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Idaho senator hopes to overturn salmon ruling

The Associated Press
Seattle Times

November 18, 2006

BOISE, Idaho — U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, is drafting a legislative rider to a federal spending bill to uphold management plans for dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers that were rejected by a federal judge because they failed to prevent salmon extinction.

"Senator Craig would certainly entertain an option for Congress to say the biological opinions the scientists spent years working on are adequate under the Endangered Species Act," said Craig's press secretary, Dan Whiting.

Craig and the rest of Idaho's all-Republican congressional delegation have criticized rulings by U.S. District Judge James Redden of Oregon in lawsuits brought by environmental groups that contend the federal government is not doing enough to promote the survival of endangered salmon.

In May, Redden ordered the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and NOAA Fisheries to consider the effects of irrigation projects above Hells Canyon on the upper Snake River in Idaho with the operation of hydroelectric dams downstream in Oregon and Washington on salmon migration.

Craig has said Redden's ruling threatens a landmark water rights agreement signed by President Bush in 2004. The Snake River Basin water rights agreement allows the state, federal government and Nez Perce Tribe to exchange land and money in return for the tribe's relinquishment of claims to nearly all the water in the Snake River Basin.

Whiting said Craig hopes to attach a provision to one of the overdue federal appropriations bills still pending in the lame-duck Congress, which has recessed for the Thanksgiving break.

"Legislative language has always been an option for Senator Craig, but at this point, we hardly know how things are going to play out in the rest of the session," Whiting said Thursday.

Craig serves on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that holds purse strings to federal energy and water development programs. Last year, he included a provision in a federal-spending bill that effectively eliminated the budget of the Fish Passage Center in Portland, which counted salmon and other fish in the Columbia River system and provided the data used in Redden's rulings.

Idaho agricultural water groups say they fear Redden's ruling to include the upper Snake as part of the Columbia Basin biological analysis means federal reservoirs in Idaho will be operated as part of the downstream plan for salmon recovery. More Idaho water may have to be spilled downstream for salmon migration, rather than for irrigating 2 million acres of farmland in southern Idaho.

"This unrelenting attack on Idaho's water directly jeopardizes water supplies for our cities, recreation, aquaculture, resident fish and other uses in Idaho," Norm Semanko of the Coalition for Idaho Water said in a statement.

On Friday, Bill Sedivy of Idaho Rivers United said, "Senator Craig will tell you that this rider is about protecting Idaho water and the Nez Perce agreement.

"We believe this rider is about Larry Craig's failure — and his lack of desire — to find real solutions to Idaho's salmon crisis."

A coalition of 23 pro-salmon groups this week sent letters to U.S. senators warning of Craig's intent to attach a Redden-reversal rider to must-pass spending bills.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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