NMFS, Methow irrigators work out fish plan

The Associated Press
4/22/02 4:26 PM

TWISP, Wash. (AP) -- Methow irrigators and federal officials have reached a last-minute agreement that will keep water in canals and their dispute out of court, both sides said Monday.

The deal was announced just hours before a federal judge in Spokane was scheduled to consider a request from the National Marine Fisheries Service to prevent Methow Valley Irrigation District from turning water into canals from the Twisp and Methow rivers.

The irrigation district board approved the deal, reached Friday, in a 2-to-1 vote Monday.

Vaughn Jolley and Greg Nordang voted for the deal. Mike Gage opposed the pact.

Jolley said the district already had agreed to pump water from wells for irrigation when flows in the Twisp River dipped to levels needed for endangered fish.

"The only remaining issue was at what point we'd go to a pump exchange," he said.

NMFS contends the district's old, inefficient canals use too much water for irrigation, leaving too little in the rivers for endangered spring chinook salmon and steelhead.

Last Thursday, U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle urged lawyers for the parties to work out their differences before Monday's hearing.

Brian Gorman, NMFS spokesman in Seattle, confirmed a tentative agreement had been reached Friday, but was unable to discuss specifics.

On Friday, irrigators and NMFS officials agreed to defer to results of a study that will determine needs for water of returning and spawning salmon between Aug. 1 to the end of irrigation season.

Also in the agreement, the Bonneville Power Administration will pay for maintenance and costs of pumping for the first 25 years, the board said.

Gage, who earlier had threatened a repeat of demonstrations like those in southern Oregon, said irrigators should not be forced to go to wells.

"I will not agree to a pump exchange," he said. "That gives fish a senior right over existing water rights. If we agree to this, that's the first step in taking our water rights."

The two directors who voted for the agreement promised water would be available for the district's 250 irrigators.


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