Water users file suit over salmon flows
"I did find it ironic that this group
that whined for two months and screamed bloody murder to keep us out of court
beat us to the punch."
— BILL SEDIVY, Idaho Rivers United
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
Taking an offensive tack in the operation
of the upper Snake River reservoirs, Idaho water users last week announced their
intention to sue the federal government over flows for migrating salmon.
The Coalition for Idaho Water filed a
60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the secretaries
of Interior and Commerce, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
The move in this ongoing chess match is
ironic, because environmental groups three months ago withdrew a threat to sue
the government over the same issue, although they were seeking opposite results.
At that time, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, requested a diverse array of interests
sat down in September to attempt to work toward a solution.
"We did not make the decision to fight
over Idaho water in the federal courts — the environmentalists did," said water
coalition President Norm Semanko. "Now that we have been forced onto that path,
we must fight and we must fight aggressively."
The water users filed the warning on
Monday, Nov. 10.
Semanko said boosting river flows to
benefit downstream fish migrations could dry up 2 million acres of Idaho
farmland and devastate Idaho’s economy. For him, it’s not a new battle.
In testimony in 2000 before the U.S.
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, he told top U.S. officials
that flow augmentation was a "failed experiment," words that have become an
often repeated mantra.
"Idaho water users have participated in
this experiment for the past ten years, waiting for proof that flow augmentation
using Idaho's precious water would provide some meaningful benefit to the
salmon," he told the panel. "We are still waiting."
The coalition and water users met in
October while the salmon advocates put off re-filing their notice, thinking more
discussions could resolve the issue.
But the environmental coalition has said
it can not commit to stay out of court. The Coalition for Idaho Water has
responded in kind.
"I did find it ironic that this group that
whined for two months and screamed bloody murder to keep us out of court beat us
to the punch," said Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United.
Sedivy said his groups attorneys are
reviewing the situation to determine how to proceed next. A decision should be
forthcoming within a week or two, he said.
Besides agricultural groups, the Coalition
for Idaho Water includes the Idaho Association of Counties, the Association of
Idaho Cities, the Port of Lewiston, the Idaho Irrigation Equipment Association
and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the state’s largest business
Beginning in the early 1990s, the U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation leased water from the upper Snake River, providing 427,000
acre-feet to increase the river flow and 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.
The coalition’s notice said the Bureau of
Reclamation has no legal authority to acquire water for enforcing the Endangered
Species Act and the Commerce secretary likewise has no power to require the
bureau to do so.
The water users contend salmon runs to
Idaho are breaking records. But the fish advocates point out that most of the
fish are hatchery-raised while the number of wild fish to maintain the runs are
For Sedivy, the latest round in the
ongoing battle could mean that it’s time to work a little harder toward
"Now that everybody’s got their foot in
court, now might be a good time for us to examine what issues we can talk about,
what issues we can resolve, sit down and try to get some work done," he said.