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Testimony of Norman M. Semanko
Idaho Water Users Association

9/14/00 - Delivered before the Committee on Environment and Public
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works

Mr. Chairman, my name is Norm Semanko and I serve as the Executive Director and General Counsel for the Idaho Water Users Association. The Idaho Water Users Association was formed in 1938 and represents about 300 canal companies, irrigation districts, water districts, agri-business and professional organizations, municipal and public water suppliers, and others. We appreciate the opportunity to testify before you today and thank you for the invitation.

We understand the focus of this hearing to be two-fold: (1) an examination of the science upon which federal officials are relying in writing draft salmon recovery documents for the Pacific Northwest; and (2) a determination of the extent to which the Federal Caucus of agencies has collaborated with states, tribes and interest groups while writing these draft documents. I will address each of these broad issues.

1. The Science Reveals that Flow Augmentation is a Failed Experiment.

Idaho water users necessarily focus their attention on the specific set of issues pertaining to flow augmentation from the Upper Snake River in Idaho. While the twelve species of salmon and steelhead that are listed under the Endangered Species Act exist only downstream of the Upper Snake River, our part of the state has been required to contribute almost half a million acre-feet of water each year toward flow augmentation during the migration season of the salmon. The National Marine Fisheries Service continues to call upon Idaho to supply this -- and additional water -- from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs in the draft Biological Opinion released on July 27, 2000. This is water taken directly from reservoirs which Idaho irrigators and other water users have used and relied upon for most of the past century.

Mr. Chairman, the science is in on this issue and it clearly demonstrates that flow augmentation using water from the Upper Snake River Basin is a failed experiment. The National Marine Fisheries Service's continued reliance upon flow augmentation is without adequate scientific support and needs to be discarded from future Pacific Northwest salmon recovery efforts.

In a recent "white paper" on flow augmentation, the federal government's own scientists have indicated that flow augmentation does not work. Additional research on the topic by others, including the State of Idaho and our own scientists and researchers, yields the same results. This information has been well documented and provided on several occasions to the National Marines Fisheries Service and other federal agencies involved in salmon recovery. Many examples can be provided to demonstrate how futile the flow augmentation experiment has been. Most astounding, perhaps, is the hydrologic fact that adding even increased amounts of flow augmentation to the lower Snake River would only increase the velocity of the water by one-tenth of one-mile per hour. For this vain effort, we are spending taxpayer dollars and putting our economy and way-of-life at risk. To date, this information has been ignored by political decisionmakers in the Clinton Administration who find it more expedient to continue this failed program than to discontinue it.

Idaho water users have participated in this experiment for the past ten years, waiting for proof that flow augmentation using Idaho's precious water would provide some meaningful benefit to the salmon. We are still waiting.

To their credit, the Governors of the four Northwest states recently called upon the National Marine Fisheries Service to document the alleged benefits of flow augmentation. Draft amendments to the Northwest Power Planning Council's Fish and Wildlife Program call for the same documentation, including a determination of the precise attributes of flow augmentation that provide any meaningful benefit to the listed species. We are proud of Idaho Governor Kempthorne's leadership role in taking this first important step toward debunking the myth that flow augmentation using Idaho irrigation water can somehow save the fish. We know that it cannot.

Mr. Chairman, we will be providing detailed comments to the National Marines Fisheries Service regarding both the draft Biological Opinion and the draft Basinwide Salmon Recovery Strategy. We plan to provide a copy of those comments to your Subcommittee. In preparing those comments, we have been able to draw the following conclusions based on the science that currently exists:

1. Flow alteration from the Upper Snake River Bureau of Reclamation projects, and operation and maintenance of these projects, has not caused jeopardy to the listed species or resulted in any direct or incidental take of the species;

2. Unnecessary and repetitive consultations have been held regarding the Upper Snake River projects;

3. The flow-survival hypothesis used in the draft Biological Opinion is unfounded;

4. The flow targets which have been set in the Lower Snake and Columbia Rivers are unreasonable, unfounded and, in most cases, unachievable;

5. Flow augmentation using Idaho water has not aided in conservation or recovery of the listed species and may actually be harming the fish;

6. Continuation of the flow augmentation program at current or increased levels threatens to dry up hundreds of thousands of acres of Idaho farmland and cost thousands of agricultural jobs; and

7. Other measures exist which, if adopted and implemented, would provide a more certain benefit for the listed species.

A few of these points deserve additional discussion and illustration.

