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Federal Salmon Managers Get Failing Grades this Year

by American Rivers
Environmental News Network - September 6, 2001

WASHINGTON, DC -- Today, American Rivers released its first "report card" chronicling the river conditions for the Snake and Columbia rivers since the new federal salmon recovery plan (federal salmon plan) was released in December 2000. The report card shows that federal dam managers failed to meet federal standards for water quantity and water temperature in the Snake and Columbia rivers - violating both the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

"It's a really bad sign that in the first year under the new federal salmon plan, federal dam managers have missed their flow and temperature targets by the widest margin ever," said Michael Garrity of American Rivers. "The whole point of the new federal salmon plan was to ramp up salmon recovery efforts in an attempt to avoid employing the single most effective recovery tool - partial removal of the lower Snake River dams."

Instead of ramping up its efforts the federal government suspended key recovery measures this summer, and as a result migrating salmon are dying in the warm, slow moving reservoirs behind Snake and Columbia river dams. The government's failure to meet even the basic requirements of its own salmon recovery plan makes it likely that partial removal of the lower Snake River dams will have to be reconsidered during the federal salmon plan's 2003 review period.

2001 Salmon Migration Report Card:

Snake River

Enough Water? Spring = F Summer = F
Water Temperature Spring = A Summer = F

Columbia River

Enough Water? Spring = F Summer = F
Water Temperature Spring = A Summer = F

On the Snake River, federal dam managers failed to meet spring water quantity targets 97.5% of the time, and failed to meet summer water quantity targets 100% of the time - earning two F's from American Rivers. For Snake River summer water temperatures, the managers received an F because the Clean Water Act standard was violated 83.3% of the time. Federal dam managers also received failing grades for both spring and summer flows and summer water temperature in the Columbia River. Summer water temperatures during the 2001 migration were extremely bad in the Snake and Columbia. Fisheries scientists are predicting decimated runs when this year's young salmon return as adults.

Federal dam managers are supposed to manage the Snake and Columbia Rivers to comply with the National Marine Fisheries Service's 2000 Biological Opinion to protect salmon. The flow targets are, as their name suggests, only targets, and have been routinely ignored by dam managers under the 1995 federal salmon plan and now under the new 2000 plan. The Clean Water Act standard of 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) is mandatory and legally binding. Last April, the US Army Corps of Engineers was ordered by a federal court to come up with a plan to bring the four lower Snake River dams into compliance with the Clean Water Act. However, as the 2001 Salmon Migration Report Card shows, river conditions violated the Clean Water Act standard for essentially the entire summer.

By keeping flows sufficiently high in the Snake and Columbia rivers, dam managers can help flush federally protected juvenile salmon downstream to the ocean and reduce water temperatures during the hot summer months. Cool water temperatures help prevent salmon from becoming physically stressed and more susceptible to disease or from being killed outright.

"What this shows is that key salmon protections in the federal plan are an illusion," said Garrity. "Every year the federal agencies fail to meet the flow and temperature targets. In light of the dam managers' record on this issue, Congress should begin laying the groundwork for partial removal of the lower Snake River dams, because that is what likely will be needed to save Snake River salmon for future generations."

In May, a broad coalition of conservation, fishing, and business groups, including American Rivers, filed suit against the federal salmon plan in federal district court, arguing that the plan has too many loopholes and lacks the strong measures needed to meet the federal obligation to comply with the Endangered Species Act. Fisheries scientists have noted that the suspension of recovery measures this year has resulted in very poor survival for migrating juvenile salmon and steelhead this year.

Related Sites:
American Rivers statistics & graphs

American Rivers
Federal Salmon Managers Get Failing Grades this Year
Environmental News Network - September 6, 2001

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