Court Upholds Spills
by Warren Cornwall, Seattle Times staff reporter
Extra water will continue spilling over four Snake River dams and a Columbia River dam this summer to help young chinook salmon to the ocean, after a federal appeals court yesterday sided with environmentalists in a legal battle over the endangered fish.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the key provisions of a ruling by U.S. District Judge James Redden of Portland, who ordered federal dam managers to spill water over the dams from June until Aug. 31.
The extra water normally would pass through electricity-generating turbines at the dams, so the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) estimated it would cost $60 million to $70 million in lost electricity.
The ruling reinforces the argument that spills are valuable to help salmon in the short term, said Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, one of the groups that had sought the court order.
Federal agencies have disputed that the extra water was a better solution than the long-standing practice of barging young salmon around the dams. But there's no plan to further challenge the spill order, said BPA spokesman Ed Mosey.
After the ruling yesterday, both sides declared they preferred cooperation to aid the salmon, rather than continued legal wrangling. But they remained far apart on what the solutions should look like.
Federal agencies are negotiating with state officials from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana on a deal to add features to dams, such as giant slides to help salmon bypass turbines.
Hasselman dismissed those measures as more of the same tactics that have failed.
"The science certainly shows that breaching the four lower Snake River dams is the only certain way that we're going to get to recovery," he said.
Redden already has ruled that a federal study failed to fully account for the impact of the dams on the salmon. The case will return to his courtroom in September to debate more long-term remedies.
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