Judge Rules Snake River Dams
by Jonathan Brinckman
Ruling in a closely watched lawsuit that could have forced the removal of electricity-generating dams on the lower Snake River, a federal judge this week said the four dams do not violate the Clean Water Act.
U.S. District Judge Helen Frye of Portland said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking proper steps to ensure its dams do not cause water temperatures to exceed federal standards. Conservationists had charged that the dams violate the Clean Water Act.
The ruling is a significant victory for the corps. Frye had ordered the corps in early 2001 to produce a plan showing how it will keep water temperatures in the lower Snake River from rising to levels that harm salmon.
"We are disappointed with the court's ruling," said Todd True, an attorney for Earthjustice who represented nine conservation groups in their legal action against the corps. "We don't think the corps has done what the law requires to restore water quality in the Snake River." True said the conservation groups had not decided whether they will appeal.
Witt Anderson, chief of the corps' fish management office, said he could not comment because agency attorneys had not reviewed the ruling.
Conservationists said they will continue their efforts to force removal of the dams, which they say impede the recovery of salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act.
"The corps did the bare minimum necessary to defend itself in court," said Jan Hasselman of the National Wildlife Federation in Seattle. "Unfortunately, the court ruled that the Army Corps' bare minimum was good enough."
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