Biologists for Fisheries Agency Endorse Dams Plan - Columbia and Snake rivers
- November 1, 2007
Biologists for Agency Endorse Dams Plan
By FELICITY BARRINGER
SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 31 Federal fisheries officials in Seattle on
Wednesday endorsed, with minor modifications, a plan for the governments
continued operation of the hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake
Rivers. They said it did not jeopardize the survival of 13 stocks of
salmon and steelhead that the government must protect under the Endangered
The endorsement, a draft analysis from the National Marine Fisheries
Service, agreed with dozens of proposed protective actions that would
provide enhanced measures to get juvenile fish past the dams as they swim
seaward, improve habitat in the river and discourage predators like
California sea lions and Caspian terns.
Wednesdays draft represents the fisheries agencys third effort to find a
binding, legally acceptable solution to the Northwests tug of war between
salmon and dams.
The agencies operating the dams are required by law to consult with
federal biologists about their impact on endangered and threatened species
and what they intend to do about it.
The opinion by the fisheries service, a part of the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, made no mention of the possibility of removing
four dams on the lower Snake River that sit on the annual migration route
of some of the more imperiled species. Many environmentalists and
scientists see these four dams as the deadliest obstacle these fish face.
Federal officials said the new plans approach to the recovery of the 13
stocks was significantly different from an approach they offered three
years ago. That plan, which like Wednesdays is called a biological
opinion, was struck down by a federal judge as violating the Endangered
Species Act. A federal appeals court upheld that ruling this year.
Judge James A. Redden of Federal District Court in Portland, Ore., who has
presided over the issue, has made clear he is willing to step in and
direct the dams operation if he believes it is the only way to protect
the fish. In a court hearing this summer, Judge Redden said: Im going to
be very picky because I want a bi-op that works. This is a very, very,
very, very important document. Bob Lohn, the northwest regional
administrator of the fisheries service, said in a conference call on
Wednesday that the plan had been prepared with much more collaboration
with interested groups like Indian tribes and commercial interests. Mr.
Lohn added, This plan is based on a much more detailed approach to the
problem, taking into account the needs of six dozen subgroups of fish.
But environmentalists say the plan retreats from the status quo on one
crucial issue. It permits reductions in the amount of water released from
the dams that allows juvenile fish quick passage past them and away from
the deadly turbines. Judge Redden has set release amounts since 2005.
The opinion was condemned by environmental groups, from the Sierra Club to
a regional group, Save Our Wild Salmon, as doing more for the Bonneville
Power Administration than for the 13 troubled fish runs, two of which have
very few wild fish left to reproduce outside hatcheries.
The only difference between this plan and the two earlier ones rejected by
the courts, they said, is the presentation, not the bottom line. Its the
same pig in a different tutu, but it still cant dance, said Todd True, a
lawyer for Earthjustice who represents environmentalists in this dispute.
Steve Wright, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, said
in the conference call that the modifications made to mitigate the dams
impact on fish would cost about $1 billion over the next 10 years. Were
the four Lower Snake River dams to be breached, he said, the annual cost
of replacing the lost power would be at least $450 million.
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