Water Group Seeks Suit Dismissalby Dave Wilkins
The Daily Astorian, March 17, 2006
An Idaho water group wants a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by salmon advocates last fall.
In a petition filed March 3 in federal district court in Portland, the Coalition for Idaho Water asked for the dismissal of a suit filed by Idaho Rivers United, American Rivers and others.
The environmental groups filed a lawsuit in September 2005 to overturn a federal operating plan for 22 irrigation reservoirs on the Upper Snake River. The suit also sought to combine the Upper Snake River dams with those downstream on the Lower Snake and Columbia rivers in one biological opinion covering endangered salmon recovery efforts.
But federal officials in charge of salmon recovery have always concluded that the Upper Snake River dams do not jeopardize listed Snake River salmon and steelhead, coalition leaders said in their petition.
Coalition officials said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has consistently issued separate biological opinions for the Federal Columbia River Power System and the Upper Snake River projects.
The administrative record, case law and the actions of Congress all demonstrate "that the Upper Snake River projects and the Federal Columbia River Power System do not constitute a single, unified federal action that requires a single biological opinion," coalition leaders said in the petition.
State, federal and Nez Perce tribe officials have also filed similar petitions seeking dismissal of the lawsuit, coalition spokesman Norm Semanko said.
"Once again, the environmentalists stand alone," Semanko said in a statement released March 8.
The suit filed by salmon advocates could also jeopardize Idaho's historic Nez Perce water agreement, Semanko said.
The 2004 agreement calls for dismissal of all tribal claims to the Snake River and provides for long-term protection for irrigation projects.
Actions such as the American Rivers lawsuit would put the Nez Perce agreement, "at tremendous risk," Semanko said.
The Nez Perce agreement recognized that the Upper Snake and Columbia river projects should be kept separate and allows any of the parties to terminate the agreement if the court rules otherwise, he said.
Idaho irrigation water is under threat from environmental groups, despite what their leaders say, Semanko said.
"Publicly they say they do not want to take Idaho's precious irrigation water while at the same time they file lawsuits asking the courts to do just that," he said.
The Idaho water coalition is made up of more than 70 organizations including irrigation districts, counties, cities, agricultural, industrial and municipal groups.
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