Craig Tries to Overturn Dam Rulingby Christopher Smith, Associated Press
Spokesman Review, November 17, 2006
BOISE, Idaho - U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, is drafting a legislative rider to a federal spending bill to uphold management plans for dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers that were rejected by a federal judge because they failed to prevent salmon extinction.
"Senator Craig would certainly entertain an option for Congress to say the biological opinions the scientists spent years working on are adequate under the Endangered Species Act," Craig's press secretary, Dan Whiting, told The Associated Press.
Craig and the rest of Idaho's all-Republican congressional delegation have criticized rulings by U.S. District Judge James Redden of Oregon in lawsuits brought by environmental groups that contend the federal government is not doing enough to promote the survival of endangered salmon.
In May, Redden ordered the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and NOAA Fisheries to consider the effects of irrigation projects above Hells Canyon on the upper Snake River in Idaho with the operation of hydroelectric dams downstream in Oregon and Washington on salmon migration.
Craig has said Redden's ruling threatens a landmark water rights agreement signed by President Bush in 2004.
The Snake River Basin water rights agreement allows the state, federal government and Nez Perce Tribe to exchange land and money in return for the tribe's relinquishment of claims to nearly all the water in the Snake River Basin.
Whiting said Craig hopes to attach a provision to one of the overdue federal appropriations bills still pending in the lame-duck Congress, which has recessed for the Thanksgiving break.
"Legislative language has always been an option for Senator Craig, but at this point, we hardly know how things are going to play out in the rest of the session," Whiting said Thursday.
Craig serves on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that holds purse strings to federal energy and water development programs. Last year, he included a provision in a federal spending bill that effectively eliminated the budget of the Fish Passage Center in Portland, Ore., which counted salmon and other fish in the Columbia River system and provided the data used in Redden's rulings.
Idaho agricultural water groups say they fear Redden's ruling to include the upper Snake as part of the Columbia Basin biological analysis means federal reservoirs in Idaho will be operated as part of the downstream plan for salmon recovery. More Idaho water may have to be spilled downstream for salmon migration, rather than for irrigating 2 million acres of farmland in southern Idaho.
"This unrelenting attack on Idaho's water directly jeopardizes water supplies for our cities, recreation, aquaculture, resident fish and other uses in Idaho," Norm Semanko of the Coalition for Idaho Water said in a statement.
Bill Sedivy of Idaho Rivers United said based on conversations with U.S. Senate staffers and environmental lobbyists, they expect Craig's rider to prohibit the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from spending money on a new biological opinion altering the 2004 Snake River Basin water rights agreement.
"Senator Craig will tell you that this rider is about protecting Idaho water and the Nez Perce agreement," Sedivy said Friday. "We believe this rider is about Larry Craig's failure - and his lack of desire - to find real solutions to Idaho's salmon crisis."
A coalition of 23 pro-salmon groups this week sent letters to U.S. senators warning of Craig's intent to attach a Redden-reversal rider to must-pass spending bills.
"Any 11th-hour rider that would exempt Idaho from helping to recover Pacific Northwest salmon would unfairly shift Idaho's salmon recovery responsibilities onto California, Oregon and Washington; delay real solutions to our nation's salmon crisis; misuse the legislative process; and undermine the 'checks and balances' duty of federal courts," reads the letter signed by groups such as American Rivers, the Sierra Club and the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.
Michael Garrity, Columbia Basin program manager for American Rivers in Seattle, said if Craig does pursue a salmon rider, "it is going to run into a whole lot of opposition because it's an attack on the Endangered Species Act, as well as reducing the options when it comes to salmon recovery."
(bluefish notes: Redden was careful to point out in his Opinion that the ruling does not threaten the Nez Perce agreement).
Senator Craig's previous rider withdrew funding from the Fish Passage Center which provides Pertinent Data including:
Adult Salmon Return Comparison - compares current year to last year and the ten year average.
Adult Salmon Passage at Lower Granite Dam Yearly Adult Counts 1975 - Present
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs