State to Interveneby Sarah Cooke, Associated Press
HELENA -- Montana issued a late plea Wednesday to join a complex lawsuit over salmon recovery efforts in the Columbia Basin.
A federal appeals court this summer upheld a lower court's order demanding the government spill water over five basin dams to help young salmon migrating to the Pacific. The increased water flows are slated to last through August, with negotiations for a long-term plan under way.
Montana wants in on those negotiations, citing a need to protect the state's wildlife and other natural resources and shield its utility customers from higher prices.
State officials filed a motion to intervene in the case Wednesday, said Bruce Measure, a Montana member of the four-state Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
Montana argues that higher flows in the Columbia Basin will inevitably cause water shortages at northwestern Montana's Libby and Hungry Horse dams, whose Lake Koocanusa and Hungry Horse reservoirs feed into the basin.
Erratic reservoir levels could also hurt recreation opportunities and reverse gains the state has made in protecting native bull trout, sturgeon and westslope cutthroat trout in the Flathead and Kootenai river drainages, Gov. Brian Schweitzer said.
"Montana is always hesitant to jump head first into a lawsuit," he said. "However, the time has come to make sure that the interests of the people of Montana are heard."
The Bush administration has called the lower court's order an "untested experiment," and "micromanaging the Columbia River." Environmentalists claim the government hasn't been meeting its obligations to protect the threatened salmon. Some environmentalists hope to eventually have four of the affected dams in southeastern Washington closed.
The Bonneville Power Administration, which sells electricity generated by the dams, has estimated the order will cost $67 million in lost revenue, which could be borne by utility customers in Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington.
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