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Water Users Threatening to Sue Over Salmon

by Associated Press
KTVB News, November 19, 2003

BOISE -- Idaho water users are taking the offensive in the operation of the vast upper Snake River reservoirs, announcing their intention to sue the federal government over flows for migrating salmon.

The Coalition for Idaho Water filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the secretaries of Interior and Commerce, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We did not make the decision to fight over Idaho water in the federal courts -- the environmentalists did. Now that we have been forced onto that path, we must fight and we must fight aggressively," said Norm Semanko, water coalition president.

The warning filed on Monday comes after a coalition of conservation groups filed their own notice to sue on Aug. 22. Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Conservation League, American Rivers and the National Wildlife Federation threatened litigation unless the operation of 10 dams and reservoirs on the upper Snake was reevaluated to avoid harming salmon and steelhead.

Semanko warned that could dry up two million acres of Idaho farmland and devastate Idaho's economy.

The coalition and water users met in October at the behest of U.S. Sen. Michael Crapo. The salmon advocates put off refiling their notice, thinking more discussions could resolve the issue.

But it has since withdrawn its commitment to stay out of court, and the Coalition for Idaho Water has responded in kind. Besides agricultural groups, the coalition includes the Idaho Association of Counties, the Association of Idaho Cities, the Port of Lewiston, the Idaho Irrigation Equipment Association and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the state's largest business lobby.

Beginning in the early 1990s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation leased water from the upper Snake River, providing 427,000 acre-feet to increase the river flow and help the migrating fish through the lower Snake River dams. But with the long-running drought, the government-set river flow targets have gone unmet the past three years.

Semanko has called flow augmentation "a failed experiment," which threatens irrigation in southern Idaho without providing a noticeable boost to salmon in the lower Snake River reservoirs.

Several of the conservation groups recently asked a federal judge in Portland, Ore., to include operation of the dams on the upper Snake River in the overall legal debate over how to preserve and revitalize Northwest salmon runs.

The coalition objects to inclusion of the upper Snake River, saying it is far removed from the portions of the Snake and Columbia rivers inhabited by the fish.

The coalition's notice said the Bureau of Reclamation has no legal authority to acquire water for enforcing the Endangered Species Act and the Commerce secretary likewise has no power to require the bureau to do so.

The water users contend salmon runs to Idaho are breaking records. But the fish advocates reply most of them are hatchery-raised while the number of wild fish to maintain the runs are dwindling.

The Snake River runs along the border between eastern Oregon and Idaho.

Related Sites:
Regional Groups Join Water Users by Associated Press, Lewiston Tribune 10/24/3

Associated Press
Water Users Threatening to Sue Over Salmon
KTVB News, November 19, 2003

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