Crapo to Lead Talks Saturdayby CBB Staff
Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo announced this week that he will wing his way home from Washington, D.C., this weekend to broker negotiations between water users, salmon advocates and environmentalists, federal agency leaders, legislators, and others on aimed at resolving conflicts over Idaho water relative to salmon recovery.
The closed talks are scheduled Saturday at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise.
Following a request from Crapo, a coalition of conservation groups announced Sept. 11 that it would withdraw for 30 days its notice of intent to sue over the operation of federal Upper Snake River irrigation projects "in order to explore settlement with Idaho irrigation interests, the Bureau of Reclamation, and NOAA Fisheries." Idaho water user and agricultural coalition leaders have agreed to join Crapo at the table for discussions aimed at avoiding that lawsuit.
"These are going to be difficult negotiations and no one should expect quick agreement," Crapo said. "But these issues are so critical to our state's future that we must make the effort. I am encouraged both sides have agreed to come to the negotiating table so we can identify our common ground on these issues. I also note representatives of the state and federal agencies involved will join us in these talks."
Crapo cautioned that it is unlikely that agreements will be made in sessions this Saturday and more discussions are anticipated.
The Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United, American Rivers and the National Wildlife Federation on Aug. 26 issued the 60-day notice on intent to sue the federal government.
The dams and reservoirs, all located above the Hells Canyon Complex of dams, are operated and maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation, which estimates diversions irrigate about 1.6 million Idaho acres. A 2001 NOAA Fisheries biological opinion concludes that the operations are not to be a threat to the survival salmon and steelhead that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The lawsuit notice said the projects are being operated in violation of the ESA because of technical and procedural flaws in that biological opinion. The conservation groups says that the Bureau must reinitiate consultation with NOAA, and that updated biological analysis is needed and a new biological opinion must be produced. The lawsuit notice also stressed that the conservation groups feel the system should be operated, at minimum, to provide the amount of water necessary to meet spring and summer flow objectives called for in NOAA Fisheries" BiOp for the lower Snake Columbia's Federal Columbia River Power System.
The notice letter prompted an angry response from Idaho's primary agricultural user groups. The irrigators that use water from the projects say the conservation groups' requests would dry the landscape and cripple the state's $5 billion agriculture industry. Press releases fired off by the Coalition for Idaho Water president and Idaho Water Users Association say that scientific studies show flow augmentation from storage reservations does little to help speed juvenile salmon's migration toward the Pacific Ocean.
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