Today, the Ninth Circuit cleared the way for Columbia River water releases needed to help migrating juvenile salmon get to sea. The federal appeals court refused a government request to block a lower court ruling requiring the water releases. Water releases are the safest way to help young salmon get downstream past the dams to the ocean. While water releases have occurred regularly during the summer months for years, this year the Bush administration sought to end the releases by touting large savings for electricity customers. However, those large savings would have been only seven to ten cents per month for residential customers in Portland and Seattle.
“Today we can all breathe a sigh of relief that migrating juvenile salmon will have the means to get to the ocean in order to come back as adults and continue their lifecycle,” said Charles Hudson, public information manager, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
The summer water release program is one of the few firm and consistently successful requirements in the Federal Salmon Plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers. The Bush administration decided not to release water this year and instead put forth “offsets” allegedly designed to compensate for the dramatic harm that withholding water releases would cause to salmon. Scientists from the tibes, the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all described these “offsets” as “speculative” and unable to mitigate the loss caused by elimination of water releases in August. Federal district court Judge James Redden agreed with these scientists and conservation groups last month when he ruled the government must release water for salmon in August.
“Gambling the future of wild salmon to save a few cents a month on our electric bills is a not a tradeoff people in this region want to make,” said Earthjustice attorney Todd True. “We all look for ways to save money, but being penny wise and pound foolish hurts everyone.”
The proposal to cut water releases also would have put salmon-dependent jobs at risk. The BPA’s own analysis states that cutting spill would have killed more than 500,000 salmon including federally protected species.
“Thanks to the Ninth Circuit and Judge Redden, we have a positive vision for the future of the Northwest,” said Liz Hamilton, executive director, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “Our vision includes a healthy vibrant economy where salmon-dependent communities are whole and prospering – not bearing the burden of every politically expedient decision.”
“The electric utilities have real concerns regarding the price of electricity – concerns that we take seriously and must come together to discuss,” said Sara Patton, executive director, NW Energy Coalition. “Hurting salmon to save pennies, however, is not a good plan. People in the Northwest want and deserve clean, affordable electricity AND wild salmon and through listening to each other and looking for common ground we can get there.”