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Court Upholds
Water Spill for Salmon

by Lisa Stiffler
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - June 22, 2005

More water will continue being spilled from Columbia and Snake River dams to help wash juvenile salmon out to sea -- at least for now.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ordered the government to continue following a June 10 order by U.S. District Judge James Redden of Portland.

"Spills will continue and that is good news for salmon, and that is good news for all the fishermen that depend on them and all the jobs that they support," said Todd True, lead attorney for environmental and fishing groups fighting for stronger protections for the fish.

"It's good news for the whole region," True said.

On Monday, the Army Corps of Engineers began releasing increased volumes of water from four Snake River hydropower dams. McNary Dam on the Columbia will increase spills next month.

The National Wildlife Federation and other groups have repeatedly challenged the National Marine Fisheries Service fish-protection strategies -- and won..

The critics are now fighting a government plan to spend $6 billion in improvements to the hydropower dams to make them more salmon-friendly.

"It shows that more really needs to be done if we're to recover salmon in the Snake and Columbia rivers and protect this way of life in the Pacific Northwest," said Michael Garrity, associate director with the Seattle office of American Rivers, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Gov. Christine Gregoire and the Fisheries Service are among those opposed to increasing the amount of water spilled from the dams. They argue that the government's strategy for moving the juvenile salmon -- taking them out of the river and transporting them downstream past the dams -- is a safer bet for getting them out to sea, particularly considering this year's drought.

"We really firmly believe that spilling fish in a low water year puts them at risk," said Brian Gorman, spokesman for the Fisheries Service in Seattle. "The river moves more slowly; the reservoirs get warmer. Our science shows us that in low water years the safer thing to do is to move them past the dams and past the turbines."

Increasing the amount of water spilled will decrease the amount of power produced. The new spill volumes is estimated to cost between $57 million and $81 million in lost production. The appeals court yesterday agreed to an expedited schedule for considering the government's challenge of Redden's May ruling, which found their salmon-recovery plan "arbitrary and capricious.

Mortality in the Hydrosystem Corridor
Downstream Migration of Juvenile Fish
  Average (1994-1999)
Direct Mortality Fall Chinook Spring Chinook Steelhead
Columbia/Snake Dams
(Mortality from 8 dams)
12% 20% 17%
Columbia/Snake Reservoirs
(Mortality from 8 reservoirs)
81% 40% 41%
Indirect Mortality ? ? ?

-- National Marine Fisheries Service, December 21, 2000 (more)

P-I reporter Lisa Stiffler
Court Upholds Water Spill for Salmon
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 22, 2005

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