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Commentaries and editorials

Judge Orders More Spills
on Columbia Dams

by Mitch Lies, Staff Writer
Capital Press, January 6, 2006

Ruling seen as compromise between positions of two sides in salmon lawsuit

A U.S. District Court judge last week ordered the Bush administration to keep spilling water over Columbia and Snake river dams next spring and summer, but stopped short of ordering that reservoirs be drawn down to accommodate endangered salmon runs.

The ruling wasn't as harsh as federal officials expected.

"I think (U.S. District Court) Judge James Redden showed considerable deference to the federal arguments," said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, the agency in charge of protecting endangered salmon. Gorman said Redden "didn't give us everything we wanted," but he didn't give the environmental and fishing communities all they wanted, either.

The environmental and fishing communities also praised Redden's ruling.

"The court's ruling is great news for fish and fishing communities up and down the Columbia River," Scott Weedman, owner of the Three River Marine and Tackle in Woodinville, Wash., said in a prepared statement. "Now we know fish and fishing businesses will be taken care of better next year while the states, tribes and federal agencies try to reach agreement on a real long-term salmon recovery plan."

Under the ruling announced by Redden in Portland Dec. 29, summer spills are extended by two weeks over the schedule proposed by NOAA Fisheries, and NOAA won't be barging migrating juvenile salmon around dams at a rate it would like. But Redden stopped short of ordering that agencies increase flows by drawing down reservoirs and that agencies conduct early spring spills, two provisions sought by environmental groups, fisheries and tribes.

Mike Hansen, a spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration, said the BPA is still determining what it will cost Northwest ratepayers to conduct the increased spills. BPA officials estimate that when Redden called for increased spills last summer, it cost the region $74 million. Hansen added that BPA is "in full support of the collaboration going on now working on long-term solutions to address salmon recovery."

In rejecting NOAA Fisheries' 2004 salmon recovery plan, called a biological opinion, Redden ordered the federal agencies to work with Northwest tribes, fishing groups and the environmental community to develop a long-term solution to salmon recovery.

He also ordered the agencies to submit a quarterly update on their progress, the first of which was submitted Jan. 3. Redden has scheduled a hearing to go over the quarterly update Jan. 20 in Portland.

In his ruling Dec. 29, Redden ordered summer spills to continue through Aug. 31, two weeks longer than NOAA Fisheries requested, but left the door open to cutting off increased spills on Aug. 15 if government officials can show 98-99 percent of juvenile smolt already have passed the dams.

According to government reports, typically 95 to 97 percent of juvenile salmon have cleared Bonneville Dam -- the last of the Columbia and Snake river dams they negotiate -- by Aug. 15.

Mitch Lies, Staff Writer
Judge Orders More Spills on Columbia Dams
Capital Press, January 6, 2006

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