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Fish Recovery Deal Reached on Lake Cascade

by Dave Wilkins, Staff Writer
Capital Press - July 12, 2002

BOISE -- Federal and state officials have reached an agreement that they say will maintain summer water levels in Lake Cascade while aiding salmon recovery.

Under terms of the agreement, the Bureau of Reclamation will retain 40,000 acre feet of water in Lake Cascade over the winter and release it in April 2003.

That should benefit the health of the lake this summer while still helping endangered salmon runs, officials said.

"This is good for the water quality of Lake Cascade, recreational users of the area and endangered salmon," Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said in a statement.

There had been a request to release all of the salmon recovery water this summer, but state officials worked out an agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to split the flows.

Sixty percent of the water in Lake Cascade earmarked for juvenile salmon migration will be released by Aug. 31. The remaining 40 percent will be released next April. As a result, water levels in the lake will be about 2 feet higher at the end of August than they would be otherwise.

Sen. Larry Craig praised federal agencies for looking at what he called "common sense approaches to fish mitigation rather than relying only on flow augmentation for salmon recovery."

Bu Rec officials said the split-flow agreement is only a temporary means of providing higher summer levels in Lake Cascade until the Idaho Power Co. and the Bonneville Power Administration can reach a long-term agreement.

Jerry Gregg, manager of the BuRec's Snake River Area Office, said the agreement isn't considered to be precedent-setting and that all parties have agreed to work on finding a long-term solution to water quality issues and water releases for salmon on Lake Cascade.

"This agreement is certainly welcome news as we've been able to resolve the problem for the summer at least," said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. "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."

Irrigation officials were divided in their opinions on the agreement.

Ton Shurtleff, watermaster for Water District 65 in the Payette River system, said the agreement won't have any effect on irrigators.

"Fortunately, this year we had plenty of water," Shurtleff said. "It's not going to be a negative impact on irrigators."

If there's any drawback to the agreement, it's the federal agencies may need to release the water for flood control before April, Shurtleff said.

Roy Orr, manager of the Black Canyon Irrigation District, said some irrigators would much rather the BuRec make all of its salmon recovery releases from Lake Cascade during the summer months.

"We get no benefit out of them releasing water in April whatsoever," Orr said. "We don't even have water in the ditches then."

Shurtleff said split-flow salmon recovery releases have been made in the past during November, when the water also wasn't available for irrigation use.

Dave Wilkins, Capital Press Staff Writer
Fish Recovery Deal Reached on Lake Cascade
Capital Press - July 12, 2002

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