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Irrigation District to Defy Order to Protect Salmon

THE NATION

April 21, 2002|From Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. — Irrigation district officials say they will defy a court order intended to protect endangered Chinook salmon and steelhead and begin sending water to their members' fields next month.

The Methow Valley Irrigation District in north-central Washington state was ordered by a federal judge to improve the efficiency of its irrigation system by April 1 or go without water. Federal attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle on Thursday to carry out that order.

The judge said he'll make a decision soon.

The irrigation district, which covers 1,500 acres, plans to begin sending water to its members on May 1. Mike Gage, director of the irrigation district, said the district will switch on the irrigation system even if a court ruling prohibits it.

Methow Valley farmers contend the fish aren't endangered because those spawned in hatcheries are plentiful and unprotected. The National Marine Fisheries Service contends the hatchery fish are genetically distinct.

"Thousands of [anglers] catch those very fish every year," Gage said. "And yet, they're going to shut us down for killing fish."

A state-commissioned study in 1990 concluded that for every eight gallons the district draws from the Twisp River, one gallon was delivered to fields. A more recent study shows a 2-1 ratio.

"This is not an issue of enough water," fisheries service spokesman Brian Gorman said. "There's plenty of water for fish and farmers, if it's used appropriately."

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