Conservationists Willing to Work to Solve Water Questionsby Rob Masonis
Idaho Statesman - December 1, 2003
This paper recently editorialized that salmon advocates made a mistake when they said they would retain their right to litigate in order to force the federal government to do a comprehensive analysis of what is necessary to recover Idaho´s wild Snake River salmon and steelhead (“Threat of salmon lawsuit undermines negotiations,” Nov. 16).
We want to make sure Idahoans understand our position — why we cannot relinquish the option of going to court.
While we commend Sen. Mike Crapo for his efforts to convene a forum in which to discuss salmon recovery and Snake River water, that forum could not resolve the primary issue: the critical need for a comprehensive, accurate evaluation by federal agencies of how water and dam management at all federal dams in the Snake and Columbia rivers affects Snake River salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. The federal agencies responsible had rejected our request for such an analysis, and discussions with the Idaho Water Users Association could not change that decision.
We agree with this paper that states should play a role in endangered species solutions, but that doesn´t mean letting the responsible federal agencies off the hook. A valid plan to recover Snake River salmon and steelhead requires looking at water management in the entire Snake River, including the Bureau of Reclamation´s upper Snake River water storage projects.
So far the Bush administration has refused to call for such an analysis, and instead has attempted to “wall off” upper Snake River water management from real scrutiny. The federal agencies´ unwillingness to analyze the Bureau of Reclamation´s upper Snake River operations along with all other aspects of the federal dam system on the Columbia and Snake rivers will impair informed decision-making. No other piece of the federal dam system has been similarly excluded from the new biological opinion the federal government is currently writing under court order.
It is the federal agencies´ refusal to do a complete and accurate analysis of what is necessary to protect Idaho´s salmon and steelhead — not a desire on the part of American Rivers, Idaho Rivers United and National Wildlife Federation to choose litigation over negotiation with the Idaho Water Users Association — that may lead us back to the courtroom.
Additionally, several parties involved in the Crapo talks, including the state of Idaho, the federal government, the Nez Perce Tribe and some water users, are already engaged in private negotiations on some of the same key issues under the jurisdiction of an Idaho state court. Asking us to set aside any potential litigation on upper Snake water when these private negotiations continue is simply unfair.
That said, we continue to be open to negotiations on a number of issues. We share this paper´s desire for “a united plan that protects Idaho water, and ensures the survival of Idaho salmon” and we are committed to doing the work it takes to achieve that. For example, our groups hope to continue to work with Sen. Crapo and the Idaho water users to develop a plan for the 2004 water year that makes sense for both salmon and farmers.
Down the road, however, if Idaho´s wild salmon and steelhead are to be recovered to healthy, harvestable levels with the four lower Snake River dams in place — and we question whether this is achievable at all — it will require major changes in the way river flows are managed. This notion is based on sound science; last February the region´s Independent Scientific Advisory Board found a clear relationship between flow levels and Snake River salmon and steelhead survival.
Insisting that all aspects of the Snake River salmon and steelhead recovery puzzle be looked at together to enable informed decision-making is common sense. We hope litigation will not be necessary, but that depends on the federal agencies´ willingness to perform a comprehensive evaluation that clearly identifies the actions necessary to restore Idaho´s salmon and the trade-offs that will have to be made to accomplish that goal.
Recovering Idaho´s wild salmon and steelhead will not happen without it.
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