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Water Release from Dam for Salmon Upheld

by William McCall, Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 28, 2004

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A federal judge on Wednesday ruled the U.S. government must keep spilling enough water over dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers this summer to help the migration of juvenile salmon.

U.S. District Judge James Redden issued a preliminary injunction against the Army Corps of Engineers to block a proposed cutback of the spill starting next week by the Bonneville Power Administration.

The BPA had argued the effect on fish would be minimal, but reducing the spill at four key Northwest dams could save ratepayers $18 million to $28 million in electricity costs this year.

Redden rejected that argument, saying the long-term environmental health of the region outweighed the short-term economic benefits of using the water to increase hydroelectricity production this summer.

Redden announced his ruling to a courtroom packed with attorneys and representatives of federal agencies, Northwest Indian tribes and conservation groups.

"It's a difficult case, but my job is to consider the Endangered Species Act and the fate of juvenile salmon," Redden said, calling the summer spill plan "arbitrary and capricious."

The BPA had received federal approval to reduce spill in August at the Ice Harbor and John Day dams on the Snake River, and the Bonneville and The Dalles dams on the Columbia.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dams, also approved the plan on July 6, prompting the lawsuit seeking the injunction.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski joined the suit on behalf of environmentalists, tribes and fishermen who argued the plan offered little or no benefit to Northwest ratepayers while risking damage to the region's long-term environmental and economic health if salmon runs decline.

"I think the people in this region understand that wild salmon in their rivers are more valuable than a nickel or a dime on their electric bills," said Todd True, attorney for Earthjustice, one of the environmental groups which filed the lawsuit.

Kathryn Brigham, spokeswoman for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, called the ruling a victory for both ratepayers and tribes.

Fred Disheroon, a Justice Department attorney representing the federal agencies, argued that Bonneville had the authority to modify its overall salmon conservation plan to meet summer power demand.

He accused Kulongoski, the tribes and conservation groups of "simply trying to second-guess or substitute their judgment" for Bonneville and other federal agencies.

Redden, however, said those agencies have failed to restore declining salmon runs that the summer spill program was designed to protect.

"Given we are working from a deficit situation, we should not be cutting back," the judge said.

The governors of the other three Northwest states served directly by Bonneville - Idaho, Montana and Washington - supported the summer spill plan.

William McCall, Associated Press
Water Release from Dam for Salmon Upheld
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 28, 2004

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