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Thursday, February 12, 2004

ESA causes water stewards to change roles

By PATRICIA R. MCCOY Idaho Staff Writer

BOISE — Water stewards, such as irrigation districts and storage facility managers, once concentrated on storing water in times of plenty, and releasing it in times of need.

Pressures such as drought made that a challenge, but a challenge most learned to deal with.

The Endangered Species Act is a man-made issue, though, and it is changing the roles of water stewards, said John Sullivan, president of the National Water Resources Association. He spoke at the Idaho Water Users Association annual convention in Boise Jan. 27-29.

Every area has its little pets that are governed under ESA rules, Sullivan said. For Roosevelt Lake near Phoenix, Ariz., where he’s from, it’s a bird named the Southwest Willow Flycatcher.

“The flycatcher lives in Costa Rica most of the year,” Sullivan said. “It apparently has diplomatic immunity. Wherever it goes, whatever it does, it’s legal. Roosevelt Lake is a manmade water body created to supply water to Phoenix. Suddenly, about 20 flycatchers decided to summer in the brush along its shores, and we can no longer operate the lake as we have for the 90 years it’s been there.”

The Salt River Project is having to buy more than 21 acres of land and manage that property for the birds, apparently forever, he said.

“When you talk about balancing the needs of 300 million people against those of 20 birds, the word absurd comes to mind,” Sullivan said. “Balance that comes at the expense of no one but man, isn’t balance in any sense of the word.

“There’s no question the ESA, or at least how it’s interpreted by the courts, is having a major impact on water management,” Sullivan said. “Unlike the weather, it’s distinctively manmade.”

ESA Reform

The National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition is working to change that. Sullivan urged water users to become familiar with the coalition and support it.

“Some say changing the ESA is impossible,” Sullivan said. “Western water interests represent many tens of thousands of interests and concerns, but we speak the loudest when we speak with one voice.”

An entire speech could be made on ESA issues and litigation surrounding it, said J. William McDonald, director of the Pacific Northwest Region, Bureau of Reclamation.

“Life goes on,” McDonald told the IWUA. “We have to keep consulting under the ESA. It will take all of 2004 to prepare a new biological opinion on the Upper Snake River projects and have it ready in time for the 2005 irrigation season.

“The bureau has no choice but to proceed,” McDonald said.

BuRec has a new $208 million budget, including a congressional appropriation, monies from Bonneville Power Administration, and water users fees.

Of that amount, $91 million is coming to the Pacific Northwest, McDonald said.

“One appropriation we’re quite pleased with is the $1.5 million Congress designated for the Yakima Basin Storage Study,” McDonald said.

“Among other things, we’ll be looking at new irrigation storage, which could eventually help in areas other than Yakima,” McDonald added.

The budget also includes $8.7 million for salmon recovery activities in Idaho, particularly for the purchase of 427,000 acre feet of water in the state for flow augmentation, he said.

McDonald also touched on security at BuRec facilities, tightened since the 9-11 terrorist attacks in the East.

“We appreciate your cooperation. It’s been outstanding,” McDonald said. “At one time we had about a dozen unarmed, full time guards at Grand Coulee Dam

“They’re being replaced by a fully armed, larger force,” the BuRec director said.”I can’t tell you how large, for security reasons, but visitors will find these guards much more visible.”

BuRec has received congressional authorization to contract with fellow federal agencies that have law enforcement authority the bureau does not have, in order to beef up security, he said.

Pat McCoy is based in Boise, Idaho. She can be reached by e-mail at prm@rmci.net.

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