Salmon Advocates say They're Going to Courtby Dan Gallagher, Associated Press
Lewiston Tribune, December 20, 2003
BOISE -- Salmon advocates said Friday they will go to court over the effects federal dams on the upper Snake River have on migrating salmon downstream.
The filing of a formal notice to sue followed U.S. District Judge James Redden's rejection earlier in the week of a petition to include in the new salmon recovery plan the effect of those dams on migration.
But Bill Sedivy of Idaho Rivers United said the lawsuit was planned well before Redden ruled.
The judge's decision was welcomed by those on the other side of the debate.
Norm Semanko of the Coalition for Idaho Water said it confirmed "the common-sense logic that we have tried to convey to the environmentalists from the very beginning. Idaho reservoirs are not linked to the downstream federal dams, and going after Idaho water is a losing strategy."
Both sides tried to lower the rhetoric in October when they agreed to discuss resolution of their concerns under the auspices of U.S. Sen. Michael Crapo.
But suspicion continued to haunt both sides, and the talks produced nothing.
In mid-November, the irrigators filed their own 60-day notice of legal action, claiming the government had no authority to expand the salmon recovery strategy to the upper Snake River dams. Doing so could dry up millions of acres of crop land, Semanko said.
But EarthJustice attorney Steve Mashuda, representing the conservationists, said Friday that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Fisheries is still trying to determine if there is a connection between upper Snake flows and salmon survival.
Sedivy pointed out that only two endangered sockeye salmon returned to the Stanley Basin to spawn this summer, and only 2 percent of the young wild spring-summer chinook that migrated to the ocean returned to Idaho to spawn.
The conservation groups said their suit will not force the courts to divert water from agriculture to salmon recovery in 2004. But they made no promises for the following years.
Beginning in the early 1990s, the Bureau of Reclamation leased water from the upper Snake, providing 427,000 acre-feet to increase the river flow and help the migrating fish downstream. But with the long-running drought, the government's river flow targets have gone unmet the past three years.
Sedivy said the salmon advocates want the 427,000 acre-feet made available in 2004, but adds they are meeting with irrigators to find that water on a willing seller basis.
Redden ruled that fish advocates were trying to expand the scope of his May 7 order for the federal government to rewrite its blueprint for salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin. He pointed out that he had already told the advocates he did not intend to "delve into the science" of the upper Snake at this point in the case.
The conservationists picked up a new ally in the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations.
Spokesman Glen Spain said coastal fishing ports and processors from California to Alaska have endured years of restrictive fishing regulations and lost thousands of jobs because of the collapse of the Snake River salmon runs.
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