local weather Click for Sun Valley, Idaho Forecast
 front page
 public meetings

 previous edition

 express jobs
 about us
 advertising info
 classifieds info
 internet info
 sun valley central
 sun valley guide
 real estate guide
 sv catalogs
Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
208.726.8060 Voice
208.726.2329 Fax

Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

Friday — February 20, 2004


Needs of fish and irrigators balanced

Collaboration returns
23,000 acre feet to streams

"Voluntarily enhancing flows for fish and wildlife is preferable to regulatory actions."

BILL GRAHAM, Idaho Department of Water Resources bureau manager

Express Staff Writer

With the first of a five-year trial period under its belt, an experimental collaborative group that is striving to resolve water and fish related issues in the Columbia River basin is giving itself a pat on the back.

"There’s a lot of national interest in what we’re doing here," said Peter Dykstra, project director for the Washington Water Trust, a nonprofit group that is one of 10 collaborating partners in the experimental effort. "Finding common ground around an issue that’s been making people cranky for generations—that’s progress."

The Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program is working to return water to streams and rivers through cooperative efforts with irrigators. The Pahsimeroi River basin, east of Challis, is one area where projects of this nature have been initiated by Idaho Trout Unlimited and the Bureau of Land Management. Express photo by Ken Retallic

Ten organizations and agencies across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana have completed the first year working collaboratively to try balancing the needs of agriculture and endangered fish in dry parts of the region. Using market-based strategies, the so-called Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program says it is improving stream flows and helping landowners become proactive.

Across the basin—which drains a massive portion of the Northwest—more water rights have been granted to landowners than there is water to meet them in a normal year. In dry years, shortages are even more severe and many streams dry up completely.

While much of the first year of work has focused on establishing the program, a total of 34 transactions costing $152,840 returned 23,000 acre feet of water into 21 streams throughout the Northwest.

According to the group, dry streams pose risks to wildlife and aquatic species and also create the potential for regulatory solutions are "acute and inflexible."

"We’re offering voluntary opportunities to farmers, ranchers and irrigation districts who see the value of keeping streams wet for fish and other wildlife in ways that also support agriculture and local economics," said Andrew Purkey, manager of the Portland-based Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program.

The program is funded primarily by the Bonneville Power Administration in cooperation with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, formerly the Northwest Power Planning Council.

According to BPA representative Chris Furey, the BPA will provide up to $4 million to the Columbia Basin water Transactions Program in 2004 to help meet goals of the Northwest Power Act and the Endangered Species Act. He said it is a cost-effective win-win for irrigators and for habitat.

"Voluntarily enhancing flows for fish and wildlife is preferable to regulatory actions," said Idaho Department of Water Resources Bureau Manager Bill Graham. "It’s an effort that water users and managers can support."

The effort’s advocates point to a number of varying methods that can be used to conserve water. An example includes an effort in Montana last year where the Trout Unlimited-Montana Water Project helped line an irrigation ditch on Poorman Creek. The landowners agreed to lease the saved water to Trout Unlimited in order leave it in the stream to benefit ESA-listed bull trout.

According to Purkey, the program aims to bring a balanced approach to what is a very contentious water right arena by respecting private property rights while improving habitat.

"We need to respect irrigated agriculture," Purkey said. "It’s going to take some time."

The program has set 2004 goals of completing transactions hat result in increased in-stream flows of 100 to 125 cubic feet per second in streams where ESA-listed fish live.

The end result, said Laura Ziemer of the Trout Unlimited-Montana Water Project, is that water will be returned to streams.

"When you find fish back in a creek that was just a run of dry rock—and the folks who make that possible feel proud rather than pushed—that means something in a community," she said.


City of Ketchum

Formula Sports


Edmark GM Superstore : Nampa, Idaho

Premier Resorts Sun Valley

High Country Property Rentals

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.