Flows from the Upper Snake River have slightly increased over the past 85 years, especially during the critical summer months, despite irrigation development in southern Idaho and the construction of the Upper Snake Bureau of Reclamation projects. The scientific documentation for these conclusions is summarized in Figures 1 through 6, which are included in my prepared statement. This development and construction occurred long before the populations of the listed species declined to endangered or threatened levels. Thus, development in the Upper Snake did not alter flows resulting in jeopardy to the listed species or adverse effects on their habitat.

There is no scientific foundation for conclusions in the Draft BiOp that Upper Snake flow augmentation will provide biological benefits for the listed species. The purported flow survival relationship for fall chinook above Lower Granite is unfounded and there is evidence that flow augmentation from the Upper Snake BOR projects is actually detrimental to the fish, particularly because of the temperature of the water provided from the Upper Snake River. Likewise, there are no demonstrated benefits from flow augmentation through the hydropower system, in the estuary, or in the ocean plume for any of the listed species. The relatively miniscule contribution that flow augmentation makes toward the overall flow of the Snake and Columbia Rivers is documented in Figure 7 of my prepared statement.

Flow augmentation from the Upper Snake has previously been an interim or experimental measure aimed at mitigating the jeopardy and incidental take caused by the FRCPS. There is no basis for the new conclusion in the Draft BiOp that the Upper Snake BOR projects cause jeopardy, with or without providing 427 kaf of flow augmentation. Likewise, there is no basis for the implication in the Draft BiOp that the Upper Snake BOR projects incidentally take listed species.

Because operation of the Upper Snake BOR projects does not cause jeopardy, there is no basis for the reasonable and prudent alternatives (RPAs) for these projects identified in the Draft BiOp. Specifically, the flow targets established for the mainstem are unreasonable and unfounded. Flow augmentation using 427 kaf of more water is unnecessary and illegal, especially with respect to the use of powerhead space to firm supplies. The requirement for the BOR to consult on uncontracted space does not fully comport with federal and state law and the proposed consultations are too narrow. Pursuit of increased water conservation and reduction of so-called unauthorized uses in the Upper Snake will not increase streamflow. Finally, additional water should not be sought from the Upper Snake. The additional water is not needed, and a state law mechanism for providing that water downstream is unlikely.

In its own consultations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized that the Upper Snake River projects were recently consulted on, culminating in a biological opinion during 1999. Since nothing has change in the Bureau or Reclamation's operations, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that additional consultation on the Upper Snake projects is not required. As a result, the Upper Snake projects are not included in the Service's draft 2000 biological opinion. Given the time and effort put into the previous consultation, this is the only approach that makes practical and legal sense. For reasons inexplicable to us, the National Marine Fisheries Service has not followed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's lead. Although the NMFS BiOp on the Upper Snake projects was completed just last December, the agency chose to include a reexamination of the projects in the 2000 BiOp, despite the fact that there has been no change in the proposed operations. This repetitive consultation is uncalled for.

Harvest reforms can provide significant benefit to the listed species, especially Snake River fall chinook. The RPAs listed for harvest in the Draft BiOp should be revised to require these reforms.

In summary, the Idaho Water Users Association opposes the inclusion of flow augmentation using 427,000 acre-feet or more water from the Upper Snake River as an RPA. There is no basis for these measures and the Draft BiOp should be revised to eliminate Upper Snake River flow augmentation because these BOR projects do not jeopardize the listed species or adversely modify their habitat. Moreover, flow augmentation does not provide significant biological or physical benefits to the listed species.

Mr. Chairman, by presenting this information, I hope that we have given you some idea of the degree to which the science used by the federal agencies fails to support the conclusions regarding flow augmentation in the draft salmon recovery documents. We would appreciate anything that you and the Subcommittee can do to bring this matter to the attention of the federal agencies.

2. The Federal Caucus has Failed to Meaningfully Collaborate on its Draft Salmon Recovery Documents.

From our perspective, the federal agencies involved in salmon recovery -- particularly the National Marine Fisheries Service -- have failed to collaborate with interest groups such as ours in drafting these important documents. In fact, we have taken virtually every opportunity to provide detailed, written comments to NMFS on draft documents and analyses. To date, our concerns have been ignored. In some cases, they have not been acknowledged at all.

Mr. Chairman, if the goal is to develop a regional plan by consensus, the federal agencies have failed miserably. Anything that this Subcommittee can do to correct this situation would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today. I am glad to answer any questions or provide any additional information to the Subcommittee.

Norman M. Semanko, Idaho Water Users Association
Testimony of Norman M. Semanko
Committee on Environment and Public, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works - September 14, 2000

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