Another Potential Lawsuit over Idaho Water:
by Bill Rudolph
A coalition of water user groups in Idaho has sent a letter to federal agencies saying they intend to sue over operation of the upper Snake River projects operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The Nov. 17 letter was a response to a move by environmental groups who filed a brief in Oregon District Court, trying to include upper Snake water issues in the hydro BiOp remand process.
In October, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo (R) tried to mediate talks between the groups, which include the National Wildlife Federation and American Rivers, and water users, hoping to head off a lawsuit the conservation groups had already threatened. But the environmentalists pulled out Nov. 7, citing a "fundamental imbalance from the very start" because unlike the water users, they were not party to secret negotiations underway in the Snake River Basin Adjudication process.
The water users' coalition says any consultation between BOR and NOAA Fisheries over ESA-listed fish in the lower Snake "is unnecessary and contrary to law." The coalition also claims that BOR has no authority to acquire water for ESA purposes.
Environmental groups say the upper Snake water is needed to reach target flows spelled out in the hydro BiOp to help fish migration in the lower Snake.
But the water users, who range from giant agri-business Simplot and the Idaho Mint Growers Association to both large and small irrigation districts, say that BOR doesn't hold any state water rights for flow augmentation and that state watermasters are vested with sole authority to distribute water.
The letter also says that the best science doesn't show that augmented flows benefit fish and that federal agencies improperly used flow augmentation as a form of mitigation for effects of other federal actions.
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