Irrigators seeking rarely used review on fish populations

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Tri-City area irrigators would like to see the federal government recognize improvements to salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association is asking the Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana governors to invoke a rarely used "God Squad" review allowed under the Endangered Species Act.

This would trigger a review by an Endangered Species Act committee, which would have the power to exempt the rivers from any more mitigation and to decide whether reasonable mitigation already had been done, the irrigators association wrote to the governors.

Such a review could stop "excessive and unbridled litigation directed toward the region's electric power ratepayers," according to the letter, which was mailed Friday and faxed Monday.

The request was prompted by a notice Bonneville Power Administration received last month from environmental groups that plan to sue the company for failing to comply with the Endangered Species Act, said Ron Reimann, the irrigators association president.

"We need to move on and not tie ourselves up on these crazy lawsuits," he said.

Darryll Olsen, board representative for the irrigators association, said it's about the fifth round and seventh year of litigation against the federal hydropower biological opinion.

The salmon and steelhead populations already have recovered, Reimann said.

"We've got it fixed as good as it's ever going to be fixed," he said.

But Olsen said no one is going to admit that the species are in good condition if money is continually funneled toward mitigation. He estimates a third of BPA's budget is driven by Endangered Species Act mitigation efforts.

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