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New Federal Plan for Fish-Dam Harmony

by Colin Miner
The New York Times, September 15, 2009

How can salmon and hydroelectric dams coexist on the Columbia and Snake Rivers? (AP Photo) The Obama administration went back to court in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday in an attempt to convince a judge that eight hydroelectric plants currently producing power on the Columbia and Snake Rivers can coexist with 13 populations of salmon and steelhead that have become endangered or threatened -- partly as a result of the dams.

"We believe the time has come to move out of the courtroom and get to work recovering salmon and preserving the region's unique way of life," said Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ms. Lubchenco said the filing addresses concerns raised previously by the court, and that it goes further than previous versions -- including those introduced under the Bush administration -- by creating "an insurance plan" for the fish.

The filing, officially known as the Adaptive Management Implementation Plan, also takes into consideration the potential impacts of climate change and addresses contingencies should salmon populations decline despite the efforts.

The administration said it would also accelerate habitat improvement projects and improve monitoring to make it more responsive to changes in the population.

The notion of possibly breaching or removing one or more dams -- something environmental advocates have championed -- is raised by the plan as a potential "last resort," but critics said that didn't go far enough.

"The administration's passing reference to dam breaching as a 'contingency of last resort' defers all necessary economic, infrastructure and other studies, making this 'contingency' an illusion," said Samuel N. Penney, the chairman of the Nez Perce American Indian Tribe, which has traditionally fished the Columbia.

Whether Judge James A. Redden of United States District Court will approve this latest proposal in the court battle remains unclear.

"Federal defendants have spent the better part of the last decade treading water and avoiding their obligations under the Endangered Species Act," he wrote in May. "We simply cannot afford to waste another decade."

Colin Miner
New Federal Plan for Fish-Dam Harmony
The New York Times, September 15, 2009

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