South Fork of the Snake River is running at a trickle. In order to
save water for next summer's irrigation season and to flush salmon
smolts this spring, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is holding back
water behind dams that leaves the river flowing at a rate well
below the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's recommended winter
flow. Although anglers and biologists understand the agency's
mandate, they say the action means fish are being stranded in side
channels where they freeze or are eaten by bigger fish. Low water,
they add, is a threat to the river's already threatened Yellowstone
cutthroat trout and the region's bald eagles.
coalition of eastern Idaho anglers says it has an innovative
solution: buying water from farmers.
spend money to create habitat," says John Lent of Trout Unlimited.
"Why can't we spend money on the most important thing for fish -
Lent says the proposal is still in the
planning stages, but the money could come from conservation
organizations, Idaho's budget surplus or the creation of a new
fishing license. During wet years, when snow was plentiful and the
reservoirs were filled, the irrigators wouldn't receive any money,
but when water was short, the irrigators would be compensated for
Powerful agricultural interests say
they are willing to listen.
"It's going to have
to make sense economically for irrigators to take a risk, but it's
definitely worth talking about," says John Thompson, communication
director for Potato Growers of Idaho, which represents 500
Even though it could be a tremendously
expensive project - this year, for example, it would cost anglers
at least $425,000 to keep the river at 1,500 cfs - state officials
say it is worth discussing. The alternative is ignoring the
problem, which could jeopardize the future of the fish and lead to