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Commentaries and editorials

Salmon Agency: Columbia and Snake Dams
Plan won't Jeopardize Fish

by Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
The Oregonian, October 31, 2007

The agency in charge of restoring Northwest salmon concluded Wednesday that the latest court-ordered plan for running federal dams in the Columbia and Snake River basins is not likely to jeopardize the survival of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.

"The picture that emerges is not pretty, but it is hopeful," said Bob Lohn, Northwest director of NOAA Fisheries.

The agencies that operate 24 federal hydroelectric dams and irrigation projects in Oregon, Washington and Idaho acknowledged that the projects would lead to salmon extinction. They offered a series of improvements to make up for them, as called for by the Endangered Species Act.

Those include:

The draft biological opinion from NOAA Fisheries looked at the proposals, considered climatic changes that have reduced the amount of food in the ocean and flows in spawning rivers, added some further mitigation and concluded that the fish should not only survive, but move closer to recovery.

After Indian tribes and Northwest states have been consulted and a final review is produced, it will go to U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland.

He tossed out the last plan, saying it violated the Endangered Species Act. He warned he wants something that will help the fish thrive, not just survive.

Lohn noted that the biological opinion did not consider a proposal long favored by some tribes and conservation groups, breaching four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington, because only Congress can do that.

Breaching the dams would benefit only two of the species, he said, and the benefits would be marginal.

The plan for helping salmon survive the dams was prepared by the Bonneville Power Administration, which sells the power, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operate the dams and irrigation systems.

BPA administrator Steve Wright said it has not analyzed how much the proposal would reduce power production or increase electric rates for consumers.

Conservation and fishermen's groups that brought the lawsuit tossing out the last biological opinion were not satisfied with the latest effort. They complained that it did not significantly increase the amount of water spilled through dams to speed the migration of young salmon to the ocean, and it continued to rely on loading young fish in barges to get them around dams.

"It looks to me like the (Bush) administration is punting and just trying to move it to the next administration," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, which represents California commercial salmon fishermen. "This is not a serious effort and probably will not survive Judge Redden's scrutiny."

Related Pages:
The opinions and supporting documents are available here.
Idaho's Sockeye: FCRPS Biological Opinion NOAA Fisheries' Executive Summary, 10/31/7

Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
Salmon Agency: Columbia and Snake Dams Plan won't Jeopardize Fish
The Oregonian, October 31, 2007

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