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Federal Officials Set To Release
Salmon Recovery Study Today

by N.S. Nokkentved
The Times-News, December 17, 1999

TWIN FALLS -- Just over 50 years ago, federal officials were ready to sacrifice Snake River salmon runs to fully develop water resources in the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Today federal officials are expected to release an environmental study of ways to bring those now-endangered fish back from the threat of extinction.

In 1947, the Columbia Basin Inter-Agency Committee reported the Interior Department's conclusion that "the overall benefits to the Pacific Northwest from a thorough-going development of the Snake and Columbia are such that the present salmon run must if necessary be sacrificed."

The report shows that federal officials have known for decades the lethal potential of mainstream dams on salmon -- "even with full use of fish ladders and all protective devices." It notes that the four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington -- built in the 1960s and 1970s -- would be a threat to Snake River salmon.

The dams and the attitude that salmon shouldn't be allowed to stand in the way of development -- along with logging, mining, agricultural and irrigation practices, over-fishing and ocean conditions -- together have earned Snake River salmon a place on the federal endangered species list.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to release at a Portland news conference today a five-year, $20 million draft environmental impact statement on breaching the four federal dams. The impact statement looks at three alternatives:

Information already released by federal officials suggests that habitat improvements and strict limits on fishing may keep Snake River salmon from extinction. But to recover the species enough to allow Indian, sport and commercial fishing, four federal dams on the lower Snake River would also have to be breached. Other federal agency officials also will be on hand at today's news conference to discuss the final version of a recently released study of a range of salmon recovery alternatives.

Fisheries scientists have said that including breaching the dams in any recovery plan would give the salmon their best chance.

Federal officials also say that if the dams are not breached, they would be looking for more water to increase flows in the lower Snake and the Columbia River estuary. And even if the dams are removed, they would continue to rely on stored water from Idaho.

N.S. Nokkentved
Federal Officials Set To Release Salmon Recovery Study Today
The Times-News, December 17, 1999

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