Conservationists Seek to Halt Irrigation Diversion to Protect Bull Trout


As part of a continuing legal campaign to end dewatering of critical habitat for listed fish species Idaho Watersheds Project and the Committee for Idaho's High Desert filed a motion for a preliminary injunction today which, if granted, could have far-reaching impacts in determining whether the Endangered Species Act can trump state water law.

Idaho Watersheds Project and Committee for Idaho's High Desert today filed for a preliminary injunction in federal court to bar irrigation diversions on Mahogany Creek in the Pahsimeroi valley under the Endangered Species Act.

The motion names Judd Whitworth, a rancher in the Pahsimeroi area, as responsible for killing bull trout, a fish species which is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The conservationists state that Whitworth operates a diversion on Mahogany Creek that kills fish both by dewatering the stream and by having no fish screen on the diversion. The court filings include photographs showing water running into a road from a ditch operated by Whitworth, while the streambed is completely dry.

"Bull trout and other fish are killed every year across central Idaho by irrigation diversions that are not screened and that dry up streams and rivers. That violates the Endangered Species Act, and cannot continue if we are going to save these fish," said Pam Marcum, chairperson of Committee for Idaho's High Desert.

"Judd Whitworth and his partners have been killing bull trout for years by taking all the water out of Mahogany Creek," said Jon Marvel, executive director of Idaho Watersheds Project. "Wasting water and not screening diversions violates Idaho laws; and killing bull trout in the process violates the ESA. Our lawsuit intends to hold these private parties responsible for their flagrant disregard of federal and state law."

The motion is the first in a series of lawsuits brought by the conservation groups under the Endangered Species Act to improve stream flows and fish populations in the Upper Salmon basin. The injunction motion will be heard in Boise on May 3 by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill. The groups are represented by attorneys Laird Lucas and the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies.