It is believed that 300 irrigators or more in the river basin
are not in compliance with federal law.
A program to help irrigators protect threatened fish and comply
with federal laws will open for enrollment again in April,
probably for the final time.
The Cooperative Compliance Review and Cost Share Program will
start taking applications April 1, said Mike Bireley, regional
officer with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The first enrollment period ended last year and brought about
300 irrigators into the program to fit fish screens on irrigation
pumps in the Walla Walla River Basin.
The program helps pay up to 85 percent of the cost for
irrigation pump screens to bring irrigators into compliance with
federal Endangered Species Act protection rules.
The screens are designed to keep threatened bull trout and
steelhead from being pulled into pumps and killed.
Despite the initial response, Bireley said there are at least
another 300 irrigators or more in the river basin not in
compliance with federal law. They
could face enforcement action, such as fines, if they do not take
steps now, he said.
The federal Endangered Species Act protection rules are already
in effect, but regulators
have held off enforcing the law to give farmers and irrigators a
chance to comply voluntarily.
However, at some point, Bireley said, ``we're going to exhaust
our options for voluntary compliance'' and enforcement actions
About $327,000 in grants obtained from the state Salmon
Recovery Funding Board and the Bonneville Power Administration are
being used to help pay for design, construction and installation
of screens for the initial group of applicants.
Since those funds are already allocated, new applicants will
have to wait until more funds are found, either from the state,
BPA or other sources, Bireley said.
``The new people who come in this year will be dependent on the
funds we can obtain in the future,'' he said. But, by signing up
now ``they will be under the umbrella for reduced risk for being
out of compliance.''
Another reason for
irrigators to apply is that it will help the Department of Fish
and Wildlife seek funds from sources such as the Salmon Recovery
Funding Board if Fish and Wildlife officials can show there is a
pool of people ready to benefit, Bireley said.
Applicants will also receive technical assistance to comply
with federal rules and ``they'll benefit from all the work that's
been done so far,'' Bireley said.
This includes design and engineering work done by Walla Walla
Community College's irrigation technology program to create
self-cleaning screens that satisfy National Marine Fisheries
Working under an agreement with the Walla Walla County
Conservation District, college staff and students helped design
and fit prototype screens at 45 pilot sites on streams such as
Fisheries service workers have inspected the installations and
approved them, clearing the way for work at other sites, he said.
``The college has been going 90 mph cranking out designs and
(state Department of) Ecology has been going 90 mph getting out
permits,'' Bireley said. ``I look back on the last two years and
we have come a tremendous distance.''
WHERE TO APPLY
Cooperative Compliance Review and Cost Share Program
application packets can be obtained by:
Calling the Department of Fish and Wildlife at 527-4138.
Callers will need to provide their name, address and phone number.
Writing to the Department of Fish and Wildlife Cooperative
Compliance Program, P.O. Box 456, Walla Walla, WA 99326.