Salmon Advocates Ask Farmers to Lease Waterby Staff
Lewiston Tribune, February 12, 2004
BOISE -- Idaho Rivers United is asking farmers to lease water to the Bureau of Reclamation, so it meets its goal for increasing flows in the Snake River to aid salmon migration.
Already the bureau has leased 86,000 acre-feet of water. With other water it already controls, the federal agency is only 100,000 acre-feet below its goal of 427,000 acre feet of water.
"The water situation looks a lot better and we're sensing a lot of interest from irrigators in leasing water this year," said Diana Cross, a bureau spokeswoman.
Idaho Rivers United is one of three groups that have sued the federal government claiming dam operations on the Snake River in Idaho are illegal. Idaho irrigation companies and other industry groups say that if the salmon groups win, they could dry up the agricultural economy of southern Idaho.
Bill Sedivy, Idaho Rivers United executive director, said the groups suing will not demand more than 427,000 acre-feet this year.
Some farmers would like to see more opportunities to lease their water long-term. George Grant, owner of Falcon Butte Farms in Murphy, said expanding the leasing program could put money in farmers' pockets and aid the rural economy.
"In our view, programs like this one can be very good for the redevelopment of rural Idaho communities," Grant said.
There are as many as 100,000 acres from the Buhl area west that are irrigated by water pumped from the Snake River and lifted dozens of feet to fields above the canyon, Grant said. Here the rising price of electricity keeps farmers from getting ahead.
If they could lease their water long term, they could shift their operations to livestock feeding and other activities that use less water, he said.
"It's important to start finding solutions that help both farmers and fish and support a more diverse economy," Grant said.
Norm Semanko, president of the Idaho Water Coalition, which represents irrigation, agricultural and industrial interests, said the state has been able to meet its 427,000 acre-feet obligation every year except the last three, which were among the more severe drought years in history. He sees drying up farms to lease more water for salmon as a threat to the rural economy.
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