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Tribes want Salmon Back at Top of List

by The Associated Press
Lewiston Tribune, March 7, 2002

PORTLAND, Ore. -- With last summer's drought gone, Columbia River Indian tribes have called on the federal government to increase efforts to help salmon by running dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers more like a river.

Low water and declarations of hydroelectric power emergencies last year combined to produce a "salmon slaughter," said Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents tribes with treaty fishing rights.

With 95 percent of average runoff predicted this year, the financial problems of the Bonneville Power Administration should no longer be grounds for denying water to salmon, the commission's proposal said.

The proposal added that the Army Corps of Engineers should go even further, operating the dams more in line with natural flows that are higher in spring and gradually taper off through the summer.

The tribes suggested Tuesday that more water should be held back to boost flows this summer, flows should be changed to reduce the harm to young fish in Washington's Hanford Reach of the Columbia, and the entire spill program should be increased to save more young fish from going through turbines.

"The Columbia River will give us more flexibility this year to make up for significant impacts to last year's migrants," said Jay Minthorn, chairman of the commission.

Reducing the amount of spill over dams last summer resulted in only 4 percent of Snake River juvenile steelhead surviving the downstream migration from Lower Granite Dam on the Snake to Bonneville Dam on the Columbia, commission spokesman Charles Hudson said.

Despite the drought last summer, some spill was done for fish and other steps, such as loading fish onto barges and ferrying them downstream, were taken to boost salmon survival, said BPA spokesman Ed Mosey.

With water predictions about average for this year, the amount of water spilled over dams to help salmon will likely be in line with federal salmon recovery guidelines, he added.

Spilling water over dams to help young salmon migrate to the ocean is required under a federal fish recovery plan. But BPA, which markets low-cost electricity generated at 29 Northwest dams, twice declared power emergencies last year and got permission to waive the requirement.

A coalition of environmental groups sued the National Marine Fisheries Service over its decision to waive the requirements. Parties in that lawsuit are in mediation.

Cindy Henriksen, chief of the corps' reservoir control center, said she had not read the proposal yet, but it was likely to be discussed next Tuesday when agencies involved in operating the dams meet for their regular meeting of the Emergency Management Team

The Associated Press
Tribes want Salmon Back at Top of List
Lewiston Tribune, March 7, 2002

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