Bush Administration Appears Splintered Over Decision to Reverse Bypass Flows Policy
5/25/2001 -- -- For Immediate Release May 25, 2001
Contact: Steve Moyer, 703-284-9406
Dave Nickum, 303-440-2937
Washington, D.C. – The Bush Administration appears to be having difficulty making up its mind about whether or not to jettison a key, decades-old tool for sustaining watersheds on the National Forests, called bypass flows.
Although other actions this year seem to signify that it will retain the policy, the Administration’s most recent pronouncements seemed to say that it was headed toward a giveaway to water developers, which the conservation organization Trout Unlimited says would deal a major blow to fish and wildlife habitat.
“If the Bush Administration reverses the Forest Service’s bypass flow policy, the result will be a major blow to the environment for the benefit of water developers,” said Charles Gauvin, President of Trout Unlimited.
The Forest Service policy, known as bypass flows, has recently been under attack by members of the Colorado Congressional delegation who believe that it unfairly restricts the ability of irrigators and other large water users to have virtually unlimited access to water in streams in the national forests. The policy requires that water storage projects on the national forests leave some water in the streams they divert, not only to support fish and wildlife, but also for people who enjoy natural, living streams.
At a Congressional subcommittee hearing this week, a Forest Service representative testified that the Bush Administration was in the process of reviewing the bypass policy, but he also signaled that the policy would be modified in a way that could strangle its application. Congressman Scott McInnis (R-CO) and Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) -- opponents of the policy -- have claimed that the statement means the policy will be reversed.
But as recently as last week before the same Subcommittee, new Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth defended at least sparing, discrete use of bypass flows authority to protect streams. Also last week, in a brief filed in Federal District court, the Justice Department issued a vigorous defense of bypass flow authority as one of the tools that the agency has to use at its discretion to protect flows in streams. Most strikingly, in March, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman herself upheld a Forest Service decision on two Colorado Forest Plan appeals, affirming the agency’s responsibilities to protect streams through bypass flows where necessary.
“In calling for the elimination of bypass flows, Members of Congress like Scott McInnis and Wayne Allard seem to see only the water developers’ side of the story and are ignoring the water needs of recreational interests, and fish and wildlife resources. If the Bush Administration agrees with them by strangling use of the Forest Service’s bypass flow authority, it will represent a significant attack on the environment and the nation’s publicly held properties,” said Charles Gauvin, President of Trout Unlimited.
The use of bypass flow authority stems from the Forest Service’s seminal Organic Act legislation and Congressional directives to the agency in the 1970’s to protect water resources when issuing permits for the use of National Forest lands. Since then, the Forest Service has used its bypass flow authority rarely—only 15 times nationally. Often, the Forest Service reaches negotiated agreements that protect fish and wildlife in streams as an alternative to using its regulatory authority.
However, if the Forest Service loses its authority to protect streams through bypass flows, the impetus for these negotiations will be lost and collaborative solutions – and the streams they might protect – will simply dry up. A reversal of the bypass flow policy, will reverse a long pattern by the Forest Service to create forest management plans that set terms and conditions which minimize damage to scenic values, fish and wildlife habitat, and also protect the environment.
“This sparingly used policy literally can mean the difference between life or death for streams in the nation’s forests. To reverse the policy would mean that the nation’s forests no longer belong to fish and wildlife and they don’t belong to the average American taxpayer,” said Gauvin.
Gauvin urged the Administration not to gut the policy and said his organization would use every available means at its disposal to protect the continued use of the policy if the Bush Administration cripples the Forest Service’s ability to set conditions on the amount of water that can be taken out of streams in the national forests.
“Representative McInnis and Senator Allard have claimed that keeping the Forest Service’s bypass flow authority in place will have cataclysmic consequences for the West. They’re wrong. It’s a wise policy that works on behalf of fish and wildlife, as well as all Americans, not just water users. Releasing enough water to keep streams alive is not an unreasonable request in exchange for allowing water developers use of the public’s National Forests,” said Gauvin.
Founded in 1959 in Grayling, Michigan, Trout Unlimited is the nation’s leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization. TU’s 130,000 members in 500 chapters nationwide are dedicated to the conservation, protection, and restoration of North America’s trout and salmon habitat and their watersheds. The organization has 8,000 members in Colorado.