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Commentaries and editorials

Fish Advocates: Strategy on
Dam Operations Won't Help Salmon

by Associated Press
Times-News, September 1, 2004

BOISE -- A preliminary federal strategy that proposes changing dams to improve salmon passage but leaves four of them unbreached on the lower Snake River is a Bush administration ploy to ignore fish recovery, Idaho river advocates said Tuesday.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Fisheries and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the main conclusions from the upcoming draft document Tuesday.

They said dam operations in the Columbia and Snake River basins pose no jeopardy for the salmon and steelhead trout, which have been on the endangered species list for years.

"We're not considering dam removal. What our work shows is you can achieve recovery without removing the dams," said Bob Lohn, regional administration of NOAA Fisheries.

Many fish biologists believe breaching the four Snake dams is the only option for saving the fish runs.

"I just think the whole no-jeopardy idea is absurd," said Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United.

"Our endangered fish runs really took a nosedive after the lower Snake River dams were completed," he said. "How in good conscience can these administration appointees now say that dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers don't harm salmon?"

U.S. District Judge James Redden had ordered NOAA Fisheries to rewrite its recovery plan, known as a biological opinion, last May, after ruling that the existing blueprint violates the Endangered Species Act.

The draft opinion hinges on installing removable gates -- or weirs -- on the dams between Idaho and the ocean. They could be pulled out of place during some times of the year such as flooding.

When the fish are migrating through, the weirs would keep them swimming at a proper depth and pressure, and protect them from being propelled into concrete walls. Hydroelectric generation would continue, rather than being ramped back during current spill periods.

The first to come on line would be at Lower Granite Dam, the last obstacle as the fish migrate into Idaho. One is anticipated for Ice Harbor Dam, farther downriver.

"The commitment is all eight dams in 10 years," Lohn said.

Lohn said steps already taken are working, such as regulating streamflows at optimum migration times, habitat improvement and reducing predators.

He also noted that ocean conditions have been favorable, resulting in good returns to Idaho in the past few years. But he did not give specifics on how the draft would affect individual Idaho runs such as the fall chinook.

Bert Bowler, a fisheries biologist with Idaho Rivers United, said the spillway weirs are experimental. Researchers could spend 10 years just studying one, so it would take decades installing them all, he said.

"My impression is I'm looking forward to reading the whole opinion," said Shauna McReynolds, spokeswoman for the Coalition for Smart Salmon Recovery. It is a coalition of businesses and utility customers in the Columbia River Basin.

"Installing these will take some time, but they need to take their time," she said. "I'm an engineer, and I believe engineers can accomplish this."

Idaho's congressional delegation welcomed the news that a draft opinion would appear in the next week to 10 days.

"The legal maneuvering and court action regarding salmon recovery has gotten us nowhere. That's why what we really need is a collaborative, consensus-based, regional solution as soon as possible," U.S. Sen. Michael Crapo said.

U.S. Rep. Michael Simpson also supported the draft.

"I believe that the draft bi-op will show that we can recover salmon without endangering our economy or putting people out of work," Simpson said.

Related Pages:
22 Sockeye Return by Jennifer Sandmann, Seattle Times 9/1/4

Associated Press
Fish Advocates: Strategy on Dam Operations Won't Help Salmon
Times-News, September 1, 2004

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