U.S. Water News Online
PORTLAND, Ore. --Four conservation groups and a former chair of the Northwest Power Planning Council are urging the Oregon Water Resources Department (WRD) not to extend decades-old permits allowing for the diversion of up to 144,000 acre-feet of water from the Columbia River.
An extension of the permits -- which belong to the Boeing Agri-Industrial Co., a subsidiary of Boeing Co. -- conflicts with regional efforts to restore Columbia Basin streamflows for endangered salmon, according to the conservationists.
The water would be used to develop and irrigate most of a 35,000-acre parcel of leased, state-owned grassland in eastern Oregon -- land which is inhabited by wildlife listed under the Endangered Species Act.
This is the latest action taken by conservationists in their year-long effort to force WRD to comply with state laws governing how often, and under what conditions, extensions can be issued for water use permits. The groups also want the state to cooperate with recovery plans for endangered sockeye and chinook salmon under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
WaterWatch of Oregon, Oregon Trout, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and Idaho Rivers United filed the protest, along with Ted Hallock, a 20-year member of the Oregon Legislature who also served six years on the Northwest Power Planning Council.
"It's high time that Oregon walked its talk on the issue of salmon recovery," said Karen Russell, assistant director of WaterWatch. "The state has the responsibility and the authority to deny these extensions and halt this development -- for the survival of Columbia Basin salmon and the rare plants and animals that live on these public lands."
The groups are opposing one-year extensions on nine water use permits which expired on Oct. 1. Conservationists contend that granting the permit extensions would go against one of the major objectives of federal salmon recovery plans -- that of restoring streamflows to the Columbia River system.
"By allowing new diversions of water from the Columbia mainstem," the petition reads, "the state is undermining its own demands that the federal government immediately implement recovery plans for endangered Columbia River salmon."
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