Idaho asks to join suit on upper Snake dams
BOISE, IDAHO_ Attorney General Lawrence Wasden asked a federal judge on Thursday for permission to join a the suit filed last January over the effect of upper Snake River reservoirs on migrating salmon and steelhead.
In his petition to U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland, Wasden said the state wanted to protect Idaho's sovereignty and control of its water.
Five environmental and fisheries groups have asked Redden to require federal fish managers to consider the impact of about a dozen federal dams above Hells Canyon as well as all the dams below on the anadromous fish runs and base their recovery plan on that.
The groups contend an earlier plan from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Fisheries that discounted the impact of the upper Snake River dams is inadequate.
They argued that the dams have inhibited the river's natural flow to both flush fish to sea and to help them return to spawn. In attempt to offset that impact, the state flushed 427,000 acre feet of water down the river until drought conditions the past three years have made it impossible to meet that flow target.
Idaho water users have maintained for years that flow augmentation does not have any significant effect on the fish runs while reducing water available for irrigation and other uses. Wasden said he wants to make that case in court.
"We will continue to support scientifically sound solutions, but we will fight any efforts to override state water law and impose unwise and ultimately futile flow augmentation on Idaho water users," he said.
Environmental groups have guaranteed state officials they will not press for any more in 2004 than the 427,000 acre-feet the state has provided in past years from water users willing to rent their annual allocations for that purpose.
But state officials and the Idaho Water Users Association fear that the environmental and fisheries groups will go after much more than that in future years. Norm Semanko has estimated any extensive increase in flow augmentation will dry up hundreds of thousands of acres of irrigated farm land in southern Idaho.
Environmental leaders maintain that federal law requires the rivers
and dams to be managed to assure the survival of the fish runs.
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