Reprieve for Dams ExpectedThe Associated Press
Seattle Times, April 27, 2000
Revisit removal in 5-10 years, agency to suggest
WASHINGTON - The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to say next month that four Snake River dams should remain standing for at least five or 10 more years.
After that, if not enough progress has been made in recovering endangered salmon, the dams should be breached, the agency is expected to say in a draft opinion, due out May 22.
The plan would invite the region's government leaders, businesses and residents to work to avoid dam removal by taking steps such as leaving buffers along streams, covering irrigation intakes, spilling water over dams, increasing stream flows and improving water quality.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which is conducting its own study and plans to make a final recommendation on breaching in the late fall, is expected to follow the fisheries service's lead and recommend a course that keeps the dams operating in the short term.
The opinion could cool some of the red-hot political debate about the dams in a critical election year. But it may not.
Environmentalists say any biological opinion that does not make dam removal an immediate priority ignores what science says is the best short-term help for the fish.
Environmentalists are likely to file a lawsuit, claiming the service has not met its obligations under the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws.
Dam defenders, on the other hand, want to see the issue settled quickly and finally, not tied to the progress of salmon across the region.
Removal "has to stand or fall on its own merits," said Bruce Lovelin, executive director of the Columbia River Alliance, a coalition of industry groups.
But Will Stelle, regional director of the fisheries service, said the four dams in southeastern Washington - Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite - should be viewed in the context of overall salmon recovery.
When the service first ordered a 1995 study of the option of breaching the dams, three salmon stocks were listed, all on the Snake.
Now 13 fish stocks are listed throughout the Columbia Basin. Stelle contends the stocks at most risk are in the upper Columbia and Willamette rivers.
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