ESA causes water stewards to change roles
PATRICIA R. MCCOY Idaho Staff Writer
— 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.”
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
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,”
BuRec has a new $208 million budget, including a
congressional appropriation, monies from
Bonneville Power Administration, and water users
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
“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 email@example.com.
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