite McLaughlin and Rep. Chuck Cuddy would be unhappy with plans to drain the reservoir below full pool for yet another entire summer.

The state of Idaho and the Nez Perce Tribe had intended for the reservoir to be at full pool at least for the month of July. But it now appears the best they can hope for is periods during which the reservoir will be between 4 and 10 feet from full pool.

Yes, that's better than last summer, when the reservoir never approached such a level. But like most human-made reservoirs, Dworshak does not become an acceptable recreation site when the water is 10 feet below the shoreline.

There are no gently sloping beaches that just become larger when the water level goes down.

The steep hillsides that drop down to full pool level continue beyond that, only without trees and other vegetation. Instead, rock, mud and silt lie between purported shoreline and water.

What is surprising is how well the people near the reservoir have taken a policy that singles them out for a sacrifice few other Northwesterners have been forced to endure. The Washington coast is now home to once-vital sport fishing communities that are now ghost towns, but you have to travel to Dworshak to see a ghost reservoir.

Meanwhile, many upper Clearwater River residents endorse Lewiston and Clarkston's opposition to breaching the four lower Snake River dams. That is a move that might -- but is not guaranteed to -- permit Dworshak to refill.

Breaching opponents in Lewiston and Clarkston should keep their upriver neighbors in mind during the continuing dispute over salmon recovery. People at the confluence might consider themselves potential victims of fish-recovery efforts, but people who once trusted that Dworshak Reservoir would be an economic boon to their area are actual, serial victims.

Jim Fisher, is a columnist and editorial writer for the Tribune.
Another Summer of a Reservoir without Recreation?
Lewiston Tribune, May 23, 2000

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