Judge Orders Increased Spills on Snake and Columbia River Dams in Salmon Protection Case
PORTLAND, Ore. A federal judge ordered U.S. officials to increase the volume of water spilled through five dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers to make it easier for imperiled salmon species to reach the ocean.
U.S. District Judge James Redden, however, rejected a request to increase by 10 percent the speed of the rivers' water flow. Environmentalists had said that would lower water temperatures and further help the salmons' migration to the sea.
"The fall chinook run is in danger" because of the small amount of water spills, Redden said at a hearing Friday. "The law says you can't do that."
Government agencies named in a lawsuit over the salmons' protection -- including the BPA, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- said in a joint statement they may appeal the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"We are extremely concerned that the outcome provides no guarantee for the improvement of salmon stocks and it could make things worse at an enormous cost to the region," the statement said.
Redden's ruling in favor of environmentalists, American Indian tribes and fishermen calls for increases in water passing through spillways in four dams on the Snake River and the McNary Dam on the Columbia.
Environmentalists say the spills will allow the 12 species of threatened and endangered salmon species to more safely pass through the dams on their way to the sea and upon returning to spawn than when they pass through the turbines on the dams. The turbines generate electricity for the Pacific Northwest but they also kill many of the salmon.
The Bonneville Power Administration estimated the extra spill will cost ratepayers about $67 million, or about a 2 percent increase, in rates for residential customers. The first spills are scheduled to begin in less than two weeks.
Friday's ruling "said the federal government cannot walk away from its responsibilities for salmon and to the communities that rely on them," said Jan Hasselman of Seattle, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation, the lead plaintiff in Friday's case.
Last month, Redden struck down the Bush administration's $6 billion plan for salmon recovery -- saying it fell short of protecting the imperiled fish.
Source: Associated Press