Governor John Kitzhaber's Call for
by Michael C. Blumm
In their Sept. 30 op-ed, Scott Corwin and Terry Flores criticize Gov. Kitzhaber's recent call for a "new table" to forge an agreement as to how to proceed with Columbia River salmon recovery (op-ed, Sept. 23). They suggest that Kitzhaber should have Oregon join the existing "sovereigns" process instead, which for the past seven years has been unable to produce a salmon plan meeting the requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The sovereigns process -- which includes a number of tribes and the state of Washington because the Bonneville Power Administration paid them several million dollars to drop their participation in the ongoing ESA suit -- has produced a flawed plan that is long on promised habitat restoration and short on operational changes to the deadly dams that are at the root of the salmon problem. To its credit, the state of Oregon, along with the Nez Perce Tribe and conservation and environmental groups, has refused to be bought off and continues in the litigation.
That litigation -- not the sovereigns process -- has yielded the only substantial change in the operation of Columbia dams to benefit salmon. Beginning in 2004, U.S. District Judge James Redden ordered the federal dam operators to spill water to facilitate salmon passage at the dams. This judicially ordered spill program helped to significantly reduce salmon mortalities on their downstream journey to the ocean. The federal participants in the sovereigns process opposed the program.
Corwin and Flores recite the costs of the current salmon plan, but those costs are not a measure of effectiveness, as Redden repeatedly ruled over the past decade. In trying to dismiss the state's success in demonstrating the shortcomings of three separate federal attempts to meet the requirements of the ESA, they urge Kitzhaber to "move the state away from the divisive litigation and toward a more positive role in the region." But until the sovereigns can produce a plan that satisfies the law, the most positive role the state can play is to remain in court.
If Corwin and Flores want to pursue an effective salmon restoration plan, they need to persuade their organizations -- the Public Power Council and Northwest RiverPartners -- to stop touting the approach that Redden rejected and support a salmon plan that concentrates on reducing salmon mortalities at the dams.
Both spill at the dams and flows in the river are necessary if the dams are to remain.
The alternative to the current stonewalling on meaningful operational changes is to remove some of the dams. After he retired from the case, Redden acknowledged that, after years of reviewing federal efforts to reconcile hydropower generation and salmon protection on the Columbia, he thought the best long-term solution was to remove the four federal dams on the lower Snake River, the Columbia's principal tributary. Those dams provide no flood control and only a modest amount of hydropower, which a Northwest Power Planning Council study suggested could be replaced in a cost-effective manner.
Kitzhaber's proposed "new table" provides an opportunity for the region to craft a broader, long-term, strategic approach with a central focus on implementing breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River, addressing energy integration, and investing in local communities. Such a scientifically and economically sound approach would finally -- after nearly 30 years of litigation -- begin to implement meaningful Columbia River salmon recovery benefiting the entire Northwest.
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