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Columbia Spill Will Continue for 2011

by Staff
Osprey Steelhead News, March 23, 2011

Federal dam operators announced today that court ordered spill will continue during the 2011 outmigration season. Many have attributed improved survival in the Columbia basin in part to court ordered spill in place since 2006. Over the last several years the Columbia has seen record returns of sockeye, coho, chinook and steelhead. Plaintiffs in the case challenging the legality of the Obama BiOp have argued that spill should be adopted permanently but federal managers have been resistant.

Portland, OR - West coast fishermen and fishing businesses today thank the Nez Perce Tribe and the State of Oregon for successfully advocating to retain court-ordered levels of water spilled over federal dams in the Columbia and Snake Rivers during the 2011 spring salmon migration. This spill has been a key reason for recent improvements in salmon returns, although numbers are still far below levels needed to sustain healthy salmon populations.

Federal dam agencies confirmed today that they will continue to provide spill operations in 2011 that mirror levels ordered by U.S. District Court Judge James Redden for the last five years.

The dam agencies had once again sought to cut back court-ordered spill in favor of generating additional hydropower this spring. Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe led the effort among federal, state, and tribal salmon managers to retain prior spill levels, culminating with today's announcement.

"We are thankful that the Nez Perce and Oregon stood up to federal pressure to reduce water spilled past the dams to protect salmon," said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association (NSIA). "What we've learned in the last five years is that more spill means more salmon, which means more jobs."

"For the sixth straight year, water spilled over the federal dams in spring when young salmon are migrating to the ocean will mean higher salmon survival, higher salmon returns, more fishing and more jobs in our coastal communities," said Joel Kawahara, board member of the Washington Trollers Association. "Judge Redden first required spring spill for the 2006 migration season, and every year since, his oversight has led the federal government to keep providing it - even though every year, they have looked for ways to reduce spill in order to make more money from generating electricity."

Today's announcement means that about half of young Columbia Basin salmon heading to the ocean this spring will travel there in the river, rather than being collected in barges at the dams. Prior to 2006, up to 90% of baby salmon were routinely removed from the river and barged downstream by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, interrupting their natural migration and compromising their survival.

"Professional fishermen just want to be on the river; we don't like to be in court," said Bob Rees of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association. "But if we didn't have a presence in the courtroom, we wouldn't have achieved salmon spill, and many of us would be out of a job like too many of our neighbors in rural Northwest communities. This spill, which helps increase salmon survival, would not have happened at the level of past years without leadership from the State of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe, and the history of court oversight."

The fishing groups called on federal agencies to take the next needed step, by making spill a permanent, guaranteed part of the federal salmon plan and by increasing the amount of spill wherever possible. Right now the federal plan curtails spill from court-ordered levels, allowing the federal agencies to halt spill at certain key times of the year.

"The science is crystal clear that salmon do better when the river runs more like a river," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations (PCFFA). "We shouldn't have to fight for spill every year. The dam agencies don't decide each year whether the dams will generate energy; they don't revisit the science every year that shows that water running through turbines generates electricity. Salmon and west coast fishing economies deserve reliable protections guided by the best science - and that means continued and increased spill in the spring and summer months."

The groups also urged federal agencies to support a change in Washington's water quality standards to align with Oregon's standards and allow more spill - leading to more salmon and more jobs.

While fishing jobs are the first concern of the groups, they also noted that spill helps another Northwest industry - wind energy. In many cases, additional spill would reduce the number of times wind projects are threatened with shutdowns due to over-generation, or too much energy. "It's good to know that science-based policy can boost both clean energy jobs and salmon jobs," said Liz Hamilton.

Columbia Spill Will Continue for 2011
Osprey Steelhead News, March 23, 2011

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