San Francisco, CA
On Tuesday a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling guaranteeing salmon runs the water they need to survive this year. The court of appeals turned aside government attempts to redirect Columbia and Snake River water exclusively to hydropower production at the expense of salmon protected by the Endangered Species Act. The court ruled that a federal district court was correct when it ordered some of the river water be used to safely flush juvenile fall chinook salmon to sea.
Salmon and steelhead stocks on the Columbia and Snake Rivers have been in serious decline since the construction of four small dams on the lower Snake River in Washington in the late 1960s. The appellate court’s ruling noted the government’s own data show that dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers kill, on average, 86 percent of all juvenile fall chinook salmon migrating from the rivers to the sea in the fall. The appellate court also found the government had until recently consistently stated that flushing juvenile salmon to sea with increased water releases, or spill, was the safest, most effective way to insure their survival. The court of appeals stated that “the district court had a more than sufficient basis upon which to conclude that summer spills would provide the best and safest alternative…” for the young fish.
The hard fought legal battle to use some of the rivers’ waters to get salmon safely to the sea is part of an overall effort to breach the four lower Snake River dams and restore salmon abundance throughout the Northwest.
“What’s at stake in this debate is nothing less than the Northwest way of life: good jobs, good fishing, and plenty of salmon in our rivers,” said Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. “It’s time for the administration to stop fighting in court and work with fishermen and tribes to recover salmon back to abundance.”
“People need to realize that every salmon caught by recreational or commercial fishermen means, on average, at least a $200 infusion of cash to the regional economy,” said fishing guide Bob Rees of the NW Guides and Anglers Association. “We need more of them, not less.”