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Ask Oregon agriculture why we must end the salmon wars

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Mike Simpson

This week, the Bureau of Reclamation released the Klamath Project 2021 Temporary Operations Plan, which was developed in response to consecutive years of drought conditions in the Klamath Basin.

Decisions were made to use the limited water to assist the endangered species and producers will be largely left holding an empty bag. Under the 2021 Reclamation Temporary Operations Plan, 33,000 acre-feet of water is available for project water users. According to the Klamath Water Users, this allotment is around 6% of their need, and not much more than necessary to fill the canals that convey water to over 175,000 acres that produce potatoes, alfalfa, and grass hay, specialty crops such as mint, horseradish, and dehydrated onions and garlic — which is experiencing a critical supply shortage.

Klamath Basin farmers won’t be able to plant many irrigated crops due to the uncertainty of water conditions. This will negatively impact more than the producers; this will be felt all the way down the food chain — from producers, to shippers, to grocery stores to consumers.

What I am asking of all Idaho agriculture, including the Idaho Grain Producers, the Idaho Farm Bureau and the Idaho Water Users — do you want to talk about ways we can keep Idaho water in Idaho, for our irrigators, for our recharge and for our fish?  What makes you think the exact same thing can’t happen to us?  Our water is just as much at the mercy of the federal court system and Tribal treaty rights as those in the Klamath Basin.

We know the status quo isn’t working. Lawyers and advocacy groups are getting rich, while we keep sending our water to flush salmon.  Even more frustrating, even despite this, salmon runs are STILL diminishing — isn’t it time to stop the madness and find a solution to end lawsuits and to end the salmon wars?

My Columbia Basin Initiative could end the Northwest salmon wars.  It would lock in a more certain future for agriculture, energy, transportation and communities and it would also give Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead their best chance for survival.

Without question, the four Lower Snake River dams (LSRDs) are beneficial and valuable.  They provide low-cost, clean, on-demand energy.  They allow barges to reach ports in Lewiston-Clarkston providing low-cost shipping so that our growers are not captive to rail and trucking.  Our communities benefit from ports, economic development and recreation.

To protect energy and the communities, the Initiative would require that power from the 4-LSRDs be replaced prior to bypassing the dams in 2030 with more clean, baseload generation. It would lock in all federal and private dams greater than 5 MW in the Columbia, Snake and Willamette Basins for 35-50 years, stopping environmental lawsuits from going after other productive dams. It would also ban all salmon litigation against these same dams in the Columbia, Snake and Willamette Basin under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Clean Water Act (CWA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for 35 years.

To protect agriculture, the concept proposes a 25-year voluntary watershed program for producers to improve and enhance water quality, temperature and quantity in the Columbia Basin.  These producers, who voluntarily participate, will be exempt from Clean Water Act and ESA lawsuits for the next 25 years.

The Initiative also includes substantial funding for land grant universities for animal nutrient management processes and funding for irrigators to reconfigure, re-engineer and extend pipes and deepen wells. We will create a $3.6 billion fund for the Palouse/Idaho grain producers who utilize the Snake River ports so they can reconfigure and adjust their transportation options or create new opportunities.

I am aware that being willing to discuss the bypass of any dam, even four in Washington state, is extremely difficult. But it would be a tragedy if future generations looked back and wished that the current leaders and stakeholders would have at least taken the time to explore this opportunity when they had the chance.

Mike Simpson is a Congressional representative and Republican representing Idaho’s 2nd Congressional district.

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