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Friday, October 21, 2005

Salmon versus Agricultural and Commercial Interests

The fight over water resources in the Northwest continues. Federal courts have rejected the administration's water diversion plans giving the latest round in the battle to those in favor of diverting less water from rivers to protect the remaining salmon runs:

Latest champions for Northwest's salmon, by Brad Knickerbocker, The Christian Science Monitor: ASHLAND, ORE. - Uncle Sam is getting hammered in federal courts for failing to protect endangered salmon... The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday rejected the Bush administration's water diversion plan for the Klamath River in California and Oregon because it does not protect the river's coho salmon, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Just a few days earlier, a federal judge in Portland, Ore., said he has had it with failed attempts to recover wild salmon (not to be confused with the hatchery fish) headed toward extinction in the vast Columbia River Basin, an area the size of central Europe. ...US District Judge James Redden gave federal agencies one year - not the two years they had asked for - to come up with a plan that actually works. And he raised the specter of tearing out mammoth hydroelectric dams in the Columbia-Snake River system ... if they don't succeed. ... If the hydropower dams were to be breached, much less electricity would be produced, which may raise the price of power and make it more expensive for wide segments of the economy in the West. ... Salmon need the right amount of water and the proper temperature to spawn far upstream, and then they head out to the Pacific Ocean for several years before returning to the place of their birth to repeat the cycle. Dams, diversions for irrigation, logging, mining, and urban development all have made the river trips to and from the ocean increasingly difficult. Before eight major dams were built on the Columbia River and the Snake River (the Columbia's main tributary), some 16 million salmon a year filled annual fish runs. Today, that number is down to about 1 million fish, and 12 species of salmon now are listed under the Endangered Species Act. The same is true for the Klamath River. It once saw one of the largest salmon runs. But the number of fish there has declined to the point where extinction is a possibility, largely because of dams and water diversions for agriculture.

In both places, government agencies, Indian tribes, environmental groups, university scientists, and economic interests have been battling it out for more than a decade. Meanwhile, other important variables may be at work over the long term that could have significant impact on salmon runs. ... The essence of the federal appeals court ruling this week - the latest in a series of legal decisions on Pacific salmon that go back more than 30 years - is that the US Bureau of Reclamation's 10-year plan for restoring the Klamath salmon run is "arbitrary and capricious," failing to provide enough water for the fish until the last two years. By that time, the court declared, it well may be that "all the water in the world ... will not protect the coho [salmon], for there will be none to protect." ... "We think the court really got it wrong," says Robin Rivett, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation who represents irrigators along the Oregon-California border. The Bush administration has pledged some $6 billion over the next decade on salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin. But it also wants to include hatchery fish with wild salmon for purposes of counting fish under the Endangered Species Act, which biologists argue against because it would lead to further salmon declines. It has reduced the amount of officially designated "critical habitat" ... The president has said he'd never approve breaching or removing any of the eight main hydropower dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

I would be very surprised if any damns are breached. I hope we are able to save the wild salmon runs, but I am not optimistic that extinctions will be avoided.

    Posted by on Friday, October 21, 2005 at 09:51 AM in Economics, Environment | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (17)

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