Federal agency says dams plan for Columbia and Snake rivers won’t jeopardize fish

By Jeff Barnard
Grants Pass, Oregon (AP) 11-07

The agency in charge of restoring Northwest salmon says a court-ordered plan for operating federal dams in the Columbia and Snake River basins is not likely to jeopardize the survival of endangered salmon and steelhead.

“The picture that emerges is not pretty, but it is hopeful,” Bob Lohn, Northwest director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, said.

The agencies that operate 24 federal hydroelectric dams and irrigation projects in Oregon, Washington and Idaho had earlier acknowledged that their projects would lead to salmon extinction. They offered a series of improvements to make up for them, as called for by the Endangered Species Act.

The suggestions included improving habitat in spawning streams and estuaries, doing more to limit damage done by California sea lions that feed on adult salmon and modifying some dams so juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean can slide over them rather than having to dive deep through spillways.

The draft biological opinion from NOAA Fisheries looked at the proposals, considered climatic changes that have reduced the amount of food in the ocean and flows in spawning rivers, added some further mitigation and concluded that the fish should not only survive, but move closer to recovery.

After Indian tribes and Northwest states have been consulted and a final review is produced, the proposal will go to U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland.

He tossed out the last plan, saying it violated the Endangered Species Act. He warned he wants something that will help the fish thrive, not just survive.

Lohn noted that the biological opinion did not consider a proposal long favored by some tribes and conservation groups – breaching four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington – because only Congress can do that.

On the Net:

NOAA plan: http://tinyurl.com/29c22e