Deeper River Channel may Hurt Salmonby Associated Press
Spokesman Review, November 24, 1999
Study says conditions at Columbia's mouth
critical to endangered fish making transition to sea
PORTLAND -- A new federal study indicates that water quality in the Columbia River estuary is critical to salmon recovery and suggests that dredging a deeper channel for shipping traffic could further damage the already protected runs.
The report by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is in charge of salmon recovery, says water quality is important because migrating young salmon and steelhead use the lower river to adjust to the transition from fresh to salt water.
Fisheries Service Regional Administrator Will Stelle maintains that improving the estuary would do more to help some salmon species than removing four federal dams on the lower Snake River. Breaching the dams has been the focus of the salmon recovery debate for two years.
The Army Corps of Engineers plans to dredge the Columbia channel to make it 3 feet deeper for oceangoing ships sailing between Astoria to Portland -- something Stelle said his agency may take issue with.
"Any major disruption in the lower river that could disrupt the rearing habitat really needs to be looked at," Stelle said.
Environmentalists and Indian tribes called on the fisheries service to veto the Army's dredging plan in light of the new study.
"If they are going to take the heat off the dams, they've got to worry about the estuary," Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Director Don Sampson said.
Peter Huhtala of the Columbia Deepening Opposition Group argued that "any new alteration or degradation of the estuary would be contradictory to the fisheries service's new position on the importance of habitat."
Officials declined on Monday to say what position the fisheries service would take.
The agency is reviewing the dredging plan, as required under the Endangered Species Act, but its conclusions are not expected to be released until next year.
Spokesman Rob Jones said possible harmful effects from dredging were being considered.
"The deepening project has finally focused attention on the estuary," he said.
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