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Commentaries and editorials

Federal Government Releases its Operational
Plan for the Columbia River System Dams

by Katy Nesbitt
East Oregonian, August 25, 2020

"Breaching the dams has been identified as the best thing for fish. I think they gave that analysis short shrift."

Ice Harbor Dam (aerial photo - Salmon Recovery) PENDLETON -- A final plan impacting the Columbia River system released earlier this month has some anglers and conservationists still looking for more answers.

The Preferred Alternative in the Columbia River System Operational Final Environmental Impact Statement includes structural modifications to some of the dams to benefit passage of adult salmon, steelhead and Pacific lamprey.

Greg Haller of Pacific Rivers said the plan does not represent a major system overall and he is not convinced the spill option benefits juvenile fish.

"Going with a flexible spill agreement as a long term solution is a bad choice," he said. "Breaching the dams has been identified as the best thing for fish. I think they gave that analysis short shrift."

Additionally, proposed operational changes in the upper basin would avoid adverse effects to resident fish, including federally protected bull trout and Kootenai River white sturgeon.

The Preferred Alternative uses what it calls innovative dam operations that balance fish benefits and energy goals by spilling more water in the spring for juvenile fish passage, and claims it provides reliable flood risk management, water supply for irrigation, municipal and industry use, water, and flexibility in hydropower generation.

Haller said the plan will likely end up in court and would like to see a political solution.

"I think Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson has the right ideas to provide a regional solution," he said. "This requires elected leaders to stand up and lead to a conclusion that is supported by science, the economic realities of the system and climate change."

Taking out a dam, Haller said, is a great way to address climate change by building resiliency into a natural river system to let it flow and allow the water to stay cooler.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has been active in talks regarding the Snake River dams and said he is open to working with his Northwest colleagues on these issues.

"An issue as complex as river restoration, and especially the restoration of rivers with dams affecting their flow and ecosystems, requires everyone's best efforts," Wyden said. "I always believe that bipartisanship is about taking everyone's best ideas and working together to make them even better. I have worked closely with Mike Simpson on fire borrowing, and appreciate his willingness to take on the tough issues."

Jim McKenna, a police analyst for Oregon Gov Kate Brown, said management of the Columbia River system is of keen interest to Oregonians since it directly affects fish, sovereign tribal rights and cultural needs, power generation and distribution, flood control, irrigation, commerce and recreation.

McKenna said earlier this year the state submitted detailed comments on the draft plan and staff members are reviewing the final plan and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's biological opinion.

"Based on our initial review of the final EIS it appears the federal action agencies missed the opportunity to meaningfully address the information and commitments needed to protect and recover imperiled salmon and the orca forage they provide," McKenna said.

He went on to say that while NOAA's associated biological opinion recognizes the importance of spill, it also appears to have missed the opportunity to move the fish and region forward on salmon recovery.

"Instead the final plan stepped backward by utilizing approaches and analyses that Oregon has previously prevailed on in court," McKenna said.

Some anglers and fishing guides who fish the tributaries of the Columbia and Snake rivers are concerned that these measures may not be enough for the long-term survival of salmon and steelhead runs.

Cameron Scott, an English teacher and long-time guide, fished the Touchet and Tucannon rivers as a Whitman College student. Scott, who moved to Wallowa County primarily to fish for steelhead, said 20-plus years ago he thought the solution was simple to preserving anadromous fish in the tributaries -- take out the Snake River dams.

"It seemed so obvious that you just remove them," he said, "but the more discussions I had, the more I understood how complex it is."

While he said he understands there is a balance to be struck among the rivers' users, Scott said fears over time there is a real danger that anadromous fish will disappear from the Columbia Basin -- and fish are as much a part of the economy as they are of the ecology.

"I've seen the impacts on the Clearwater River when they closed the fishery -- loss of jobs, tourists, and money going to local economies and livelihoods," Scott said.

With an eye on the removal of the Elwha and Klamath river dams, Scott said it makes him wonder about the possibilities and the balancing of power, transportation and water in a world growing hotter and hotter, causing fish die-off in low water areas of the Columbia.

"I think it will take an international effort to keep those fisheries going, with all of the entities involved, including farmers and fishermen, all at the table together seeking the solution," he said.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration completed the operations plan in response to a U.S. District Court of Oregon Court Opinion and Order to review and update management of the Columbia River System and evaluate impacts to resources with new information and changed conditions in the basin since the last comprehensive update issued in 1995.

Completion of the plan was expedited by the 2018 Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West. The memo called for "streamlining regulatory processes and removing unnecessary burdens on the Columbia River Basin water infrastructure," and directed a variety of federal agencies, working under the direction of the Secretary of the Army, to develop a schedule to complete the Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Statement and the associated Biological Opinion by 2020.

Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West
Energy & Environment, October 19, 2018


Subject: Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct the following:


Katy Nesbitt
Federal Government Releases its Operational Plan for the Columbia River System Dams <-- Listen at orginal site.
East Oregonian, August 25, 2020

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