Environmental groups and irrigators are providing what Idaho does not need -- a battle over water that neither side can win.
In this tug-of-war, environmentalists have the courts on their side, and irrigators have politics on their side. Caught in the middle are the Owyhees, and Central Idaho´s Boulder-White Clouds mountains.
To his credit, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is trying to be a peacemaker. He´s offering to mediate. Environmental groups and irrigators have agreed to talk, and we applaud them for that.
The irrigators are right. Idaho has experienced two drought years, and providing more water for migrating salmon is a tall order. They´re trying to protect Idaho´s $3.5 billion agriculture economy.
Environmentalists also are right. They´re trying to protect salmon -- one of Idaho´s most precious commodities -- and they´re looking out for the financial benefits that come from salmon fishing.
Here´s what needs to happen:
This is serious business. Environmentalists and irrigators need to get to work.
Crapo is doing what a U.S. senator should do: He´s trying to find a sensible resolution to this dispute.
It´s too bad that Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, R-Idaho, isn´t doing the same. Otter has inflamed an already bad situation with his environmental-bashing rhetoric.
In a guest opinion submitted to Idaho newspapers last week, Otter called the Endangered Species Act "as flawed a piece of public policy as ever there was."
He accused extremists of using the law "to implement their vision of a people-free, job-free wilderness in the West.
"Their first step is making southern Idaho fields water-free. For them, it´s a dream; for the rest of us, it would be a nightmare."
Otter says in his guest opinion, which appears on this page, that the fall run of chinook salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers is forecast to be the fifth largest since 1948.
He leaves the impression that salmon are doing better than some people.
But all but a small percentage of chinook are in the Columbia, where conditions generally are favorable. Idaho´s salmon runs are on the endangered species list. He didn´t mention that only two sockeye salmon returned to Redfish Lake this year.
Otter´s words are an insult to the environmental groups participating in constructive talks about the Owyhees and Boulder-White Clouds.
Creating an "us versus them" mentality, as Otter is doing, won´t solve this emotional dispute. Crapo, with his sense of calm and statesman-like approach, provides the best hope for resolution.
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