Spilling for Salmon's Sake Will Continueby Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, August 14, 2004
Plans to reduce water spilled at dams rejected by court of appeals
Water that helps young fall chinook salmon reach the ocean will continue to be spilled at Snake and Columbia river dams.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Friday the federal government's emergency request to strike down a district court's injunction on its plan to reduce spill at the dams.
"We are pleased that spill for salmon will continue this summer as it has in the past," said Anthony Johnson, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe Executive Council.
A lawsuit filed by Columbia Basin Indian tribes, sport fishing groups and environmentalists led to Judge James Redden of Portland placing an injunction on the government's plans to reduce fish friendly spills.
The Bonneville Power Administration planned to reduce the amount of water spilled at the dams and instead run it though power producing turbines. The agency said the plan, set to be implemented this month, would allow it to generate an additional $30 million worth of power.
In its place the BPA proposed so called offset measures such as increasing harvest on northern pike minnows that prey on young salmon. It also planned to capture as many juvenile salmon as possible and ship them past the dams in barges.
But reducing summer spill runs contrary to the federal government's own plan to recover threatened salmon populations. The salmon recovery strategy relies heavily on the program known as flow augmentation, which devotes some water to salmon passage rather than power production. The idea is to provide enough current through the large slackwater reservoirs for the young fish to make the more than 400-mile journey in a timely fashion.
Fish advocates argued that thousands of young salmon could be killed by reducing spill while the government said the risk to salmon was minimal.
Indian tribes and environmental groups brought their suit in July and Judge Redden granted their request to block spill reductions while the case is being heard.
The government appealed the injunction to the 9th Circuit and lost. The court case over the spill issue could continue with the injunction in place, but the schedule announced by the court to hear the case would last beyond this year's salmon migration season.
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