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Commentaries and editorials

New Salmon Recovery Proposal
does Not Consider Dam Breaching

by Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
The Oregonian, May 22, 2007

The latest court-ordered federal plan for balancing salmon against hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin calls for stepping up efforts to control predators such as sea lions, using hatcheries more effectively, and installing more improvements to help young fish avoid turbines.

Salmon advocates and Indian tribes blasted the draft proposal for failing to consider major changes to the hydroelectric dams, such as breaching four dams on the lower Snake River.

"Maybe they think the third time will be the charm," Todd True, an attorney for Earth Justice, which represents a coalition of conservation groups and salmon fishermen, said Tuesday from Seattle. "This is basically the same action we saw in 2000 and 2004 analyzed a different way."

Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said the federal agencies were "getting it half right. What needs to get done is hydro reform. That's the hardest thing to change." The proposal was posted Monday on the Web site maintained by the Bonneville Power Administration, which sells the power generated by federal Columbia Basin dams, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation, which operate the dams.

The agencies did not immediately return telephone calls for comment.

U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland, Ore., ruled two years ago that the Bush administration's 2004 plan for making the hydroelectric dams on the Snake and Columbia safe for salmon violated the Endangered Species Act, in part because it considered the dams as part of the landscape and only considered changes in how the dams were operated.

Last month he was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Two parallel processes are working toward a new plan for balancing power production against fish survival.

The proposal posted by the federal agencies that operate the dams leads toward preparation of a new biological opinion, which evaluates whether the dams jeopardize the survival of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead, and if they do, offers ways to make the fish thrive. The 2004 biological opinion is what Redden struck down.

In the meantime, representatives of states, Indian tribes and federal agencies are in talks that can also lead to a new biological opinion by negotiating ways to improve dam operations for salmon.

Redden has the final say over whether the steps are enough to make salmon thrive.

Hudson said those talks were hopelessly stalled until the appeals court upheld Redden last month, and have yet to address breaching the lower Snake dams, which salmon advocates feel is the best chance for restoring salmon.

Breaching would remove obstacles to fish migrations and restore natural river habitat. It would also reduce power production, force changes to irrigation systems, and cut off barge transportation to Idaho.

Related Pages:
Council says Snake River Spring Chinook Survival Rate Improving Jeff Barnard, Associated Press, September 12, 2006
Dam the Salmon, Wall Street Journal, by Shikha Dalmia, May 30, 2007

Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
New Salmon Recovery Proposal does Not Consider Dam Breaching.
The Oregonian, May 22, 2007

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