Judge Rejects Bid to Slow Grand Coulee Spill
by Luke Hegdal
Hermiston Herald, June 1, 2011
Pacific Aquaculture claims massive fish kill from nitrogen
A third National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration biological opinion concerning Columbia River water is still being mulled by U.S. District Court Judge James A. Redden, but interested parties may have had a sneak peek at his final decision late last week.
Redden rejected a bid by a trout farm to stop increased spills over Grand Coulee Dam that, according to Pacific Aquaculture, is killing hundreds of thousands of farm-raised fish. The increased spillage is an attempt by the Army Corps of Engineers to prepare for expected high water levels as snow in the Rocky Mountains begins to melt.
The unusually cool spring could cause flooding downstream as far away as Portland if water levels behind the dam are not drawn down in preparation, according to dam managers.
Pacific Aquaculture, however, has claimed the extra spillage has saturated the water with high levels of nitrogen gas, in effect causing "the bends" in fish. Farm officials have claimed that hundreds of thousands of fish have died as a result, and they claim high nitrogen levels could affect wild fish as well.
Redden, however, said the Endangered Species Act does not cover farm-raised fish, adding that the company did not prove a link between farm-raised fish and wild fish deaths.
The ruling could be an insight into Redden's unreleased decisions on the NOAA biological opinion that would influence approved water spillage levels for most dams along both the Snake and Columbia rivers.
Fish advocates have said the new biological opinion would result in harm to endangered fish. NOAA, the Army Corps of Engineers and hydropower interests have claimed fish runs have improved in the last decade to sustainable levels.
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