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Plan to Cut Back Spilling Water at Dams Challenged

by Staff
The Columbian, July 10, 2004

A federal judge in Portland will decide whether federal dam managers legally can divert summertime water toward dam turbines, rather than flushing ocean-bound salmon safely across Columbia Basin dam spillways.

Sixteen environmental groups on Friday amended a 2001 lawsuit over the operation of federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, charging the Army Corps of Engineers and National Marine Fisheries Service with violating the Endangered Species Act by approving a plan to reduce the planned summertime spilling by 39 percent.

Federal dam managers say few fish will be killed by reducing the spill, and they can offset the damage through habitat improvements and other actions.

Conservation and utility groups alike have seized on the issue.

Depending on one's outlook, spilling water could be viewed as extravagantly wasteful or the least dam managers can do for salmon imperiled by a river system drastically altered by hydroelectric dams.

Spilling water saps a dam's ability to generate surplus power that could be sold at market rates in California, thereby reducing wholesale rates in the Northwest. But biologists generally consider spilling water to be much safer for imperiled Snake River fall chinook than shooting them through turbines, where they might clang off the huge blades or suffer an effect similar to the bends in deep-sea divers.

The lawsuit is before U.S. District Judge James Redden. Oral arguments are set for July 28 in Portland.

Plan to Cut Back Spilling Water at Dams Challenged
The Columbian, July 10, 2004

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