Peter Anderson, (208) 345-9800 or (208) 850-4664 (cell)
Warren Colyer, (435) 753-3132
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Trout Unlimited Hails Victory for Oneida Narrows Trout Fishery
IDWR decision 'underscores that collaboration and partnerships are the future of water management in the West'
Boise — Trout Unlimited hailed a decision by the Idaho Department of Water Resources to deny a water permit for a proposed dam on the Oneida Narrows, a popular recreation area on the Bear River in southeastern Idaho.
"This is a major victory for a priceless native trout fishery, as well as for local anglers and other recreation users who cherish this beautiful place," said Warren Colyer, director of TU's watersheds restoration program. "Franklin County anglers and visitors alike recognize that fishing for native cutthroat trout in this spectacular canyon is something special. Oneida Narrows is already an outstanding trout fishery, and our habitat improvements are making it even better."
TU said the IDWR decision also supports a new, more collaborative approach to water planning.
On July 26, the IDWR denied an application by the Twin Lakes Canal Co. for a 17,300 acre feet water right, which would have been used to store water behind a proposed 108-foot high dam on the Oneida Narrows section of the Bear River, a rugged whitewater canyon that is beloved by generations of anglers, kayakers, campers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. "The public interests associated with the Bear River in its current state far outweigh the public interests associated with the proposed project," the IDWR wrote in the order denying the new water right.
Colyer, a fisheries biologist, said that Bonneville cutthroat trout—the only native trout found in the Bear River system—need both mainstem habitat as well as tributary reaches to fulfill their life cycle needs. "This dam would have destroyed a critical section of that mainstem habitat and scuttled several years and millions of dollars of collaborative restoration efforts," he said.
The IDWR decision noted that it found Colyer's testimony "persuasive."
TU leaders said that the dam project also would have undermined a carefully negotiated 2002 agreement that balanced water and hydropower needs with the needs of the Bear River fishery and recreational users. Under that settlement, TU and other conservation groups agreed to the relicensing of three PacifiCorp dams, in exchange for energy giant PacifiCorp's funding and support for a range of fish passage and habitat restoration projects on the Bear River.
"This collaborative approach is the future of smart water management and conservation in the West," said Scott Yates, director of TU's Western Water Project. "It's exciting to see diverse partners working together to meet a broad range of water and habitat needs. That spirit of collaboration really was what was at risk in this decision."
TU praised PacifiCorp for its role in the Bear River partnership.
"At every turn, they've lived up to their part of this agreement—they defended it before IDWR in the dam case, and have been terrific partners on the restoration of the Bear River," said Peter Anderson, counsel for TU's Idaho Water Project.
He added, "The old way of doing business on water—us vs. them—doesn't work anymore in resolving some of the difficult water challenges we face in Idaho and the West. Instead of fighting, we have to work together to find solutions that work for everyone."
In that respect, Anderson said, the IDWR decision offers a "fresh start" for addressing water needs in Franklin County. "TU is not interested in a 'touchdown dance.' We would sincerely like to help Twin Lakes address their water needs, but in a way that enhances, not destroys, the fishery." He noted that the Twin Lakes water system is "incredibly leaky" and that fixing the leaks could provide a better water solution than a new dam.
"TU would like to work with Twin Lakes Canal Co. to reach the same kind of creative, cooperative agreement that we reached with PacifiCorp," said Anderson. "We've extended our hand to Twin Lakes, and it is still extended. A solution is doable."
TU and other partners in the Bear River agreement continue to identify research and restoration projects to help restore native Bonneville cutthroat trout populations. To date, TU has worked collaboratively with close to a dozen different irrigation companies to improve water delivery efficiencies, restore fish passage, and enhance habitat for Bonneville cutthroat trout. Collectively, these projects have reconnected over 150 miles of stream habitat for Bear River populations.
Trout Unlimited is a non-profit organization with more than 147,000 members dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America's trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. Follow TU on the TU blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter via @TroutUnlimited.