Ore. to Federal Dam Agencies:
by Jeff Barnard, Assoicated Press
The state of Oregon has told federal agencies they will have to do better for salmon if they hope to meet a federal judge's orders to bring the Columbia Basin hydroelectric system into compliance with the Endangered Species Act and avoid breaching dams on the lower Snake River.
The filing Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore., by the Oregon attorney general's office was a formal response to the court-ordered plan for balancing endangered salmon against dam operations filed last month by the agencies that operate the dams and sell the power.
"We see it as more of a justification of the status quo rather that a robust approach," Mike Carrier, natural resources adviser to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, said Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge James Redden 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. It was upheld this year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Among the failings were that the plan considered the dams as part of the landscape and only considered changes in how the dams were operated. The judge also found the plan should take steps to make endangered salmon thrive, not just survive.
The ruling left open the possibility that four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington may have to be breached to help salmon. That option has been pressed by conservation groups and some Indian tribes.
After months of meetings with Indian tribes and the states of Oregon, Idaho and Montana, the Bonneville Power Administration, which sells the power produced by the dams, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operate the dams, filed a new plan with the court in May.
It calls for adjustments to river flows and the amount of water spilled over dams, installation of more devices known as removable spillway weirs that help young salmon swim safely over dams, increased control of predators, improved operations at fish hatcheries and more improvements to fish habitat.
The state of Oregon expressed concerns that the river flows and the water spilled over dams are not enough to really help fish. The state says a tough monitoring plan needs to be put in place to evaluate whether the changes are really helping fish, and there needs to be fallback options in case the plan does not work.
Conservation groups and the Nez Perce Tribe have said the plan maintains the status quo and offers no significant improvements.
Idaho says the plan does not look at controlling fishing in the river, and a coalition including the states of Washington and Montana and some tribes said they generally support the plan.
Bonneville Power Administration spokesman Scott Simms said the latest plan is based on a new scientific analysis that focused on helping specific salmon stocks, and that the agencies would consider the comments of the states, tribes and conservation groups before submitting their final proposal to the NOAA Fisheries Service for evaluation.
Though an earlier federal plan for restoring Columbia Basin salmon considered breaching Snake River dams, President Bush has pledged that will not happen.
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