Feds Seek Order Stopping Spill
by Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- The federal government is asking an appeals court to throw out a judge's order to spill extra water over Columbia Basin hydroelectric dams to help salmon this summer, arguing there is no hard evidence it will help fish, and claiming that the judge exceeded his authority.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion late Wednesday in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on behalf of NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operate the dams.
The appeal came after a federal judge in Portland found the government's plan for minimizing the harm to endangered salmon by the hydroelectric system in the Columbia Basin violated the Endangered Species Act.
"Underlying most of the court's rulings is the assumption that the listed species are 'in serious decline and not evidencing signs of recovery,'" the motion said. "This basic misconception led the Court to further substitute its judgment -- without explanation -- for that of the agency as to what measures are necessary this year for fish survival and recovery."
Last week, U.S. District Judge James Redden granted a motion sought by a coalition of environmentalists, Indian tribes and salmon fishermen to order four of the dams to spill much of the water behind them, rather than running it through turbines, to improve survival for young salmon migrating to the ocean.
The dams are Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor on the Snake River in Eastern Washington, and McNary on the Columbia between Oregon and Washington. BPA has estimated spilling the water, rather than running it through turbines, will cost $67 million in lost revenue.
Bob Lohn, northwest regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries, said in a statement that increasing the amount of water spilled over dams will reduce the number of young fish that can be loaded into barges for transport around the dams, which the agency feels is the most effective means of helping them, especially in years like this when water levels are low.
The earliest the appeals court could act is Tuesday, one day after the spill is scheduled to begin, said Brian Gorman, spokesman for NOAA Fisheries.
Todd True, the attorney representing some of the plaintiffs in the case, said the spill order was an important step forward for restoring dwindling salmon runs, which coastal communities and fishing families depend on.
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