Two conservation groups announced today that they have filed three lawsuits with the federal district court in Boise challenging water diversions in salmon, steelhead, and bull trout habitat near Challis. The cases charge violations of The Endangered Species Act and seek a halt to irrigation practices which trap fish in ditches, block migration, and de-water sections of streams.
The groups are Idaho Watersheds Project (IWP) and The Committee for Idaho's High Desert (CIHD), which sent out over 50 notices of intent to sue to irrigators, the Forest service, BLM, and Idaho Department of Lands in October. The groups are represented by Laird Lucas and the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies.
Salmon, steelhead, and bull trout in Idaho are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The Act prohibits "take" of protected species, which includes killing or harming them by modifying habitat.
In many Idaho streams, irrigation diversions are not screened, and fish become trapped in ditches and ultimately die. Some diversions dry up streams entirely, or pose impassable barriers to fish migration.
"These are just the first three of many cases that we expect to file challenging these antiquated diversion methods." said Jon Marvel of Idaho Watersheds Project. "If ranchers and farmers are not willing to begin protecting endangered fish from the impacts of their water diversions, they can expect to face similar ESA enforcement cases from us."
The cases target diversions on Mahogany Creek (in the Pahsimeroi River basin), Lake Creek (in the East Fork Salmon River drainage), and Otter Creek (tributary to Panther Creek and the Main Salmon River). In each case, individuals and corporations are named as defendants. One case also targets the Forest Service for failing to protect bull trout in Otter Creek.
"These three cases each involve very clear violations of the Endangered Species Act," said attorney Laird Lucas, "as well as `problem ranchers' who do not want to admit they are part of the problem. Our hope is that other ranchers will see that its in their best interest to work with us, not against us, and do what's right for the fish."