Water users group praises flow plan

By PATRICIA R. MCCOY Capital Press Staff Writer


BOISE, IDAHO— The Idaho Water Users Association is pleased with proposed cutbacks in flow augmentation in the Snake and Columbia rivers offered recently by the Northwest Power Planning Council.

“The Council stated in its proposed change that augmented flows are doubtful scientifically. That clearly vindicates our long held position that flow augmentation is a failed experiment,” said Norm Semanko, the association’s executive director.

Since the early 1990s, the federal government has sent massive amounts of Idaho water down the Snake and Columbia rivers hoping in theory to flush young salmon smolts to the ocean. The program called for upwards of 1.5 million acre-feet of water from Idaho irrigation reservoirs, Semanko said.

An increasing number of scientific findings show that flow augmentation makes no apparent difference, he said.

The power planning council’s proposed amendments to its fish and wildlife program was approved for public release at the council’s mid-October meeting in Spokane, Wash., he said.

The proposal would do away with river flow level targets, which currently require releasing water from reservoirs in Idaho and Montana. That approach deviates from reservoir and river operations mandated by the federal government, Semanko said.

The power planning council's approach also removes the requirement that reservoirs be as full as possible by mid-spring so water is available for flow augmentation, and continuing existing policy that water for flow augmentation be acquired only from willing sellers, in compliance with state law, he said.

The new NWPPC plan would send more water from upstream reservoirs in winter to generate more power when it is needed, and then refill most reservoirs by late June. Water levels would be kept high through July, Semanko said. That policy would lessen the demand on Idaho’s irrigation water, he said.

Flow augmentation drains up to 427,000 acre feet of water a year under the current council plan, adopted in 1994. That plan also suggested acquiring another 1 million acre-feet of water from Idaho’s irrigation reservoirs.

Under the proposed amendment, cool water in Dworshak Reservoir would be held back later in the year before being released to benefit fall Chinook salmon smolts headed down river, and fall Chinook adults on the final leg of their return to spawn.

“The Council’s new, realistic approach represents an excellent example of prudent balancing of irrigation, hydropower and salmon recovery needs,” Semanko said. “Idaho's water user community has borne the brunt of the flow augmentation program on its back for more than a decade.

“When you've been a voice in the wilderness for so long it's difficult not to want to say we told you so,” Semanko continued. “With this change in direction we can finally begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Northwest Power Planning Council amendment is being released for public comment early in November. Final public hearings on it are set for January.


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