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Feds Agree to Hold Off on Lake Cascade Drawdown

by Lucia V. Knudson
The Star-News, July 11, 2002

State and federal officials have struck an agreement that will keep Lake Cascade water levels higher this summer to help recreation, water quality and salmon.

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, the Idaho congressional delegation and federal Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director William McDonald announced Tuesday a plan to maintain water levels in Lake Cascade, while providing needed water for endangered salmon.

Under the terms of the agreement, the B of R will retain 40,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Cascade over the winter and release it next April.

The plan will allow Lake Cascade to maintain a water level about two feet higher at the end o August that it would be otherwise.

The arrangement is much like a loan, with B of R borrowing against the 2003 water supply. Drawing water next year to cover this year's augmentation needs puts Lake Cascade in a deficit for 2003 salmon water releases, said Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, R-Idaho.

The stopgap measure should keep lake waters from heating up to the point where algal blooms would reach disastrous proportions as they did last year. Deeper water is cooler water and discourages algae growth.

"This is good for the water quality of Lake Cascade, recreational users of the area and endangered salmon runs," Kempthorne said. "There had been a request for all the water this summer, and with the ongoing drought and the hot summer months still ahead of us, it was important to the state to balance the use of our resources."

The B of R has drawn water from Lake Cascade to aid salmon migration for several years and split the water releases between spring and fall which helped preserve fish habitat and the lake's water quality.

However, due to a lapse in an agreement between Idaho Power Co. and the Bonneville Power Administration last year, the B of R was ready to release the water during July and August.

Then a host of state and federal officials stepped in to stop the drawdown for the sake of the well-being of the people of the city of Cascade, a city still reeling from the closure of the Boise Cascade Corp. sawmill last year.

Otter said the solution is only short-term, and a long-term solution needs to be found. The parties involved in the agreement have a year's breathing room to find a lasting solution.

Jerry Gregg, manager of B of R's Snake River Area Office said B of R considers the agreement a temporary means of providing a high summer pool at Lake Cascade in lieu of an agreement between Idaho Power and the BPA to manage flows.

No precedent set
Gregg said the agreement is not considered precedent setting, and that all parties have agreed to work on finding a long-term solution to both water quality in the lake and the shaping of water releases for salmon. Otter praised the parties for their cooperative attitude in carrying out "peaceful negations" and said the steps they took could work to resolve other multiuse problems.

"It shines a bright light for the future," he said.

Kempthorne said he appreciated the work put into the effort by Idaho's Congressional delegation, B of R and local officials, like state representatives Ken Roberts and Monty Pearce, who helped craft the solution.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said the National Marine Fisheries Service was key in building cooperation.

Craig said last week in a telephone interview that the Idaho delegation caught the agency's attention when they stepped into the drawdown problem.

Their involvement sent a clear message to NMFS as well as B of R, BPA and other parties that the Idaho delegation would stop the release, he said. They know it's something the Idaho delegation doesn't want to see happening and we will block it from happening," Craig said.

On June 21, Otter sent a letter to D. Robert Lohn, regional administrator of the Northwest Region of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle, Wash., on behalf of the people of Cascade, Valley County and Idaho advising him that the drawdown would spell disaster for those communities, especially for Cascade.

Craig applauds efforts
On Tuesday, Craig lauded Kempthorne for working with B of R and also praised the federal agencies for their role.

"I appreciate the willingness of the federal agencies to look at common sense approaches to fish mitigation rather than rely only on flow augmentation for salmon recovery," he said.

"The delegation will assist the governor and the (B of R) to find a long-term solution that will avoid last minute scrambling we experienced this summer."

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, also appealed to NMFS to consider how the drawdown would affect Idaho communities, especially Cascade where people come to play during the summer and spend dollars locally.

"This agreement is certainly welcome news, as we have been able to resolve the problem for this summer at least," Crapo said.

"However, the federal operating agencies must commit to an anadromous fish recovery plan that ceases unfairly targeting Idaho water and damaging Idaho's water-based economies," he said.

"That is the message I delivered to (the NMFS), and these discussions will continue in Idaho and in Washington, D.C."

Lucia V. Knudson
Feds Agree to Hold Off on Lake Cascade Drawdown
The Star-News, July 11, 2002

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