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Irrigation District Seeks a Truce

by Associated Press
Spokesman Review, June 6, 2000

Methow panel agrees to NMFS decree

A small Washington state irrigation district has been battling the National Marine Fisheries Service over what the federal agency calls some of the most endangered fish in the Columbia River Basin.

Methow Valley Irrigation District directors late Monday night approved a consent decree with the NMFS for diverting water from the Methow and Twisp rivers in north-central Washington.

"We signed it tonight and forwarded it to NMFS," said Vaughn Jolley, chairman of the district's board.

The NMFS last week sued the district, alleging its diversion dam is killing salmon and steelhead protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The consent decree called for slower diversion velocities for the irrigation water and improved fish screens in the district's ditches.

By accepting the decree, the district may avoid paying a pending $55,000 fine for violating the Endangered Species Act.

But the government has said that even if the irrigation district's directors approved the consent decree, the government may no longer be willing to accept it.

The dispute is similar to one that has raged for years in Grants Pass, Ore., where irrigation district customers this year voted to remove a dam which federal officials and environmentalists say is harmful to fish.

U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle has scheduled a hearing today in Yakima to determine whether to continue with a government request for a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction against the Methow irrigation district.

The federal agency wants the irrigation district to switch to wells and pressurized pipelines.

The judge could order the district to "dewater" its ditches -- about four feet wide and a foot deep -- that irrigate pastures, lawns and hobby farms in the scenic Methow Valley below Twisp.

"We think it's killing some of the most endangered fish in the Columbia River Basin," NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman said Monday from Seattle. "The solution is fairly simple and won't cost the district anything: a conversion from open ditches that are losing 80 percent of their water through leakage to a more modern system of wells and pressurized pipes."

Bonneville Power Administration and the state Department of Ecology have agreed to foot the estimated $5 million the changeover would cost.

"God knows, when it comes to salmon, we need to make all the progress we can," Gorman said. "Within 25 to 30 years, the majority of salmon stocks in the Pacific Northwest will be virtually extinct, and we won't be able to bring them back at all."

Associated Press
Irrigation District Seeks a Truce
Spokesman Review, June 6, 2000

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