Judge Says He May Boost
by William McCall, The Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. - A federal judge said Thursday he is likely to boost the amount of water spilled over Columbia River dams this summer to save salmon.
U.S. District Judge James Redden did not rule after hearing more than three hours of arguments on whether the amount of the water spilled over the dams should be increased this spring and summer to help juvenile salmon migrate to the sea.
But he said he was inclined to extend the summer spill from Aug. 15 to Aug. 31.
The extension could be shortened "if the situation seems to be a total waste and we don't need the spill," Redden said.
The National Wildlife Federation led a coalition of conservation groups, fishermen and Indian tribes in a request for an injunction to force the Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to boost spills and river flows along the Columbia and Snake river system in 2006.
The injunction motion followed Redden's ruling last May that struck down a 2004 Bush administration plan for Northwest salmon recovery.
The judge said the $6 billion plan - called a "biological opinion" - failed to adequately protect fish and he ordered federal agencies to develop a new plan in collaboration with tribes and conservation groups. But the coalition led by the National Wildlife Federation wants to increase river spills in 2006 while the new plan is being drafted.
Attorneys for the federal agencies argued Thursday that scientists and dam managers have shown the existing salmon spill plan is adequate for next year.
The coalition "simply does not understand how to operate the hydropower system," said Robert Gulley, a Justice Department lawyer representing the federal agencies. The existing plan, he said, "is not broken and it's working."
Todd True, an attorney for Earthjustice who represented the coalition, urged Redden to approve additional conservation measures for 2006 that would build on programs he ordered last summer.
"We now have concrete, scientific evidence that proves increased spill at dams in 2005 significantly improved survival rates for young salmon," True said after the hearing.
He told Redden there was no good way to determine when the bulk of the juvenile salmon have moved down river, so the federal agencies should continue the spill program as late into summer as possible - even into September.
"They don't call home and tell us when they're going to migrate," True told the judge, referring to the salmon smolts. He also asked Redden to ban the practice of trucking juvenile salmon around dams, saying the fish survival rate is too low to justify it.
Redden indicated he would rule within the next few weeks.
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