Critical in-river fish passage measures to help endangered salmon survive in the Columbia and Snake River basin will be extended through 2008 under an agreement reached today between representatives of federal and state agencies and fishing and conservation groups.
The agreement, as ordered today by Federal District Court Judge James A. Redden, ensures that additional water will be spilled over dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers during the crucial spring and summer salmon migrations. This spill, which creates more natural river conditions for salmon by releasing water over the dams, is widely considered the safest and most effective way to ensure young fish survive the dams on their downstream journey to the ocean.
Under the measures to be implemented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration, spill and flow levels for 2008 will be roughly equivalent to those mandated by the Court in 2005 for the 2006 migration season, and implemented again by agreement and court order last year.
"The court's order is good news for fish and fishing communities in the Columbia River basin, but we are still a long way from solving this problem," said Todd True of Earthjustice, lead attorney for the fishing and conservation interests. "The federal agencies still must deliver a final plan that makes the major changes in dams and dam operations that our region needs. The draft plan they released last October is not a good start. We will see over the next 60 days whether they can change directions and meet the challenge."
The federal agencies have been given until May 5, 2008 to deliver a new final Biological Opinion (BiOp) that will guide salmon recovery efforts in the seven-state Columbia and Snake River basin for the next decade. The previous plan was thrown out by the court for its failure to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act to protect and restore imperiled salmon in the region. That ruling was soundly upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The implementation of court-ordered spill in 2005 played a significant role in improved fish passage conditions in 2006, and is being credited with contributing to increased projections for this year's salmon returns. However, even with these improved river operations, the decline of some Snake River stocks is expected to continue.
"The fish in the river tell the story. This year's increased returns again show that the more natural river conditions ordered by the court can help bring our salmon back, just as they did in 2001 and 2002. And as fishermen, we're grateful for that," said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "But the benefits of spill aren't the bedrock of the federal recovery plan, and that is unacceptable to us. While these measures give salmon more of what they need to survive in 2008, another year of band-aid approaches alone won't restore our runs. What we really need is a biological opinion that passes the scientific and legal red-face test, before it's too late to save these fish and the coastal and inland communities who depend on them for their livelihoods."
Like last year's order, today's order calls for increased spill over federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers during the crucial spring and salmon downstream migration periods. Without such additional spill measures, higher numbers of young salmon would have to be removed from the river and siphoned through a series of tubes into trucks and barges, only to be driven hundreds of miles downstream -- a costly federal practice that has failed to reverse the decline of salmon populations in the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Todd True, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340