Irrigators Anxiously Await Judge’s Decision


On April 5th in Great Falls a federal judge listened to testimony from each side of a lawsuit regarding a proposed fish bypass on the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project. If the current injunction is not lifted by midnight on Saturday April 15th all federal funding for the project will be lost, and Montanans could be stuck paying the bill.

Northern Ag Network spoke with James Brower, Manager of the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project to get his thoughts on the hearing, “The only choice was whether we build the bypass now in time to save the endangered species or whether we don’t build the bypass now and we lose the funding and then the species is the one that suffers.”

Brower believes that the judge heard the concerns of irrigators and supporters of the bypass but still he is unsure of how the judge will rule.. “The Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resource Defense Council, those two environmental organizations, are the reason that no passage has been built yet, or possibly if the judge does not remove the injunction that no passage will be built, in time to save the species.”

Brower noted that the attorneys on the case initially thought the hearing would mainly focus on the injunction, but that it blossomed into much more. “The plaintiffs are saying we can remove the dam and that will be more certain to save the fish…but removing the dam has a lot more environmental consequences that the plaintiffs are ignoring.”

The hearing allowed the attorneys to discuss their parties’ points with the judge.  Brower stated that, “The environmental study proved that even by removing the dam there is no guarantee the pallid sturgeon would recover.” The bypass has had significant research over the last five years and Brower mentioned that, “The only way to be any more certain that this will work is to build a life-size sample of it and study it and see if it works, and that is by actually building the passage itself and seeing if the fish will use it.”

With the April 15th deadline for federal funding approaching quickly Brower emphasized the importance of a quick decision.  “The less of these fish there are then the more important it is that they do the fish passage project immediately, to give the species a chance to recover itself.  That was what our point was”, Brower said.  Followers of the hearing are hoping to receive an update on the 14th but are unsure if that is realistic.

We will continue to provide updates on this case as we receive them.


Northern Ag Network – 2017

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