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Economic and dam related articles

Umatilla Tribes Intend
to Sue Over Summer Spill

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, April 21, 2004

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation announced April 19 that they intend to sue BPA and the Corps of Engineers to block any reduction in the summer spill program at federal dams.

"Our policy has always been to negotiate rather than litigate, but this time our hand has been forced," said Antone Minthorn, chairman of the Umatillas' board of trustees in an April 20 press release. "Our only option is to enjoin the federal government to stop this action before it harms our fish, our efforts, and substantial public efforts. Hopefully, their delay in deciding to end spill means they are re-examining the political and legal implications of their proposal because we think they will lose in court."

Jay Minthorn, chair of the Umatillas' fish and wildlife committee and vice-chair of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said BPA has misled the public by saying that the summer spill reduction would save $77 million and kill only 24 fish. "Both those numbers are wrong," Minthorn said. He said the action would cause the deaths of tens of thousands of fish across the region.

The Umatillas' press release said BPA and the Corps chose not to tell the public that ending summer spill would impact Umatilla River fall chinook. According to their press release, "Bonneville conveniently omitted that the federal government, which has poured more than $100 million into salmon recovery in the Umatilla River, was responsible in the first place, some 90 years ago, for the salmon's extinction when a federal irrigation project pumped all of the water out of the river for crops."

But the action agencies' analysis of the biological effects of the reduced spill proposal does include the Umatilla fall chinook. In their Mar, 30 assessment , it clearly shows that 10,000 smolts, or nearly 5 percent of the hatchery fall chinook released from the Umatilla would be killed by the proposed action.

However, as noted during discussion at the April meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's fish and wildlife committee, the affected number of smolts is expected to be reduced significantly since half the fall smolts from Umatilla facilities are actually released in February and March as yearlings (to improve survival to adulthood) and would not be impacted by spill in July or August. They are produced from eyed eggs from fish returning to the Umatilla and raised at Bonneville Hatchery to yearling status, then hauled to the Umatilla for release.

But the subyearling fall smolts, which are typically released in late May, would be impacted from a reduced spill scenario. These hatchery fish all come from eggs of upriver brights returning to the Priest Rapids Hatchery in the upper Columbia. However, monitoring in recent years has shown much better success with the earlier released fish; the yearling releases from the Umatilla have a return rate about four times higher than from subyearlings, or about .5 percent. In 2001, the Umatilla recovery effort showed its largest return on record, when about 1,000 adult fall chinook of hatchery origin returned, about five times the number of naturally spawning falls.

Bill Rudolph
Umatilla Tribes Intend to Sue Over Summer Spill
NW Fishletter, April 21, 2004

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