Two weeks after the Orofino Chamber of Commerce and its allies lost their bid in federal court to halt this summer’s drawdown of Dworshak Reservoir, help may be on the way.
Sen. Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho, is asking U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown to stop any further drawdown until after Labor Day.
The reservoir near Orofino is about 35 feet below full pool and dropping.
The water is intended to help endangered salmon negotiate the Snake River.
But Orofino merchants say they are losing millions of dollars in tourism because boating on the reservoir becomes impossible with the lower level.
Kempthorne said he was advised the Commerce Department, which oversees the National Marine Fisheries Service, has agreed to halt further drawdowns at Libby Dam in Montana for salmon.
Montana Gov. Marc Racicot threatened to sue the federal agency if it went ahead with plans to increase the flow at Libby Dam from 16,000 to 20,000 cubic feet per second.
But the fisheries service agreed not to raise the flow and announced it would decrease. Idaho Gov. Phil Batt has left his door open to suing the federal government over Dworshak.
Two weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge signed an order rejecting the Orofino Chamber of Commerce’s request for a restraining order to halt the drawdown.
Kempthorne said Orofino’s arguments for halting the Dworshak program are virtually identical to Libby Dam, and in some cases, even more compelling.
He charged fairness requires the suspension of any further drawdown of Dworshak Reservoir until after Labor Day, when tourism slacks off.
That would form a good-faith basis for future discussions about Dworshak and the Commerce Department’s decision-making authority on endangered species, he said.
Fisheries Service officials on Tuesday said they were not aware of Kempthorne’s letter.