Judge orders agencies to evaluate Idaho water projects that critics say harm salmon

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Forest Service to consult with other federal agencies about nearly two dozen water diversion projects in central Idaho’s Sawtooth Valley that could be harming salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued the order Monday following a lawsuit filed by the Idaho Conservation League in January 2018.

The environmental group said the Forest Service was violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to complete consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries about the water diversions, which reroute water from the upper Salmon River and its tributaries.

In a news release, ICL said some of the diversion structures are “a century old and unlined, resulting in unnecessary loss of water for both fish and water users.”

Sockeye salmon are listed as endangered, while the other species are listed as threatened. All return to the high-elevation Sawtooth Valley after swimming some 900 miles up the Columbia, Snake and Salmon rivers.

“The Forest Service now needs to complete consultations with other agencies to make sure these water diversions do no harm to Idaho’s endangered fish,” said Justin Hayes, ICL executive director, in the release. “This creates a huge opportunity to come together and find solution for fish and irrigators — we hope that all parties will come together to find win-win solutions.

Statesman reporter Nicole Blanchard contributed.

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