Fishing businesses and conservation groups joined with Indian tribes to ask a federal court to stop the government from cutting the amount of water spilled past Columbia Basin dams this summer. The spill is critical to aid migrating salmon and steelhead past the dams. In deciding to reduce spill, the federal government has rejected repeated scientific recommendations by state and tribal groups and its own joint fisheries agencies to continue spilling this water, and rejected a proposal from energy and salmon advocates that would have saved Northwest ratepayers more money while providing salmon the spill they need to pass dams safely. With today's action, the groups contend the agencies' final decision violates the law, sound science, and good public policy.
"This proposal does not meet the standard agreed to by the four Northwest governors -- salmon must be as well or better off under any proposals to cut spill. We would and do support well-intentioned plans that save money and leave salmon better off," said Jim Martin, former chief of fisheries, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; conservation director, Berkeley Fishing Tackle Company; board member, National Wildlife Federation. "However, the federal agencies have ignored the collaborative scientific advice of the joint fisheries agencies. We insist that the plan to cut spill be rejected for what it really is -- - an off-handed way to change the federal salmon plan to save money and kill salmon."
Scientists from the joint fisheries agencies unanimously concluded that spill is the best way to help young salmon survive federal dams, and that the government's proposed offsets for the damage will not compensate for cutting spill. The Bonneville Power Administration's own analysis states that cutting spill will kill more than 29,000 adult salmon. With severe regulations already in place for these fisheries, the government's decision will likely truncate fishing seasons and tighten fishing restrictions.
"I am fed up with decades of broken promises and hydro-managers' willingness to break the law. Even the slightest reduction in sport seasons will result in closures for our industry -- - we will have to pay the price for the harm to fall chinook," says Eric Linde, river guide and member, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "I resent the federal government's brazenness to again allow the hydro-system to kill too many fish, restrict fishing and, in the process, threaten the livelihoods of many of our members and their rural businesses."
A full summer spill program is one of the few firm and consistently successful requirements in the federal salmon plan for endangered salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers. That plan, while ruled illegal in May 2003, remains in force by court order. But the federal government has now decided not to implement the plan's spill requirements and instead has put forth offsets designed to compensate for the dramatic harm that spill reduction will cause to salmon. The joint fisheries agencies have described the so-called offsets as "speculative" and inadequate to mitigate the loss. Tribes, fishing businesses, and conservation groups have asked the U.S. District Court to find this spill reduction illegal.
"The federal government is attempting to sidestep the law by double-counting actions and funds that are already required of them," said Todd True, staff attorney, Earthjustice. "The administration has ignored both science and the voice of reason throughout this process, leaving us little choice but to turn to the courts. We are going to hold the federal government accountable to their own law."
In addition, the damage to salmon and steelhead comes with minimal benefit to ratepayers. After accounting for the cost of biological offsets, the "savings" from spill reductions will save the average Portland resident about seven cents per month on electric bills and the average Seattle resident about a dime per month. BPA rejected a better option proposed by the NW Energy Coalition to invest in 300 average megawatts in immediate energy efficiency and sell this excess power to provide ratepayers with a permanent savings of $39.4 million per year (cutting spill only provides a one-time cost-savings of $28.1 million at the most). The NW Energy Coalition proposal was a long-term solution for ratepayers and salmon.
"We made a proposal that was good for salmon and good for electricity ratepayers, but the federal government rejected it," said Sara Patton, executive director, NW Energy Coalition. "So instead we're literally talking about saving pennies a month while putting tens of thousands of fish and an enormous fishing and recreational industry at risk. This proposal would further imperil a mainstay of the Northwest's culture and economy."
Additional Quotes and Contacts:
Charles Hudson, Public Information Manager
Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, (503) 731-1257
"The scheme to cut summer spill has been a series of federal deceptions, miscalculations, and misrepresentations to our tribes. The scientific community did painstaking work showing the inadequacies of the proposal – yet they were ignored. It was evident to us early on that the federal courts would be the only place to put this thing to rest."
Pat Ford, Executive Director
Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, Contact Vicki Paris (503) 230-0421 ext 18
"This proposal fails to meet basic tenets of science and law. The only way the federal government can truly offset their reduction in spill is by either acquiring an additional million acres of water from Idaho or by removing the four Lower Snake River dams. Instead, the administration has chosen to leave Northwest salmon communities economically destitute."
Bruce Buckmaster, Board Member
Salmon For All, (503) 861-2256
"The federal government's plan to recover salmon fell short, but rather than improve on that plan, BPA has done just the opposite. By eliminating spill, BPA has taken the teeth out of an already weak plan. The plain fact is BPA is shifting its fair share of responsibility for restoring salmon onto the shoulders of those whose livelihoods depend on strong, self-sustaining, harvestable populations of salmon."
Rob Masonis, NW Regional Director
American Rivers, Contact Michael Garrity (206) 213-0330 ext 11
"With recent increases in some salmon runs, now is the time to be doing more, not less, to recover Columbia and Snake river salmon. Doing the bare minimum to merely avoid extinction is not acceptable. The people of the Northwest want abundant, harvestable, self-sustaining salmon runs and should not accept a false trade off between affordable energy and salmon recovery."
John Kober, NW Conservation Director
National Wildlife Federation, (206) 285-8707 ext 108
"To kill listed and non-listed fish in order to save the average ratepayer a maximum of 0.33 cents per month is ridiculous. Not only are the proposed offsets inadequate, these are things that BPA should be doing in addition to meeting spill and flow requirements, not in lieu of them."
Jim Martin, Berkeley Fishing Tackle Company (503) 632-4270
Eric Linde, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association (503) 631-8859
Todd True, Earthjustice (206) 343-7340 ext. 30
Sara Patton, NW Energy Coalition (206) 621-0094
*Additional Contacts Below
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.