Federal Judge has Bilked
Lewis County-area power users are being bilked by a federal judge because fish are no better for his recent ruling.
In a letter Thursday in The Chronicle, Lewis County Public Utility District commissioners James Hubenthal, John Kostick and Charles TenPas and manager Dave Muller expressed disdain for Portland-based U.S. District Court Judge James Redden's recent decision requiring extra water to be purposely spilled over five Northwest hydroelectric dams to help young salmon migrate to the Pacific Ocean. We agree with their concern.
In his June 20 order, Redden sided with environmentalists to substitute his judgment over that of federal scientists who said the spill would be counterproductive to fish.
Meantime, the Bush administration has asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Redden's ruling and stop the spill over the dams -- Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams on the Snake River in southeastern Washington and McNary Dam on the Columbia River. The spilling began with Redden's order June 20 and is to last through Aug. 31 unless overturned.
Environmentalists sought the spill on their contention the federal government hasn't been meeting its obligations to protect threatened salmon. They are the same ones seeking to take out the four Snake dams, regardless of the huge blow that would be to the Northwest economy.
Redden is playing their game in the face of solid science that spilling under current conditions is worse for salmon, not better.
The PUD officials said Redden's decision "is especially disappointing as many scientists believe it will do the fish more harm than good. The scientists from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency charged with salmon protection under the Endangered Species Act, and the Corps of Engineers state that the fish would survive better in barges, particularly in this low-water year."
In ordering the spilling, Redden also ignored the recommendations of the Bonneville Power Administration and the Bureau of Reclamation.
The PUD officials said the spilling will expose fish "to lethally warm temperatures and predators. Past experience has proven that in low water years, fish are better off if they are transported around some of the dams. During the 2001 low water conditions, despite doomsday warnings that reducing spill would be disastrous to fish runs, fish were transported around some of the dams and returned as adults in 2003 and 2004 in record numbers."
They cited NOAA spokesman Brian Gorman's observation that "our science shows us that in low water years the safe thing to do is to move (the fish) past the dams and past the turbines" with barging.
And they pointed out that NOAA scientists believe fish survival on the Snake will be 25 to 50 percent lower under the judge's order. In fact, there is apparently already considerable loss from Redden's spilling. Since it began there have been 90 percent fewer fish transported downstream, U.S. Justice Department attorney Ellen Durkee told the 9th Circuit Court in seeking to overturn the ruling. And biologists believe the spilling is also interfering with migration of adult fish upstream on the Snake.
Compare the results from the judge's untested experiment in siding with the environmentalists with a decade of success in the barging program.
COST TO US: PUD customers in Lewis County alone paid $4.8 million last year for fish protection and Redden's ruling could increase that to $5.3 million this year. Put another way, the portion of your PUD bill that goes toward fish recovery could increase from the already relatively huge 12 percent to 14 percent.
But the extra money you must pay because of the loss of BPA power generation resulting from the spilling is not only not increasing fish passage, it is reducing it.
As the PUD officials contend in their letter, "scientists, not judges, know what's best for salmon." They advocate "accountable fish spending and balance between generating power ... and protecting salmon with scientific results-based programs."
Redden has run amok. The appeals court needs to reel him back in.
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