Columbia, Snake Salmon Get Three
by Pete Danko
Conservationists and commercial fishers cheered an agreement Tuesday among state, federal and tribal bodies to send more water over eight federally operated Northwest dams to aid endangered salmon.
Public power customers weren't so sure, though.
The agreement is intended to keep the contentious issue of how to protect juvenile fish migrating downstream on the Columbia and Snake rivers out of the courts for three years.
"During this time, the agreement avoids litigation while the co-lead agencies complete the Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Statement Records of Decision," the parties said in a statement.
The agreement has three objectives, they said:
Earlier this year, a panel of judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court order to increase spill at the dams.
Fish die passing through turbines as they head downriver in the spring. Various bypass mechanisms are employed. But as a federal court said in a ruling earlier this year, "The wild salmonid population has decreased significantly in recent years," and 13 species are now endangered or threatened.
"This is an important step to help salmon populations of the Columbia River basin, as well as the orca that depend on them to thrive," Tom France, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, the lead plaintiff in the court case on the issue, said in a statement released by fish advocates. "NWF supports this agreement -- in conjunction with other key actions -- as it will deliver tangible positive impact for the next three years. Much more will be needed, however, to protect endangered salmon -- and orca -- from extinction."
Many fish advocates want to see the four Lower Snake River dams removed to aid salmon and the southern resident killer whales that rely on the fish. That's a proposal that farm, shipping and other interest groups, including public power utilities, have opposed.
Spilling more water over the dams instead of sending it through the turbines is controversial as well. It costs power, and power equals money.
That's been an issue for the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the output from the federally operated dams and is already in a financial pinch, and its public power customers.
"Public power customers recognize the goal and potential benefits of moving beyond the courtroom by agreeing on actions for ESA-listed salmon that are conducted in an economical manner," Scott Corwin, executive director of the Public Power Council, which represents dozens of consumer-owned utilities, said in an emailed statement.
"Yet, until there is greater clarity around the operations and costs of the agreement, we cannot be certain it provides the intended benefits to fish or to electric utility ratepayers. The parties will need to ensure that implementation of this outline provides all the expected benefits without further risk to electricity consumers or to protected fish."
Northwest Dams to Spill More Water to Help Salmon & Orca by Karina Brown, Courthouse News, 12/18/18
Changes to Dams on Columbia, Snake Rivers to Benefit Salmon, Hydropower and Orcas Lynda Mapes & Hal Bernton, Seattle Times, 12/18/18
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