BOISE (CN) – The Nez Perce Tribe sued NOAA Fisheries in Federal Court, claiming the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is rating water for lawns as more important than water for critically endangered steelhead trout. The tribe claims the federal agency acknowledges that most of the water from the Lewiston Orchards Project – reservoirs, dams and diversions on Nez Perce land – is used for lawns and landscaping in Lewiston and its suburbs.
The drying up of crucial Snake River steelhead habitat is particularly troubling since the fish’s Clearwater-Lower Mainstem population represents one of the last genetically pure strains, unadulterated by hatchery fish, the tribe says.
The Nez Perce claim that a biological opinion was “reverse engineered” to approve a minimum stream-flow regime that illegally considered previous contractual obligations by the Bureau of Reclamation to provide water for the irrigation district.
The 2010 opinion “places desires for water for urban and suburban lawns, landscaping, and gardens” over the needs of endangered steelhead and the habitat it needs, the tribe says.
The agency also blew off the importance of steelhead to the tribe, and its treaty-guaranteed fishing rights, the Nez Perce say.
As the third time the tribe has sued over the issue, this most recent biological opinion is a “disappointment” since the court ordered a new opinion after rejecting a 2006 opinion. The tribe blasted the 2010 opinion as being even “more half-hearted and more insincere” than the opinion issued 4 years before.
The Lewiston plan does not consider recovery of species that spawn in the Sweetwater, Webb, Lapwai and Captain John Creeks, and ignores habitat above the Sweetwater diversion dam, the tribe says. It also brushes aside the agency’s own evidence in issuing a permit to “take” the endangered steelhead, the tribe says.
Represented by David Cummings in Lapwai, Idaho, the New Perce seek invalidation of the 2010 biological opinion.