Proposed Deal in Lawsuit
by Editorial Board
Federal officials were barely done announcing a settlement in a major salmon lawsuit Monday before critics denounced it.
Under the proposal, four Northwest tribes agreed to drop their legal challenge to the Bonneville Power Administration's operation of the Northwest hydroelectric system.
In exchange, federal agencies would spend $900 million on improving conditions for endangered salmon on the Snake and Columbia rivers.
The money would be used for hatchery improvements, stream restoration work, screens to protect fish and additional spillway weirs on some of the dams, The Associated Press reported.
It's a lot of money -- and we'll pay higher electric rates as a result -- but unlike dam breaching, those methods have proved to benefit fish.
The advantages of spending millions on salmon recovery efforts instead of legal fees are obvious to most, but for an entrenched environmental lobby, removing Snake River dams is the only acceptable alternative.
Environmental groups and a fifth tribe -- The Idaho-based Nez Perce Tribe -- vowed to press on in their efforts to breach the dams, the AP reported.
Their response is disappointing but predictable.
The battle to dismantle Snake River dams has spawned a cottage industry -- which must have used up a forest's worth of pulp for legal documents by now -- but has yet to save a single fish.
Chances are it never will.
The potential benefit for salmon is debatable and the dams are far too valuable -- for recreation, transportation, irrigation and especially electricity.
The four Lower Snake River dams produce 1,022 megawatts of energy, enough clean, renewable energy to power the city of Seattle.
The Bonneville Power Administration estimates it would cost $400 million to $550 million yearly to replace that power.
And any alternative would include its own set of environmental consequences.
If the Northwest burned coal for power, like most of the world, keeping the lights on in Seattle would mean dumping more than 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide a day into the atmosphere.
The federal government and four tribes hope to take a far more certain and sensible path to saving salmon.
For Northwest Indians, success is a cultural necessity.
"Working for the salmon is sacred work," said Fidelia Andy, chairwoman of the Fish and Wildlife Committee of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
"The agreements will get our governments out of the courtroom and back on the firm ground of mutual goals and collaboration," Andy added in a written statement released Monday.
If others were as pragmatic, salmon would have a better chance.
Survival of Snake River Salmon & Steelhead data compiled by bluefish.org, July 2004
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