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104 West Valley View Road / PO Box 467
Talent, OR 97540 USA
tid@talentid.org 541-535-1529


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Update on Endangered Species Act (ESA) Consultation Process

On Monday, April 2, 2012, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) released its Biological Opinion pursuant to section 7 of the Endangered Species on the effects of the Bureau of Reclamation’s future operation and maintenance of the Rogue River Basin Project which includes the Talent, Medford, and Rogue River Valley Irrigation Districts (“Districts”).

In this opinion, NMFS concludes that the proposed action is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of Southern Oregon and Northern California Coasts Coho salmon or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat for Coho salmon. The details of this long and detailed opinion and how it affects the operations of the Districts are being reviewed. The Districts are encouraged that it appears in crafting this opinion, NMFS has used the science and operational knowledge of the system that was developed during the consultation process.

For several years, the Talent, Medford, and Rogue River Valley Irrigation Districts have been engaged in an Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) consultation with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (“BOR”) regarding the operations of the Rogue River Basin Project (“Project”). The Project is a Bureau of Reclamation project supplying irrigation water to more than 35,000 acres of agricultural lands in the Bear Creek basin. These high-value irrigated farm lands were a significant contributor to the estimated $64,000,000.00 in gross farm and ranch sales in Jackson County in 2010 (Source: 2010-2011 Oregon Agriculture & Fisheries Statistics, published by USDA and ODA). In addition, the region’s irrigated agricultural lands are responsible for thousands of family wage jobs.

The consultation process is required by Section 7 of the ESA because Coho salmon are listed as a threatened species in the Rogue River basin, including Bear Creek, Little Butte Creek, and their tributaries. These same stream systems serve as the source of water for the Project’s agricultural lands in the Bear Creek basin. The ESA requires that the BOR consult with the NMFS in order to minimize impacts that Project operations could have on listed species.

Over the last several years, the Districts and their patrons have committed an incredible amount of time and resources to this process to make sure that, in developing the opinion, the federal agencies have before them the best available science and operational information about how the Project operates. Certain operational changes will be necessary due to this opinion, but the Districts are both confident and cautious that these changes will be manageable and feasible. Through collaboration, coordination and hard work, the Biological Opinion we have today appears to provide more water for fish, while allowing the continued delivery of irrigation water that sustains the Rogue Valley’s economic engine. The results of this opinion ultimately afford the opportunity for most of the citizens of the Rogue valley to continue to reside here. Also, with continued operation of the Project, flood control is preserved along with recreational opportunities the irrigation reservoirs provide.

Irrigation Districts Continue Efforts in Endangered Species Act (ESA) Consultation Process

For several years, the Talent, Medford, and Rogue River Valley Irrigation Districts (“Districts”) have been engaged in an Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) consultation with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (“BOR”) regarding the operations of the Talent Division of the Rogue River Basin Project (“Project”). The Project is a BOR reclamation project supplying irrigation water to more than 35,000 acres of agricultural lands in the Bear Creek basin. These high-value irrigated farm lands were a significant contributor to the estimated $64,000,000.00 in gross farm and ranch sales in Jackson County in 2010 (Source: 2010-2011 Oregon Agriculture & Fisheries Statistics, published by USDA and ODA). In addition, the region’s irrigated agricultural lands are responsible for thousands of family wage jobs.

The consultation process is required by Section 7 of the ESA because coho salmon are listed as a threatened species in the Rogue River basin, including Bear Creek, Little Butte Creek, and their tributaries. These same stream systems serve as the source of water for the Project’s agricultural lands in the Bear Creek basin. The ESA requires that the BOR consult with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) in order to minimize impacts that Project operations could have on listed species.

As multi-generational farmers, ranchers, orchardists, and wine grape growers, the owners of irrigated land in the basin understand the need for sustainable practices and good stewardship of our natural resources. Therefore, the Districts, who supply water to those landowners, are deeply committed to engagement in the consultation process as necessary to produce a final product that is grounded in solid and reliable science, and that allows project water to be delivered to the Districts in accordance with their BOR contracts. To that end, the Districts have been providing technical and operational input to BOR and NMFS in the development of a practical, scientifically based environmental review process. The outcome of that process will be new scientific models that are far more certain to lead to improved fish habitat in the context of present operations—a win-win result for fish, irrigated agriculture, and the local economy.

Unfortunately, on February 7, 2012, Oregon Wild (an environmental plaintiff group) sued BOR for failure to complete the consultation in a timely fashion. The complaint seeks an injunction against further project storage and diversions until the consultation is completed. The basis of this request is Oregon Wild’s allegation that Project operations are resulting in harm to a listed species. That allegation is based in large part on an outdated May 2011 draft biological opinion, which NMFS itself has now concluded no longer reflects the best available science. Moreover, during the 2011-2012 winter storage season, the Districts have voluntarily left water instream that otherwise would have been stored in Project reservoirs. BOR and NMFS have endorsed this bypass flow regime.

Oregon Wild failed to do its homework before filing this lawsuit. As a result, the suit is based on outdated assumptions and asks for a remedy that is already being provided by BOR—namely a rapid conclusion to the consultation process. The Districts believe that the Oregon Wild litigation will, ironically, only serve to prolong an already lengthy process. It will divert attention and resources away from the consultation and into the court room. This is a bad outcome for all parties, and will put into jeopardy thousands of family wage jobs that depend on irrigation water deliveries in the basin.