Judge Rejects Feds' Columbia River
by Kelly House
A federal judge has ruled for the fourth time that the U.S. government's plan to recover salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River basin fails to address the federal hydropower dams' effect on fish.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon on Wednesday gave the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration two years to write a new plan that does more to protect fish.
Simon criticized the current plan for underestimating the effects of climate change on fish survival and criticized the feds for insisting the plan is helping fish despite data that shows "very little actual improvements in fish abundance."
The ruling marks the latest turn in a legal fight that's dragged on for more than two decades, ever since the federal agency in 1992 issued a "biological opinion" declaring that the dams would not imperil salmon or steelhead.
After a judge threw out the plan, the feds conceded that the dams harm fish and put forth plans to manage dams for fish survival. Multiple parties including conservation groups, Northwest tribes and the state of Oregon sued, arguing the plans were too weak.
Since then, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been forced to rewrite the plan multiple times.
Environmental groups responded to Wednesday's news by calling for a federal strategy to demolish the four Lower Snake River dams.
"Hundreds of thousands of adult salmon died last summer because of warm water in the Columbia and Snake reservoirs," said Todd True, an Earthjustice attorney on the case. "The Court's sharp rejection of yet another illegal federal plan for operating the dams on these rivers amplifies the clear warning that management of these dams must change dramatically -- and very quickly -- if wild salmon are to inhabit these rivers in the future."
Read the judge's full ruling.
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