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Commentaries and editorials

Obama Administration Decides to Continue
Spilling Water Over Dams for Salmon

by Rocky Barker
Idaho Statesman, April 19, 2010

The Obama Administration will continue to spill water over the Snake and Columbia river dams to help juvenile salmon to migrate back to the Pacific Ocean.

Federal agencies issued the decision in a brief filed with a federal judge in the long lawsuit over the dams and 13 stocks of endangered salmon and steelhead in the rivers. Federal scientists had proposed maximizing the transportation of the young fish through the dams on barges because of the low flows expected this year.

They said their research showed that steelhead in particular would do better in low flow conditions in barges than in the river. They also expected spring chinook to fare better in barges. But the Independent Science Advisory Board of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council recommended the Obama administration continue its "share the risk" strategy of barging some fish and spilling water over the dams away from hydro turbines to get the fish downriver.

Oregon, environmentalists, fishermen, angling businesses and the Nez Perce tribe argued for more spill as initially ordered by U.S. District Judge James Redden. He is set to rule on whether changes made in a biological opinion written by the Bush administration makes it adequate under the law.

Lawyers for the Obama Administration said its scientists still believe that more barging would be the best decision. But pointed to the process used to come to its current conclusion as a demonstration it is acting in the best interest of the salmon and using the best science.

"After considering all of the information and viewpoints in the region, the Federal agencies have concluded that the best approach to operation of the Columbia Basin hydropower system this spring is with a mix of spill and transport," Justice Department attorneys wrote. "We urge the Court to consider the agencies' decisionmaking process on this issue and their actions.

"It is precisely this kind of informed assessment and modification of operations through adaptive management that exemplifies this Administration's approach to implementing (amended biological opinion.)"

Rocky Barker
Obama Administration Decides to Continue Spilling Water Over Dams for Salmon
Idaho Statesman, April 19, 2010

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