Appeals Court Asked to Stay Salmon Decisionby Associated Press
Times-News, August 5, 2004
SPOKANE, Wash. -- A federal appeals court on Wednesday was asked to allow operators of four dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers to conserve water this month for additional electric generation, even though opponents contend that will hurt endangered salmon runs.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a federal judge's order last week that said more water must be spilled over the dams now, to help flush migrating young salmon to the Pacific Ocean.
The federal dam operators believe they can release enough water to help the fish, while conserving some to generate valuable electricity as river flows drop through the summer.
Environmental groups immediately denounced the appeal.
"The agency's decision to fight this ruling is a slap in the face to fishing communities, native American tribes, and conservationists as well as everyone else that has worked to restore wild salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers," said Todd True, an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, which is suing federal agencies over the issue.
The move would save consumers a few pennies on power bills, while seriously damaging the restoration of wild salmon runs, True said.
"Officials estimate that up to a half-million young salmon, some protected by the Endangered Species Act, will perish if the water is withheld," True said.
But lawyers for the federal government said taxpayers lose money every day that water is spilled over Bonneville, The Dalles, Ice Harbor and John Day dams this month. The Bonneville Power Administration markets the power.
"An emergency stay of the injunction is critical because every day that it is in effect, BPA is needlessly prevented from generating additional electric power that would save ratepayers $1 million in electricity costs that day alone," the filing said.
The motion, from Justice Department attorney Anna T. Katselas, said that if BPA cannot generate valuable power for sale, that could also raise electricity rates next year.
"Once water is passed through a dam as spill instead of directed to turbines for the generation of power, it cannot be recovered," the motion said.
The government asked the appeals court for a stay as soon as possible, and no later than next Monday.
Last week, U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland, Ore., ruled that holding the water back now violated federal laws intended to restore salmon runs.
He sided with conservation, Indian and sport fishing supporters who contend the potential damage to salmon recovery efforts outweighs the short-term economic benefit of maintaining power production.
Fred Disheroon, a U.S. Justice Department attorney representing the federal agencies, told Redden that courts had no business interfering in routine operations such as modifying summer spill plans.
The BPA wanted to curtail the summer spill one month early at The Dalles and Bonneville dams, and six days early at Ice Harbor and John Day dams.
The BPA typically spills water over dams during spring and summer to help young salmon bypass power turbines, but says it can reduce spills enough to save $18 million to $28 million in Western power production without seriously affecting salmon runs.
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