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Moving on

| June 23, 2006 12:00 AM

The great 2006 spill at Libby Dam is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

With a little luck and a dry, warm summer pattern taking over, the river will be back to normal in a couple of days. In fact we're just over a week away from being able to complain about higher salmon flows starting. I believe flows will be in the 16,000 to 18,000 cubic-foot per second category.

Compared to what it's been for the past two weeks that would seem to be nothing. But it still means the river is too high for many activities.

I won't mention fishing because it remains to be seen what that will be like for the rest of this year and probably the next two if recent history - 2002 - is any measure.

To keep from being victims of Libby Dam, the community needs to come together and speak with one voice. And we need the state to step in. Remember the state? That's the government entity which made some empty threats to appease us. In a news release, the governor said he was concerned or disturbed by the spill at Libby Dam.

He better be a "dam" sight more than that. This spill was both a waste of resources and a threat to Montana residents downstream of the dam. We don't know how big a hit the fishery took yet but the fishermen on the river, as well as the guides, say 2002 left the Kootenai in rough shape for two to three years afterward.

We don't need anything drastic — just assurances that a more conservative approach to refill will be taken in the future. One that avoids a spill — either the sturgeon kind or emergency. I know that's hard to say never but we can try.

Also, the state has got to figure out how to become a stronger force at the negotiating table on the operations of Libby Dam. We got to figure out a position to take to make up for the insanity of turning over state property to the federal government when the dam was constructed. I mean water rights.

Personally I believe it would be a worthwhile gamble to fill a claim on water rights in the Kootenai drainage and take our chances in a court somewhere in the West where water rights are more valuable than oil or whiskey. Them's that control the water rights have a big voice in how much water can be released downstream. Of course we have to a plan to satisfy that western saying about water "Use it or lose it."

This year, the federal government has been using about half the water and losing a great portion on the state's fishery and riverside property owners. Not a very positive use, either. — Roger Morris