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Commentaries and editorials

Governor Joins Critics
of Salmon Ruling

by Robert McClure
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 11, 2005

"We wouldn't let a judge dictate how we use our federal highway systems,
and we shouldn't let one tell us how to use our river systems."

-- Congresswoman Cathy McMorris

Gov. Christine Gregoire joined utility executives, a conservative Eastern Washington politician and federal agencies in attacking a judge's order yesterday to help salmon pass safely through Snake and Columbia river dams this summer.

Critics said the move -- urged by environmentalists and fishermen, and expected to cost between $57 million and $81 million -- risked upsetting the state's economic recovery. (bluefish adds: $85 million represents a 0.1 cents per kilowatt hour to the BPA customers costs. Current cost is 3.2 cents per kilowatthour.)

The Bonneville Power Administration, which markets electricity produced at federally operated dams on the rivers, predicted a late-2005 cost increase of 4 percent to 5 percent.

But that's wholesale. Most Seattle residential customers should see an increase of less than $1 per month, Seattle City Light said. The exact amount will be worked out later.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge James Redden means additional water that otherwise would be used to produce power in the dams' turbines will be spilled through another part of the dams to help young salmon make their way to the ocean.

Redden's 11-page order said federal agencies' defense of their dam-operation plans relied on "so-called non-discretionary elements" that could, in fact, be altered to help salmon.

"As currently operated, I find that the dams strongly contribute to the endangerment of the (protected) species and irreparable injury will result if changes are not made," the judge's ruling said.

If not for Redden's order, more water would have been held back and used to produce electricity in the dams' turbines. With the state and particularly Eastern Washington headed into a drought, it was the wrong time to order use of water to help salmon, critics said. (bluefish adds: This ruling will not effect the amount of water available for irrigation.)

Washington, like Oregon, had argued that the federal agencies' salmon-rescue plans for Snake and Columbia salmon stocks are so weak that they are illegal. But Redden's solution is wrong, Gregoire's office said.

"We question whether there is the environmental fish benefit. ... The science isn't really clear," said Tom Fitzsimmons, Gregoire's chief of staff. "The significance of the economic loss is what (Gregoire) is trying to highlight."

The National Marine Fisheries Service said the safest way to get the young salmon to the ocean is to collect them and transport them by barge so they aren't exposed to the dangers of passing through dams.

In a joint statement with three other federal agencies, the Fisheries Service yesterday questioned the wisdom of leaving young fish in the rivers, which are likely to grow too warm in a drought year. Young salmon need cold water to thrive.

"We are extremely concerned that the outcome provides no guarantee for the improvement of salmon stocks, and it could make things worse, at an enormous cost to the region," the federal agencies said.

Retorted Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, the lead plaintiff before Redden: "There's no support in the science for that position. The science shows that keeping the river as close as possible to natural river conditions is the best way to ensure that salmon can make it past the dams."

Redden's order means additional water will flow through the dams' spillways, which are like large artificial waterfalls, and more fish will pass through that way. The alternatives -- being barged or passing through the dams' power-producing turbines -- are more dangerous, environmentalists and fishermen contend.

Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Spokane, urged the federal agencies to appeal Redden's ruling.

"This is the wrong decision that ignores the progress we have made in fish recovery," said McMorris, a member of the House Resources Committee, which is considering changes to the Endangered Species Act.

"We wouldn't let a judge dictate how we use our federal highway systems, and we shouldn't let one tell us how to use our river systems."

"Apparently, (Rep.) McMorris doesn't know any fishermen," said Todd True, a Seattle lawyer representing environmentalists and fishermen.

"The fishermen have been sitting on the banks of the river not fishing this year because we have been doing such a poor job taking care of the river. Those fishermen represent thousands of jobs, thousands of communities, thousands of families. "Apparently, ... McMorris doesn't care about them."

Robert McClure
Governor Joins Critics of Salmon Ruling
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 11, 2005

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