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Commentaries and editorials

Feds Issue Record of Decision
on Columbia-Snake Dam Operations

by Pete Danko
Portland Business Journal, September 29, 2020

BPA's Hairston calls it "a significant departure from the status quo."
Greens say it's not enough.

Graphic: Compariston of 2015 summer water temperatures between the actual, dammed Lower Snake River and a modeled, free-flowing Lower Snake River. An environmental review of Columbia River System dam operations formally wrapped up on Monday with federal agency leaders saluting the dawn of a new era of balancing economic benefits and fish protection.

Environmental groups greeted the news with calls for an entirely different approach than the one outlined in the federal record of decision signed by leaders of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration.

The 94-page document commits the agencies to operating the 14 federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers under the "preferred alternative” in an environmental impact report issued earlier this year.

A key element of the decision is continued maintenance of four lower Snake River dams that environmental groups believe should be removed to aid salmon runs and help other imperiled species, including Puget Sound orca.

The federal analysis, fast-tracked by the Trump administration, said dam removal would benefit fish, but at the costly and potentially dangerous loss of emissions-free hydropower. So instead the decision leans heavily on spilling more water in the spring to aid juvenile fish passage.

In a signing ceremony on Monday, John Hairston, BPA's acting chief, called the decision "a significant departure from the status quo of how we oversee, maintain and configure the Columbia River System.”

Environmentalist weren't buying it.

The decision "keeps the region on a course that has failed to recover abundant runs of Snake River salmon for two decades while placing the growing financial burden on taxpayers and electricity ratepayers,” Tom France, Northwest regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement.

The group, which has long been involved in litigation over the issue, called on Congress to develop comprehensive legislation.

Save Our Salmon, meanwhile, said the plan would bring "only modest tweaks,” and repeated a call for Snake River dam removal that it first made in 1998.

Pete Danko
Feds Issue Record of Decision on Columbia-Snake Dam Operations
Portland Business Journal, September 29, 2020

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