The Grange News
Water rights and dam removal are two hot issues that are building to a head as the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) ends its public comment period this month and gears up to move ahead with its plans in the state of Washington.
While groups continue to lobby NMFS to extend its public comment period, the federal agency appears to be ready to end that portion of the dam removal process. According to State Master Terry Hunt, Unfortunately, the environmental groups, those who are for removal of the dams, seemed to outnumber the folks who wanted to save the dams by as much as 10 to one.”
While it is unclear how much emphasis NMFS will put on the public comment heard, the fact there was more testimony heard from removal advocates than the other side of the issue does not bode well.
Of course, the Washington State Grange stands firmly against the removal of dams and, instead, proposes a number of more cost-effective, common-sense solutions to the salmon recovery issue. Readers can review State Master Hunt’s ideas on the issue in his column appearing on page 3 of this issue.
Another important matter NMFS is working on deals with water rights in the Methow Valley in Okanogan County. This section of north central Washington has become a test area for NMFS, which is imposing federal regulations that overshadow the state regulations already in place. In 1999 alone, 70 water right holders were denied all water use, and more than 100 others were denied part of their vested right. Another 50 irrigation companies and ditches will be added this year, impacting hundreds more individual users.
A case in point is 75-year old Lani Odenthal. Because federal agencies took away her water rights last year, she has been forced to file for bankruptcy because her land is no longer saleable. More families will meet a similar fate if NMFS and other federal agencies continue to take control of issues that formerly were handled on the state level.
Prominent in the Methow Valley case is the Washington Agriculture Legal Foundation (WALF). This is a charitable foundation using the legal system to try to fight federal agencies when it comes to these water rights issues. In order to take on this fight, WALF needs to raise some $500,000, at least.
WALF argues NMFS is attempting to take the one and a half percent of water used by irrigators in the Methow Valley, but has given no scientific basis for their desired target flows. NMFS has also failed to recognize the importance of water rights in maintaining the value of property, or the productivity of the valley, according to WALF.
WALF further warns that, if successful in the Methow, NMFS will next target the Okanogan, Entiat and Wenatchee river basins.
“It is important that people understand that this Methow situation is one that, if NMFS is successful in gaining control in that region, could eventually affect water users throughout the state,” said Hunt. “The Grange strongly urges its members to back WALF in their efforts to protect the water rights of those in the Methow Valley, because a victory for water users there would benefit water users elsewhere in the future.”
You can send donations to WALF at P.O. Box 2596, Olympia, Wash. 98507, or contact them via e-mail at email@example.com, or phone at (509) 323-4940.
The Grange News
April 4, 2000