House Approves Water from Southern Idaho
by Associated Press
BOISE -- To help prevent more from being taken later, the House approved federal release of 427,000 acre-feet of water from southern Idaho reservoirs to augment river flows for migration of endangered Snake River salmon.
A 63-3 vote on Thursday forwarded to the Senate a bill reauthorizing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to release the Idaho water from the agency's reservoirs this April through August. Federal officials will rent the water for flow augmentation from willing water-rights holders and the state water bank.
Flows for salmon migration are augmented each year with about 1.5 million acre-feet of water from Idaho -- 427,000 from southern Idaho irrigation reservoirs and about 1.2 million from Dworshak Reservoir.
State authorization for release of the southern Idaho water expired at the end of the year, and supporters of reauthorization said it was important to help protect the state against losing much more water from the Upper Snake River Basin to flow augmentation in the future.
Reclamation officials have proposed providing as much as 1.5 million acre-feet from southern Idaho. But House Resources Chairman Golden Linford, R-Rexburg, said negotiations were continuing to prevent a federal mandate that could dry up hundreds of thousands of acres of farm land.
While those talks are under way, he said, it was important for the state to show good faith by maintaining the level of release the federal government has been allowed in recent years.
Linford said a report is expected in May or June on the effectiveness of flow augmentation in improving the survival rate of Snake River salmon runs.
Meanwhile, a federal lawsuit filed by environmentalists contends the Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation have failed to meet target flow levels that the National Marine Fisheries Service decided in 1995 were necessary for salmon survival.
Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Karl Dreher has said the amount of water needed to meet the flow target of 55,000 cubic feet per second in the lower Snake River from June 21 to Aug. 31 would be about 2.2 million acre-feet in an average year.
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