For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Bob Cooper
(208) 334-4112

Date: March 4, 2004

Idaho Seeks to Enter Lawsuit Over Snake River Water

On behalf of Governor Dirk Kempthorne and the State of Idaho, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden filed a motion Wednesday to intervene as defendants in American Rivers v. NOAA Fisheries.

Governor Kempthorne and Attorney General Wasden seek to intervene in the case in order to protect Idaho's sovereignty and control of Idaho's water. The case is pending in the United States District Court in Portland, Oregon.

"We must never yield in the fight over the sovereignty of Idaho water," Governor Dirk Kempthorne said. "This suit challenges the adequacy of our state water law to afford voluntary contributions by willing buyers and willing sellers for salmon flow augmentation. Our interests in this regard must be vigorously defended."

"Our intervention in this case is just part of our ongoing efforts to protect Idaho's citizens from unfounded allegations that water use in the Upper Snake River Basin in Idaho is contributing to the decline of salmon and steelhead," Attorney General Wasden said. "Idaho is a key partner in negotiating creative solutions to salmon and steelhead recovery. We will continue to support scientifically sound solutions, but we will fight any efforts to override state water law and impose unwise and ultimately futile flow augmentation on Idaho water users."

Plaintiffs in the case seek to force NOAA Fisheries to reevaluate the need for augmentation flows to assist salmon past the dams on the Lower Snake River. They also seek an order requiring NOAA Fisheries to write a single biological opinion encompassing the operation of all federal dams throughout the Columbia and Snake River Basins. Ultimately, the State of Idaho expects that the plaintiffs will ask the court to increase water releases beyond the 427,000 acre feet now provided annually for flow augmentation through the voluntary rental of water from irrigators and other water users.

The Governor and the Attorney General question the need for flow augmentation. State studies of flow augmentation have shown that augmentation is ineffective and counter productive. Existing irrigation operations of the Bureau of Reclamation already increase Snake River flows during the critical summer months when juvenile fall chinook are migrating down the Snake and Columbia Rivers.

"While Idaho believes that flow augmentation from the Upper Snake River is not scientifically justified, the state has cooperated with the Bureau in securing flow augmentation water through voluntary rental arrangements with Idaho water users," Wasden said. "We cannot sanction, however, efforts to ignore state law and take water that is essential to Idaho's economy. By intervening, Idaho will be in a position to contest any allegations that the current system of voluntary flow augmentation is inadequate to protect endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead."

Plaintiffs in the American Rivers case include American Rivers, Idaho Rivers United, National Wildlife Federation, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, and Institute for Fisheries Resources.

Idaho previously intervened in a closely related case, National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service. That case is before U.S. District Judge James Redden for the District of Oregon. Judge Redden has denied the efforts of several environmental groups to require federal agencies to include the operations of the Bureau of Reclamation's Idaho projects in the biological opinion addressing operations of the federal dams on the Lower Snake and Columbia Rivers. The court had previously ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service (now known as NOAA Fisheries) to prepare a new biological opinion analyzing the impacts of the federal dams on the Columbia and Lower Snake Rivers on endangered salmon and steelhead. He also ordered NOAA Fisheries to determine reasonable and prudent measures that federal agencies can undertake to mitigate such impacts.

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