A Good Ruling that
Score a welcome science-based win for wild Northwest salmon. A federal judge in Portland told the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week to keep spilling water over four federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers as a way to protect migrating juvenile fish.
Although Judge James Redden made the right call, litigation shouldn't have been necessary to order the Corps to meet its obligations under the law. The Corps is supposed to use credible science to help it find ways to protect and rebuild wild salmon and other fish stocks protected under the Endangered Species Act.
That obviously didn't happen in this case. But it shouldn't be surprising. Protecting the environment hasn't been a top priority of the Bush administration. Still, it's hard to imagine how agency officials could rationalize approving a plan that would have inevitably killed thousands of federally protected fish.
The plan was so contrary to the letter and spirit of the ESA, it could have been written by a power company, not a federal agency. Under the plan, scheduled to go into effect this month, water would have been rerouted to generate more electricity to meet summer power demand.
By deciding to divert water for another use, the Corps ignored an impressive body of evidence compiled by scientists from state and federal agencies and Native American tribes. Dams are imposing obstacles to salmon migration, and spilling water over these structures has been an effective way to save more fish.
According to the data, adequate spillage keeps juvenile fish from having to swim through dangerous power-producing turbines during their downstream migration. It's a game of numbers. If enough young fish survive the trek and make it to the Pacific Ocean, it improves the chances of a healthy returning salmon run in the future.
Reducing the amount of spill would have had the opposite effect. According to one federal study, it would have resulted in the deaths of more than 29,000 salmon.
That won't happen this year. It's a relief to all who are concerned about the survival of one of the Northwest's most cherished icons. But it's both shameful and disturbing that a federal judge had to intervene and force the Corps to do what it should have been doing all along.
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