Advocates file suit to help protect fish - Asking court
to find analysis illegal, develop plan to restore endangered salmon,
BOISE -- A coalition of salmon advocates on Friday kept their promise to file a federal lawsuit over the effect of upper Snake River reservoirs on the migrating fish.
The suit in U.S. District Court in Portland involves 22 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation irrigation projects upstream of Hells Canyon Dam.
The suit was filed by Idaho Rivers United, National Wildlife Federation, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Institute for Fisheries Resources.
It asks the court to declare illegal a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Fisheries analysis on those dams' effects on endangered salmon and steelhead, and develop a plan to restore those fish.
"If the court grants what we've requested, the federal agencies will need to develop an adequate and comprehensive recovery for Snake River salmon and steelhead," said Idaho Rivers Executive Director Bill Sedivy.
"Operation of the bureau's upper Snake projects has a profound impact on the survival of Snake River salmon, and even affects fish downstream in the Columbia," Sedivy said. "It makes sense to look closely at the effects of these projects, as well as how they are operated in conjunction with other federal projects on these rivers."
Friday's filing is the first lawsuit in an ongoing feud between the salmon advocates and the Coalition for Idaho Water, which includes irrigators, associations of Idaho cities and counties, and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the state's largest business lobby.
Both sides took part in negotiations with Idaho U.S. Sen. Michael Crapo last fall to avoid a court fight. But both later filed notices they would sue.
The water coalition contends water from the upper Snake has little effect on the velocity and temperature of the flows through the lower Snake dams, and warns grabbing that storage water for the fish runs could dry up 2 million acres of farmland in eastern Idaho.
"It's an unfortunate reality that they're fixated on trying to secure Idaho water and send it downriver for a failed experiment," said Norm Semanko with the coalition.
He contends the lawsuit is meant to threaten water holders on the upper Snake to force the government to instead breach the four lower Snake River dams in Washington state.
Salmon advocates claim the only sure way of recovering the wild Snake River salmon runs is to take down those four.
While the conservationists are challenging the NOAA biological opinion, they renewed their pledge to Crapo that they would limit the amount of water they seek for 2004 salmon flow augmentation to the amount authorized by the Legislature, or 427,000 acre-feet, which Reclamation leases from an Idaho water bank.
Sedivy said his group is in contact with Idaho irrigators to identify water that would be available for 2004 salmon flows through voluntary leases.
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