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Court: Prove Dams Meet Clean Water Standards

by Erik Robinson
The Columbian, March 25, 2000

Environmental groups Friday hailed a ruling in U.S. District Court in Portland this week requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to prove four dams on the lower Snake River do not violate the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit was filed in March 1999 by environmental groups who accused the corps of operating the dams in a manner that violates water-quality standards for high temperature and dissolved gas. Environmental groups allege the slack-water reservoirs behind the dams make the water too warm for fish and spilling water over the dams increases dissolved oxygen.

The decision by Judge Helen Frye gave the corps and eight environmental groups that are plaintiffs in the suit three months to prove their cases.

The corps contended that the water-quality issue was already addressed by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which issued a biological opinion in 1995 asserting that the dams complied with the Endangered Species Act. Several species of threatened and endangered salmon live in the Snake River.

That wasn't enough to satisfy Frye, who issued her decision Tuesday.

"Compliance with one statue does not equal compliance with the other," Frye wrote.

Corps officials could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Environmental groups have pushed hard for the corps to remove the dams to boost imperiled fish runs in the Columbia River basin.

"This is one more step toward saying that dam removal is the best thing not just for salmon, but for the Snake River," said Amie Wexler, policy associate for the National Wildlife Federation, one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency have acknowledged the main stem of the Columbia River violates water quality standards.

Mary Lou Soscia, the EPA's Columbia River coordinator in Portland, said last year that the Snake stands a much better chance of delivering a fast-moving slug of cold water to the Columbia if the corps breached Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams in Eastern Washington.

Erik Robinson
Court: Prove Dams Meet Clean Water Standards
The Columbian, March 25, 2000

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