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State Seeks Unity on Dworshak Proposals

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, October 13, 2000

Residents, officials say feds will respect a unified position more

OROFINO -- Officials from the Idaho Department of Water Resources and Orofino locals say unification is the key to making sure the fedderal government considers their needs in the operation of Dworshak Reservoir.

That was the message at a meeting and hearing in Orofino Thursday to review and take comment on the state's draft operation plan for the reservoir.

"Coming together as a group, I think we are getting our point across," said Mayor Joe Pippenger.

Residents are concerned because salmon-friendly operation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project since 1992 has cost the community at least $450,000 per year in lost recreation spending.

The federal government has relied on spring and summer drawdowns at the reservoir to both flush juvenile salmon to the ocean and to cool the Snake River during the summer months.

It's the summer drawdowns that have been particularly painful. The reservoir is lowered to a level of 80 feet below full pool between July 1 and the end of August -- the same time people want to use the reservoir for boating, camping and fishing.

According to figures from the corps, the drawdowns have reduced recreational visits between 20 and 25 percent. However, those at the meeting said the impact has been more severe.

"I've personally watched it and it's much more than 25 percent," said Pippenger.

The draft plan was developed by a local committee and the staff of the Water Resources Department. Its center point is to urge the corps to adopt what is called an Integrated Rule Curve, being developed by the Nez Perce Tribe with input from the state.

The rule curve seeks to have issues such as recreation, the needs of resident and anadromous fisheries, wildlife and commercial navigation of the reservoir given equal weight with flood control.

The document also urges that the state and tribe continue to issue a joint dissolved gas waiver to the corps each year for spring and summer drawdowns.

That was done for the first time this year when the state and tribe issued a conditional permit that was rejected by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Even though the permit was rejected, working together gave the state and tribe more influence in the process. The waiver is needed because the release of large volumes of water causes a buildup of gas that can be harmful to fish and violates state water quality standards. Without the waiver the corps was not able to release water as quickly as it and the National Marine Fisheries Service wanted.

The state and the Nez Perce Tribe also worked together to try to convince NMFS and the corps to leave the pool full longer and to save some water for later use in September. Those efforts were largely unsuccessful but the collaboration was key in convincing the corps not to go along with a request from NMFS, Oregon and Washington to lower the pool an additional 20 feet in September.

"I think this partnership we've started with the tribe is something that is going to continue for quite a while," said Bill Graham, chief of the water planning bureau.

The plan also calls for the state to continue to conduct modeling of the Snake and Clearwater rivers to assure water from Dworshak is used when it can be most effective.

Both the state and tribe urged the federal government to partition the summer drawdown out slowly so that 200,000 acre feet of water would be available in September to aid any juvenile fall chinook still migrating and to attract returning adults steelhead and salmon. The plea was rejected.

After the plan becomes finalized later this year it will be submitted to the Legislature for approval. If that happens, it will carry the authority of state law, according to Graham.

The plan also urges the corps to adopt the state's recommendations in its Dworshak Master Plan currently under development and asks the state's congressional delegation to help make that happen.

Eric Barker
State Seeks Unity on Dworshak Proposals
Lewiston Tribune, October 13, 2000

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