Banks Lake drawdown called off

Capital Press Staff Writer


Eastern Washington - Banks Lake reservoir, part of the Columbia Basin Project in Washington state, won’t be drawn down an additional 5 feet this year, a NOAA Fisheries official said.

But there is a possibility the drawdown will take place in 2004, said Dale Bambrick, Ellensburg-based Eastern Washington team leader for NOAA Fisheries, formerly known as the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“The proposal is part of our aggressive non-breach strategy,” Brambrick said. NOAA Fisheries is looking at ways to boost fish survival rates without modifying or taking out dams, he said.

He characterized the drawdown option as “one tool in the kit” for flow augmentation.

A final decision on the drawdown proposal won’t be made until later this year, after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation completes the process outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act, Bambrick said. During the NEPA process, BuRec officials will analyze the range of potential impacts from the drawdown, including impacts to the region’s economy.

NOAA Fisheries earlier ordered the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to draw down the Banks Lake 5 feet each year in August. Now it has directed BuRec to look at another 5-foot drawdown to put more water in the mainstem Columbia River for migratory fish.

BuRec’s draft environmental impact statement on the proposed drawdown indicates it would have no impact on irrigation water supplies, Bambrick said.

Farmers in the region disagree. They worry that several dry years in a row could be disastrous if the lake is drawn down continuously. Potato farmers are so concerned about future impacts that they took out full-page newspaper ads to raise awareness of the proposal in the region.

Farmers are also concerned that the federal agencies may not be listening to their comments that were submitted on the draft EIS.

“We put in a good-faith effort to submit comments,” said Pat Boss, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission in Moses Lake. “With the announcement they won’t draw down the lake this year coming so soon after the close of the public comment period, it appears they never seriously considered our comments.”

Boss said he was baffled by the agencies’ actions. He said he wondered if farmers will have to submit comments all over again.

“We felt the proposal shouldn’t have been on the table, period,” Boss said.

He said farmers in the Klamath Basin in Oregon reported similar situations, and trial balloons that were sent up by federal agencies in the years leading up to the 2001 drought crisis. That year, irrigation water was diverted to help fish and thousands of acres of farmland dried up, creating widespread economic hardship. Conflicts over water continue in the Klamath.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., also opposed the Banks Lake drawdown. Hastings said NMFS 2000 biological opinion, issued under the Federal Endangered Species Act, was based on questionable scientific evidence. He said the BiOp failed to show benefits for fish while underestimating the economic effects of the drawdown.


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