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Northwest Rivers make Most Endangered List

by Associated Press
Lewiston Tribune, April 10, 2003

Klamath River moves up to No. 2; Snake River drops to No. 8

The Klamath River, where 33,000 salmon were found dead last year amid chronically law water flows, has moved up to second on a list of the nation's most endangered rivers.

The Snake River, with threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead runs and an ongoing private hydropower relicensing effort, was eighth on the list.

The Snake occupied the top spot in 1999 and 2000.

The Klamath, which straddles the California-Oregon border, was ranked No. 3 last year in the annual list prepared by American Rivers, a Washington-based advocacy group.

The Big Sunflower River in Mississippi is listed as the nation's most endangered river in a report released Wednesday.

The Klamath faces environmental problems from pollution to hydroelectric dams that block migrating salmon. It is one of five Western rivers included on this year's list.

The others are the Gunnison River in Colorado; Rio Grande in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas; Platte in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska; and the Snake in Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to say what triggered the Klamath fish kill. But California wildlife officials, environmentalists, fishermen and Indian tribes blame low water levels, caused in part by federal policies that divert water to irrigate nearby farms.

"In the Klamath Basin, you have too much demand chasing too little water for its fisheries and human uses to be sustained," said Eric Eckl, a spokesman for the group that puts out the annual list.

Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United, said the plight of Snake River salmon and steelhead remains the most pressing issue on the river.

But he said the ongoing relicensing process of the Idaho Power Co.'s complex of dams also played a role.

"I find it a pity that a state that is home to such wonderful, pristine, wild rivers like the Middle Fork of the Salmon and the Selway is also home to one of America's most abused rivers."

He said Idaho Power has thus far been unwilling to make changes at the dams that would benefit fish, wildlife and recreationists.

"The current operation of the Hells Canyon dams is a model of poor stewardship," he said. "These dams cause water pollution, temperature problems and destroy hundreds of miles of riparian habitat. Idaho Power should be ashamed of the way it operates these dams."

Sedivy wants Idaho Power to build fish passage facilities at the dams and also install devices that can release water from different levels of the reservoirs, in order to regulate downriver water temperatures.

A spokesman for Idaho Power said relicensing is an ongoing collaborative process that Idaho Rivers United dropped out of.

"It seems counterproductive at this point to point fingers at a process they weren't willing to become engaged in," said Dennis Lopez at Boise.

He said the company releases water at a constant level in the fall to protect spawning fall chinook and invests millions of dollars each year in hatcheries that produce salmon and steelhead for anglers.

Downriver problems need to be solved before it makes sense to alter the Hells Canyon dams, according to Lopez.

"The first thing we need to do is solve the problem of downriver dams owned by the federal government before we start looking upstream."

The Klamath and other rivers listed by the environmental group are not necessarily the nation's most polluted, Eckl said, but are the ones most in peril because of severe water shortages and other problems.

"America's seemingly insatiable demand for fresh water is nearing nature's limits," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. "Lack of rain is only part of the story behind falling water levels in rivers coast to coast."

In its report, the group points to what it calls extravagant water use as an underlying reason for shortages and says the primary culprit is irrigation.

About 85 percent of fresh water in the United States is used for irrigation, the report said -- far more than is necessary to grow crops with modern technology.

Associated Press
Northwest Rivers make Most Endangered List
Lewiston Tribune, April 10, 2003

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