Apr 30 2011
Oral argument has been set for May 3 before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the legal challenge to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to withdraw more water from the Columbia River.
Known as the Lake Roosevelt Drawdown Project, the Bureau plans to withdraw water from the Columbia River, behind Grand Coulee Dam, and issue approximately 900 new water rights for irrigation, municipal and industrial use, and instream flow augmentation. The Columbia River is already over-allocated – and inadequate streamflows are harming aquatic habitat, water quality, and salmon migration.
The legal challenge to the Bureau’s decision to withdraw more water from the Columbia River is based on the National Environmental Policy Act, the statute that requires federal agencies to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of their actions. The Bureau of Reclamation failed to consider cumulative and indirect impacts associated with the new water diversions. For example, the Bureau is expanding a water pipe under I-90, called the Weber Siphon, that is 10 times the size of what is needed for the Lake Roosevelt Drawdown, but the Bureau failed to consider the foreseeable environmental impacts associated with future water diversions as a result of the significant increase in capacity.
The Columbia Basin Project is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The Project contains one of the world’s largest dams, Grand Coulee Dam, and is also the nation’s largest all-federal irrigation project. The Bureau’s efforts during the 1980s to expand the Project were found to be uneconomic and halted. The Bureau is once again trying to withdraw more water from the Columbia River to expand federal irrigation.