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Oregon Backs Lawsuit on Snake River Water

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian - November 2, 1999

The state supports an action seeking to force Army engineers
to meet standards on the lower Snake River

The state of Oregon on Monday lent its support to a lawsuit that seeks to force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop violating water-quality standards on the lower Snake River.

A coalition of conservation groups filed the federal lawsuit in March, asking that the corps be ordered to lower the water temperature and reduce dissolved gases in operating the four federal dams on the lower Snake.

The lawsuit could be important because it comes as the federal government weighs the costs and benefits of breaching the dams to help endangered and threatened salmon. Modifying the dams to reduce water temperature and dissolved gases would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The prospect of such costly actions could bolster the economic arguments for breaching dams.

Water temperature higher than 68 degrees can harm salmon and make them more vulnerable to disease. High levels of dissolved gases, such as nitrogen, can create in fish a condition similar to the bends.

Eric Bloch, who represents Gov. John Kitzhaber on the Northwest Power Planning Council, said Monday that the state did not file the brief to force removal of the dams. The governor has taken no position on breaching, Bloch said, but Oregon does want to ensure that the corps meets environmental standards.

"The governor believes that when federal agencies pollute our rivers and streams, they need to be treated just like any other polluters," he said. "If we can't get federal agencies to own up to their responsibilities to abate pollution, it is going to be that much more difficult to get private citizens to do it."

The Nez Perce Tribe on Monday joined the conservationist coalition as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The tribe argued that the corps should consider the cost of meeting water-quality standards when it recommends to Congress whether to breach the dams.

The Nez Perce and three other tribes with treaty rights to Columbia River Basin salmon support breaching the Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams.

"Too often in the past, the federal government's compliance with its own laws, such as the Clean Water Act, have been ignored," said David J. Cummings, an attorney for the Nez Perce Tribe.

Corps officials had not seen either filing Monday and declined to comment on specifics. Clare Perry, a spokeswoman for the agency's North Pacific Division, said the corps shared the goal of controlling dissolved gas in the lower Snake and lowering water temperature.

by Jonathan Brinckman
Oregon Backs Lawsuit on Snake River Water
The Oregonian, November 2, 1999

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