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Dam-breaching Won't be in Columbia-salmon Plan

by Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press
Seattle Times - December 20, 2000

Final government plans for restoring salmon in the Columbia Basin will not include immediate plans to breach four dams on the lower Snake River, a government spokesman has said.

"Certainly, our position on breaching remains the same: 'A,' it is on the table. But, 'B,' it is not the first thing we need to look at," Brian Gorman, spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle of the plans scheduled for release tomorrow.

Gorman's comments came in response to a letter from more than 200 scientists urging President Clinton to consider breaching the four Lower Snake River dams in Eastern Washington as a cornerstone for plans to restore threatened and endangered runs of Columbia Basin salmon.

"We need to look at what we can do immediately, cheaply and what is immediately feasible," Gorman said. "Dam breaching doesn't fit any of those categories.

"That does not mean we are ignoring dam breaching. It means we are doing things with immediate salutary effect on salmon and will find out if those things really work before we leap into the breach and try to wrestle with dam breaching."

The scientists - predominantly from Oregon, Washington and Idaho - said that removing the Snake River dams is essential to any plan to recover a dozen salmon and steelhead stocks in the Columbia Basin listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act

"For Snake River stocks, the weight of scientific evidence clearly dictates that the final biological opinion must commit the federal government to plan for breaching the lower Snake River dams in the near term," the scientists wrote.

The government has been considering a proposal supported by environmentalists, Indian tribes and commercial fishermen to remove the earthen portions of four dams on the Lower Snake to improve fish passage and restore spawning habitat.

Opponents have warned that breaching could seriously harm the region's economy. Removing the dams would cut off barge transport of grain and other bulk cargo, lower reservoirs below irrigation intake pipes, and reduce Northwest electricity supplies by about 4 percent.

The plans being released tomorrow include a final biological opinion by NMFS on hydroelectric dam operations on the Columbia and Snake rivers, the so-called Four-Hs plan for dealing with hydroelectric dams, habitat, harvest and hatchery operations by a coalition of nine federal agencies, and a biological opinion by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on dam impacts on bull trout and sturgeon.

The draft plans released last July called for limiting harvests, improving salmon habitat on tributaries, and reforming practices at hatcheries.

The draft strategy did include engineering studies needed to breach the dams so they are ready if warranted, and called for considering breaching more seriously if salmon were not rebounding. Success was to be evaluated after five, eight and 10 years.

Critics say the draft lacks specifics on costs, goals and timelines.

by Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press
Dam-breaching Won't be in Columbia-salmon Plan
Seattle Times, December 20, 2000

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