A U.S. District Court judge granted a motion from federal defendants to dismiss a cross-claim by the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association in National Wildlife Federation et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service et al., ruling that the group has no standing.

CSRIA is an intervenor-defendant in the case, but also filed two cross-claims against the action agencies saying they didn't accurately capture costs to irrigators under a dam breaching scenario and they should have included an alternative for deep drawdowns offering better protections for salmon while mitigating economic disruptions.

The Aug. 12 order allowed CSRIA to amend its cross-claim to include a claim that federal agencies failed to consider an adequate range of alternatives in its Columbia River System Operations EIS, and then found that the organization failed to show irrigators will be harmed by the preferred alternative.

"We're calling it the enigma ruling," CSRIA Board Representative Darryll Olsen told NW Fishletter. "How can you say we're not hurt by the preferred alternative when you're saying there's a flaw in the EIS in the preferred alternative? It's wrap-yourself-into-a-pretzel logic," he added.

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon wrote that because CSRIA is not claiming to be harmed by the preferred alternative, it cannot show how its members are harmed by the actions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. "The alleged harm is not from the federal agencies' planned actions, but rather from the actions CSRIA is worried the agencies may take if a series of future events occurs," he wrote.

He wrote that to validate the claim of harm alleged by CSRIA, the court would have to first find that the federal agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act in preparing the EIS and then the court or federal agencies would have to choose to implement the dam breaching alternative. "CSRIA provides no evidence, argument, or authority that the agencies or the Court would proceed in this manner if the Court found that the Corps and BOR violated NEPA," he wrote.

Simon found that the "alleged future injury is too speculative to support standing."

Olsen said it's clear to him that the preferred alternative will not hold up in court, and the only other alternative on the table is breaching the four lower Snake River dams. "I don't know how anyone can think the preferred alternative is going to stay intact," he added.

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K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.