Statement by Senator Ron Wyden
Environment and Public Works Committee
October 8, 1998

Mr. Chairman, Oregonians and other Northwest ratepayers have spent billions of dollars to recover Columbia/Snake River salmon. Yet year after year our salmon runs continue to decline. Clearly somebody is doing something wrong.

Congress can't keep going down the same path of spending ratepayer and taxpayer dollars on the tried and failed strategies of the past. We need to try some new, homegrown cooperative approaches.

I have recently applied the cooperative, homegrown approach to problems facing salmon and irrigators. Working with Northwest irrigators and conservation groups, I have developed bipartisan legislation to reduce the threat to salmon and other fish from unscreened water diversions. This initiative was cosponsored by Senator Gordon Smith and has support from all the Northwest irrigation groups and literally dozens of Northwest and national conservation and sport fishing groups, including Natural Resources Defense Council, Oregon Trout, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, National Audubon Society, and Northwest Sportfishing Industries Association. You don't often see such a diverse set of groups supporting environmental legislation. Save Our Wild Salmon's letter of support states: "Your proposed amendment to WRDA is a true 'win-win' for fish and farmers."

Mr. Chairman, I think you will be particularly interested in what the Idaho Water Users Association, Inc. wrote to you in reference to the Wyden/Smith fish screen amendment: "My purpose in contacting you is to let you know that the Idaho Water Users Association fully supports these amendments and would urge you to do everything in your power to assist in passage of this important provision."

I have attached copies of the Idaho Water Users Association letter and other letters of support for the Wyden/Smith legislation and would ask that you include these in the hearing record.

The problem of fish loss in water diversions is well known in the Pacific Northwest. Juvenile fish, including endangered salmon and bull trout, are killed when they are diverted from rivers and streams along with water used for irrigation purposes. The common-sense solution to this pervasive problem is to safely screen the points of water diversion to allow water through while keeping fish out. Despite existing State and Federal programs to assist with fish screens, unscreened diversions continue to be a significant problem for endangered fish in the Pacific Northwest. The program created by our amendment would help protect endangered fish species by giving the Army Corps of Engineers new authority to work with irrigators to make their water systems safer for fish.

My home State of Oregon has identified fish mortality in diversions as a priority problem. In a letter to Chairman Chafee, Oregon's Governor John Kitzhaber emphasized the importance of this issue to our State. Governor Kitzhaber's letter states: "Oregon is working to restore several runs of fish species and one of our primary goals is to encourage fish screens and passage devices for water diversions on our streams and rivers.... Senator Wyden's amendment will greatly benefit the work our local irrigation districts and watershed councils are doing here to conserve and protect our precious fish runs and we urge your very strong support for this program."

To address the problem of unscreened diversions, our State has already developed a cooperative program to assist in screening smaller diversions used on family farms. However, the State cannot afford to provide similar assistance for larger sized diversions. That's where the Federal government can help.

Thanks to the cooperation of Senator Chafee and his staff, a version of my legislation will be included in the Senate Water Resources Development Act. Under this new program, the Army Corps of Engineers will be able to provide technical planning and design assistance to irrigators to help them make their water systems more fish friendly. This legislation also authorizes the Army Corps to conduct studies on measures to reduce fish mortality on irrigation diversions and what the Federal role is to encourage the use of these measures.

In the future, I will seek to expand this program to authorize the Corps or other Federal Agencies to aid irrigators in actual construction of irrigation diversion improvements.

Mr. Chairman, I'm not claiming that this program is the silver bullet to solve our salmon problem. But this program, along with other programs like the Clean Water bill I introduced earlier this year with Senator Burns are pieces of the complete puzzle, which will be defined by the regional decision framework being developed by Governor Kitzhaber, Senator Smith and others in the Northwest.

Ultimately, it will take the integrated efforts of all interests in our region to recover our salmon successfully. State, Tribal and local governments, local watershed councils, private landowners and the Federal government will all need to work together. Initiatives like the fish screen amendment will help forge the partnerships upon which successful salmon recovery will be based.

Environmental protection programs developed from the ground up have a much better chance of succeeding than those dictated from Washington, D.C. The people who are directly affected by such programs understand exactly how they will be affected, the goals of the programs, the reasons for striving for those goals and the process by which they are to be achieved. Folks who agree to homegrown solutions do so with their eyes wide open.

The top down approach to environmental protection is, by its very nature, threatening to local citizens and businesses. Only by developing and implementing homegrown solutions will we encourage our citizens, corporations and local governments to make environmental protection an integral part of their day-to-day work.