Friday, May 06, 2016

U.S. judge tosses feds' salmon plan back in water, suggests breaching dams

Judge Michael Simon threw out the feds' latest plan for managing the Northwest's greatest river system. The 149-page ruling by Simon is the fifth time courts have rejected federal plans as flawed or inadequate under the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The struggle over salmon has gone on since 1991, when Snake River sockeye were first classified as endangered. Thirteen other species from the river have followed in the past 25 years. The ruling by Judge Simon follows a disastrous, hot 2015 summer in which adult salmon died in reservoirs, with fewer than 5 percent reaching spawning beds in the Snake River system and even fewer in the Okanogan River. Snake River-bound adult salmon, and young salmon bound for the Pacific Ocean, must survive passage through eight dams and reservoirs. The Okanogan's runs must survive eight dams on the Columbia. Over a period of more than 20 years, wrote Judge Simon, "the federal agencies have ignored the (court) admonishments and continued to focus essentially on the same approach." He was referring to unmet promises of habitat restoration. The government's efforts have "cost billions of dollars" yet they are "failing" and leaving salmon stocks in a "perilous state," the judge added. The extent of river habitat was limited when the Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams were built on the Columbia River without fish ladders, and when the Snake River was dammed in upper Hells Canyon by the Idaho Power Co. But great habitat remains, notably the Salmon River in Idaho, a tributary of the Snake River that is the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states. Ex-Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus has long argued, "Idaho has habitat, needs fish." Andrus was a skeptic when the Army Corps of Engineers built four low dams on the Snake River, turning Lewiston, Idaho, into a barge port. The feds will have to consider dam removal when they go back to the drawing board, Judge Simon ruled. He has given them until March 1, 2018 to come up with another salmon plan, or "biological opinion," as it is formally called. Any new opinion "may well require consideration of breaching, bypassing or removing one or more of the four Lower Snake River Dams," wrote the judge...more

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