House Panel Backs State
by Associated Press
BOISE -- A fired-up panel of House lawmakers on Tuesday loudly proclaimed its opposition to a legal attack by environmentalists on the state's Snake River water storage system.
The Natural Resources and Conservation Committee voted 14-3 to support a nonbinding resolution by House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, which affirms the Legislature's support of the state's fight.
Five environmental groups are suing state water users in federal court to have a judge consider the effects of about a dozen dams on endangered salmon and steelhead fish.
The groups contend that the dams prevent the fish from reaching the Pacific Ocean, where they live for years before returning upstream to breed and die.
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has asked U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland to allow Idaho enter the case to protect the state's sovereignty and control of its water.
House Joint Memorial 23 also officially states the Legislature's official opposition to the breaching of the four lower Snake River dams. The bill and its companion bill, House Joint Memorial 24, will go to the full House.
In his presentation to the House committee, Newcomb said hydropower projects spearheaded by the federal Bureau of Reclamation in the past century were intended to provide Western settlers with water, which would turn a desert into a breadbasket, and electricity, which would make life more civilized.
Newcomb acknowledged that the benefits came at the expense of free-flowing rivers and the fish that use the waterways to reach their ocean habitat.
But he said environmentalists refused to recognize the food production, culture and civilization that those projects have produced.
"How do we go back and restore fish flows at the expense of everybody else?" Newcomb said. "Sometimes the door shuts behind you, and you can't go back."
Idaho Rivers United is one of the five groups in the legal action against the water users. Executive Director Bill Sedivy testified that the resolution doesn't offer any constructive resolution.
"This offers false hope that the problems facing Idaho's endangered salmon and steelhead runs will simply disappear if the state says 'no' to the idea of removing four low-value/high-cost dams in Eastern Washington," Sedivy said.
Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, scolded Sedivy and said that those dams, and others in the upper Snake River valley, provided the water that has become the life blood of the state's economy.
"I challenge you. Would you and your organization disconnect electricity to your residences" in order to save endangered fish stocks?
Sedivy pointed to studies suggesting that power produced by the dams could be made up by power conservation. When Raybould pressed his point, Sedivy said only that he would be willing to sign a statement to reduce his electricity use.
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