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Idaho Water Talks Have
Groups Holding Back on Litigation

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - October 17, 2003

A coalition of conservation groups that filed, and then withdrew, a notice of intent to sue the federal government over salmon and water issues in Idaho announced Oct. 10 that the notice would not be re-filed after 30 days as planned.

The announcement came as collaborative talks between the groups, state and federal governments and water user interests recessed. The discussions at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise were initiated by Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo. He said the announcement would extend efforts to collaborate, rather than litigate, salmon recovery issues.

The coalition could re-file the legal notice at any time, but said they wanted to discuss proposals made during the talks with their constituent groups. One of the attorneys for the groups, Steve Mashuda of Earthjustice, said he expected all of the parties to meet again within the next week or two.

Prior to the talks Crapo had been shuttling between the potential plaintiffs and groups representing Idaho water users -- farmers, businesses, and municipalities. The conservation groups are considering a lawsuit challenging a NOAA Fisheries' biological opinion that says Bureau of Reclamation management of storage reservoirs in the Upper Snake River do not jeopardize the survival of salmon and steelhead stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act.

"To my knowledge this is the first time in the history of Idaho that we have brought all sides to the table to begin collaborative discussions on these salmon and water issues," Crapo said following the recess of the talks. "Now we can consider proposals to build collaboration rather than litigation. This is serious and both sides are giving it serious consideration. They are sincere in their efforts."

The environmental coalition pondering the lawsuit includes Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Conservation League, American Rivers, and the National Wildlife Federation. Groups taking part in the talks included the Idaho Water Users and water coalition members that include the Idaho Farm Bureau, Potato Growers of Idaho, Idaho Grain Producers, Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, and others. Also represented were the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which was named as a defendant in the notice of intent to sue; NOAA Fisheries, representatives from Idaho's Governor and Attorney General's offices, and the Nez Perce Tribe.

Crapo said more talks would be scheduled after both sides took proposals back to their constituency groups for consideration.

"These are among the most political and complex issues in Idaho. Regarding solutions, we're not there yet, but we've only begun talking," he said.

by CBB Staff
Idaho Water Talks have Groups Holding Back on Litigation
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 17, 2003

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