Salmon Advocates Ask Judge
by Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
GRANTS PASS, Ore. - Salmon advocates asked a federal judge Monday to devote more water to salmon rather than hydroelectric turbines in the Columbia Basin next year as young fish migrate to the ocean in spring and summer.
The motion was filed by conservation groups and sport and commercial fishing groups in U.S. District Court in Portland before Judge James Redden, who earlier this year declared the Bush administration plan for assuring threatened and endangered salmon are not harmed by the federal hydroelectric dam system violated the Endangered Species Act.
The motion called for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spill more water over three Columbia River dams in the spring - Bonneville, John Day and McNary - and three Snake and three Columbia river dams in the summer - Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite on the Snake and Bonneville, John Day and McNary on the Columbia.
It also calls for holding back water behind dams in the upper basin during the winter at the upper level of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood-control guidelines so it can be released to speed up river flows in the spring and summer, when juvenile fish are swimming to the ocean.
Redden is expected to rule sometime after hearings on the issue scheduled for mid-December. While each dam only kills a small percentage of fish, there are so many dams that about half the spring-summer chinook run from the Snake River are lost.
After declaring the plan for protecting salmon - known as a 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 just a year to come up with a new plan.
In a memo supporting the motion, salmon advocates argued that spilling water over dams is generally well-accepted as the safest way to get more young salmon down the Snake and Columbia rivers.
A preliminary study by the Fish Passage Center, which counts the number of computer chips embedded in young hatchery salmon as they pass the dams, has indicated that during the time extra water was being spilled last summer, a higher percentage of juvenile fish survived the migration through the dams.
The Bonneville Power Administration, which has estimated last summer's spill cost about $70 million in lost revenues, was to issue its own interpretation of the data later this week, said spokesman Ed Mosey. The lost power generation revenues would translate to about a 3 percent increase in wholesale electric rates.
Sport and commercial salmon groups countered that more salmon improves the entire region's economy, by helping fishermen, tourism, and the sport fishing industry.
NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency in charge of restoring 12 groups of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin, has opposed increasing the water for salmon, arguing that in low water years it is safer to put them in barges to carry them past the dams.
Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents tribes with treaty rights to fish for Columbia Basin salmon, questioned the accuracy of the BPA estimates.
"There is no law that says they own or are entitled to every bit of water they are claiming a financial stake to," Hudson said.
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