Boost Columbia Salmon
The federal government's revised plan for protection and restoration of Columbia River salmon and steelhead deals head-on with the system's fish-killing dams.
Solutions are to be found in dam operations, because the dams are not going away. Last week, federal fish managers, dam operators and the river's power wholesaler released a draft of a reworked biological opinion that has an official audience of one, a federal judge in Oregon.
In May 2003, U.S. District Judge James Redden told the federal government its Columbia River plan lacked the lawful and reasonable certainty of reliable follow-through.
Redden wanted federal agencies held accountable for the harm they cause, but he did not want a plan that relied on promises and good intentions by others — states, tribes and private parties — that could not be enforced.
Those agencies have returned with a collaborative response they say answers the judge's concerns. A key sentence notes that NOAA Marine Fisheries has "taken steps to ensure that it is not impermissibly speculating about the beneficial or harmful effects of future actions that are not reasonably certain to occur." They will proceed with what is doable and likely.
In other words, environmental groups and tribes should not hold their breath waiting for the dams to be breached and the Columbia River returned to natural levels.
Dam removal on the Columbia and Snake rivers always has seemed highly improbable to this editorial page, which believes the time, political energy and money are better invested in harvest management, habitat restoration, and improved hatchery and hydro operations.
Plans announced last week focus on the survival of juvenile salmon and include increased control of fish and bird predators. The centerpiece is a 10-year plan to install removable spillway weirs at dams to allow young salmon to pass in the part of the water column they naturally navigate.
Taken together, the revised plan represents $6 billion and does not include the cost of operating the hydro system. Environmentalists say the money would be better spent on breaching dams.
Those dams have a regional role in irrigation, navigation and seasonally significant power generation, so there is little political traction at present to press for their removal.
Redden wants results and certainty, and they are not found in speculation about punching holes in dams.
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