Methow Valley irrigators vow to
Saturday, April 20, 2002
SPOKANE, WA - 4/20/02 -- Methow Valley irrigators are promising the kinds of protests that rocked southern Oregon last year if a federal agency shuts down the Methow Valley Irrigation District.
Exasperated officials for the National Marine Fisheries Service contend it's unfair to compare this dispute to last year's conflict in the Klamath River Basin.
But that doesn't mean protests will not occur.
"I've been getting calls all day," said Mike Gage, director of the district. "We've got people from all over who are willing to come over and help us with the (water) turn-on, help get us some media attention."
The fisheries service has long offered millions of dollars to protect the investments of the irrigation district's 250 customers, agency spokesman Brian Gorman said.
"This is not an issue of enough water, as it is in the Klamath," Gorman said. "There's plenty of water for fish and farmers, if it's used appropriately."
Last year, about 200,000 acres were affected when federal authorities decided every available drop of water had to be left in the Klamath River for endangered suckers and coho salmon. Klamath Falls residents drew national attention with a "bucket brigade" that took symbolic dips of water from a reservoir and dumped them in an irrigation canal.
In the Methow Valley, the irrigation district had faced a court-imposed April 1 deadline to make changes in how irrigation is done or go without water.
On Thursday, federal attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle to carry out that order. The judge said he'll make a decision early next week.
The irrigation district, which covers 1,500 acres, plans to begin sending water to its members on May 1. The water comes from the Methow and Twisp rivers, where chinook salmon and steelhead are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Gage said the district will defy the court and turn on the water.
Many Methow Valley irrigators contend the fish aren't really endangered because those spawned in hatcheries are plentiful and unprotected. The fisheries service contends the hatchery fish are genetically distinct.
There's little denying the 1919 ditches are inefficient. A state-commissioned study in 1990 concluded that for every eight gallons the district draws from the Twisp River, one gallon was delivered to fields. A more recent study shows a 2-to-1 ratio, taking both rivers into account.
In 1991, the Yakama Indian Nation sued the state for allowing the district to waste water. The district agreed to a "pressurized" system of wells and pipes, funded with $2.4 million from the Bonneville Power Administration and $1.2 million from the state. But the district then backed away, saying it would be too costly to operate and unfairly restrict its water. But it had already signed a binding consent decree.
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