Water users angry about congressional letter on salmon - Lawmakers
ask Bush to ensure plan works to restore wild fish
BOISE -- Idaho water users are reacting angrily to a letter to President Bush from 118 members of Congress who want the administration to consider every credible way to save wild salmon -- including breaching four lower Snake River dams.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers asked Bush to ensure that his new federal salmon plan sets a goal of restoring self-sustaining, harvestable populations of wild salmon in the Snake and Columbia rivers.
It comes at a time that conservationists and water users are clashing over the amount of upper Snake River water available for the fish migrations through those lower dams.
"This is obviously part of an orchestrated attempt by the environmental groups to target Idaho water in a vain attempt to put pressure on us to support dam removal," said Norman Semanko, president of the Coalition for Idaho Water and executive director of the Idaho Water Users Association.
On Friday, Idaho Rivers United, the Idaho Conservation League, American Rivers and the National Wildlife Federation backed off on refiling a notice of intent to sue unless the operation of 10 dams and reservoirs on the upper Snake in Idaho was reevaluated to avoid harm to imperiled fish.
Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, who was involved in the talks, said it was the first time, to his knowledge, in Idaho history that all sides were at the table to collaborate in the talks.
The congressmen on Tuesday asked Bush to analyze all scientifically credible options for protecting the wild fish, including, but not limited, to breaching those four lower dams.
"This is the type leadership we will require to restore these magnificent species to the rivers of Lewis and Clark," said Pat Ford of the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition. "Real families, real jobs and real communities depend on the restoration of this species and we need to rely on good science and not Mother Nature's good will to ensure their recovery."
Ford attended last week's negotiations in Boise. He thanked Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., for their leadership through the letter.
Opponents of breaching the dams point out that strong numbers of salmon and steelhead have returned to Idaho in recent years. The coalition, however, said biologists chalk off the good runs to a favorable ocean cycle and recent returns fall far short of the estimated numbers needed for recovery.
Semanko warns that a lawsuit could end up drying up 2 million acres of Idaho farmland and devastate Idaho's economy. He said the letter to Bush was almost entirely from east of the Mississippi River.
"If these groups leave the negotiation table and make good on their threats to sue, they will make it clear that they have no regard for the economic well-being of the state of Idaho or the thousands of Idaho families whose livelihoods are dependent on water for irrigation and other needs."
Beginning in the early 1990s, the Bureau of Reclamation leased water from the upper Snake River, providing 427,000 acre-feet as flow augmentation to help the migrating fish through the lower Snake River dams. But with the long-running drought, the government-set river flow targets have gone unmet the past three years.
Semanko has labeled flow augmentation a "failed experiment" that has been scientifically discredited and should be dropped.
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