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Agencies Urge Salmon Transport

by Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
Register-Guard, November 24, 2005

GRANTS PASS - Federal agencies that run the federal hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin want a judge to let them continue barging and trucking young salmon around fish-killing dams on the Snake River in Eastern Washington, arguing that will bring stronger returns of adult fish.

While releasing extra water over the dams instead of running it through turbines appears to increase survival of salmon and steelhead headed downriver, research indicates that fall chinook do better if they are put in barges and trucks to bypass the dams, the agencies said in motions filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

The Bonneville Power Administration, NOAA Fisheries and the Army Corps of Engineers asked Judge James Redden to let them continue with their plan for three years, when returns of salmon and steelhead will tell them if they were right.

Computer models indicate that the changes should result in a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in adult returns of spring chinook, and 15 percent to 25 percent increase in returns of steelhead, Lohn said.

The proposal represents the federal agencies' response to Redden's ruling that their 2004 plan for operating the dams safely for protected salmon, known as a biological opinion, violated the Endangered Species Act.

The plan calls for spilling extra water at eight Columbia and Snake river dams from April 3 to April 19, barging and trucking fish around Snake river dams from April 20 to May 31.

After declaring the biological opinion illegal last May, Redden ordered extra water spilled over four Snake dams and one Columbia dam in the summer and gave NOAA Fisheries a year to come up with a new plan. An economic analysis submitted with the federal agencies' plan estimated it would cost BPA ratepayers an extra $43 million to $90 million a year.

That compares to $450 million a year for an alternative plan from conservation groups and fishermen, who have proposed increasing river flows and spilling more water over dams.

''The federal government has continued its pattern of avoiding the problem of not putting solutions that are meaningful on the table,'' said Todd True, an attorney for Earthjustice in Seattle representing plaintiffs. ''The good news is the states (Oregon and Washington) are looking at some changes in river management. We hope that will bring the federal government forward.''

True added that the economic analysis had misinterpreted the plan from plaintiffs, and was likely to be recalculated.

Their motion, filed last month, called for the Army Corps of Engineers to spill more water over Bonneville, John Day and McNary dams in the spring, and in the summer to spill water over the three Columbia river dams plus Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite on the Snake.

It also calls for holding back water behind dams in the upper basin during the winter so it can be released to speed up river flows in the spring and summer.

Redden has scheduled argument on the motions Dec. 15 in Portland.

The federal agencies propose judging the success of operations on the numbers of adult fish that return to spawn, which can vary depending on how much food is available in the ocean, rather than counting the survival of juvenile fish.

Related Sites:
Impacts of Proposed Columbia River Operations for 2006 by Federal Action Agencies, 11/23/5

Jeff Barnard
Agencies Urge Salmon Transport
Register-Guard, November 24, 2005

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