Northwest Governors Unite Against New Dam Breaching Rhetoricby Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, June 13, 2003
The four Northwest governors met June 5 in Boise to display a new solidarity towards salmon recovery, including a united stand against breaching the four federal dams on the lower Snake River. It means a change of policy for Oregon, whose new governor Ted Kulongoski made clear that his state agreed with the others that breaching the dams must not be an option.
John Kitzhaber, Oregon's previous chief executive, had supported breaching, but the controversial recovery strategy was sidestepped in a series of recommendations made by the governors in 2000.
In a June 5 letter to President Bush that included 13 pages of recommendations, the governors said they would continue "to pursue full implementation of the biological opinions to recover our salmon, steelhead and freshwater species because it is not only the right thing to do, but also because the failure to do so can jeopardize the federal hydropower system and re-ignite the controversy over dam breaching."
The governors also noted that the pace of the federal salmon recovery effort in the interior Columbia region is "not well synchronized" with each state's planning effort that is being spearheaded by the Power Planning Council and its 62-subbasin planning program. They recommended that products of the technical recovery team [TRT] process led by NOAA Fisheries be coordinated with the states before release.
"We need to avoid a situation," said the governors, "where the subbasin plans are finished on schedule next spring only to find that they do not adequately address new or different recovery goals set forth in the TRT process that appears to be disconnected from and on a slower schedule than subbasin planning."
The recommendations included a commitment to protect the federal hydro system and BPA. The governors urged the power agency's public and private customers to reach agreement on sharing BPA's benefits. But the executives supported BPA's cost reductions, though they expressed concern that recovery progress could be jeopardized, putting the agency at legal and financial risk. They called for BPA, in consultation with the council, to prioritize operations [like summer spill] and report back in a year on the progress of this effort.
Environmental groups were not impressed. Citing the recent federal court decision that has invalidated the hydro BiOp, they said the ruling shows that the recovery effort could not be implemented. "Dam removal will never be 'off the table' until wild salmon are restored to abundance without it," said Pat Ford executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon coalition. "No one has proven how to restore salmon without breaching the dams and if this isn't done soon we could be facing the decision of a God Squad," Ford said.
The governors supported continued ESA coverage for the fish while Oregon federal judge James Redden deals with the issue of vacating the BiOp. He has given the feds a year to make changes that ensure some fish recovery actions, mainly outside the hydro system, are more certain to occur. The governors said the feds "should address the court's concerns by taking positive, measurable and cost-effective steps to benefit fish."
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