the film

It's About Time

by Editorial Board
The Daily Astorian, April 9, 2009

Washington state and federal agencies direct millions to the Columbia estuary

Even we who live on its shores have a difficult time absorbing the Columbia River estuary's enormous volume and importance. Many of us aren't even sure what the estuary is - a river or a lake or a bay? Salt water, fresh or brackish? Oregon or Washington or federal? Healthy or sick?

The estuary is, in one way or another, all of these things. Most of all, for many years it was neglected and nearly forgotten. It was regarded as a ponderous, inert and meaningless place through which ships and salmon and people all hurried.

It has taken the better part of 20 years to turn this wrongful impression around and for people to begin appreciating exactly what we must safeguard. Our vast, dangerous, salty, tidal treasure is one of the planet's great cradles of life, sorely wounded by a century and more of human neglect and malpractice.

Federal Judge James Redden, the wise old man of Pacific Northwest salmon restoration, gets it. He has recently surmised that restoring the estuary is a key aspect of overall efforts to bring the entire watershed back to life. Although it stands to reason that the estuary is key to the survival of salmon and many other species, it has long been the neglected stepchild of salmon-recovery efforts.

Spurred by Redden's interest and maybe having finally cottoned onto the advisability of focusing more attention on the part of the Columbia unobstructed by dams, the state of Washington and relevant federal agencies are directing tens of millions of dollars to estuary projects between now and 2018.

It is about time.

It is somewhat disappointing that only a small fraction of this work is currently targeted for the estuary most familiar to us. By defining the estuary to include a hundred miles of river east of Astoria, this set of projects will have only limited direct benefits for the nearby communities of the "true" estuary. Work around Fort Columbia will restore some prime wetlands. And maybe there will be real progress on the Chinook River this time around, after past false starts.

Still, restoring wetlands and other measures anywhere on the lower Columbia will improve overall river conditions. A complete ribbon of intact habitat must be brought back, old toxins monitored and mitigated. This new work is a start, not a finish.

This is not a time for wasted motion or money. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are smart and strong, but not renowned for efficient use of resources. We must exert continuing control of the restoration process, not leaving it to the sole discretion of agencies that did much of the damage in prior generations.

Ultimately, the estuary's health depends on us, on our concern and direct engagement. We have some real money to work with now. Let's get to it.

Editorial Board
It's About Time
The Daily Astorian, April 9, 2009

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