Federal officials announced their plan Thursday about how they will preserve imperiled fish AND manage the hydropower system on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The plan is expected to become what's called a biological opinion next month. Two previous plans have already been tossed out by a federal judge. And environmental groups are already condemning this latest fish plan, as Rob Manning reports.
Judge Jim Redden has rejected two federal plans in the last seven years for the Columbia Basin.
The second time, Redden ordered that water be spilled over dams—sacrificing power production to help fish. Earlier this year, he granted an extension for federal officials, but emphasized he wanted to see a plan he could approve.
Steve Wright is the top executive for the Bonneville Power Administration. He says officials came up with a better plan after doing more analysis and collaborating with Indian tribes and state agencies.
Steven Wright: “And then we had to make decisions about what actions we would include, and we've included a robust set of actions that we believe will make a substantial contribution to the recovery of these fish. So we believe, that given what the judge told us back in 2004, that we've responded to that, and we certainly hope that he will find it satisfactory.”
The robust actions that Wright is talking about pencil out to almost $2 billion, over ten years.
Army Corps of Engineers' fish manager, Whit Anderson says a big chunk of the money would help migrating salmon and steelhead make their journey up and down the rivers.
Whit Anderson: “We're committing approximately half a billion dollars of additional improvements to improve survival of juvenile fish as they migrate to the ocean, and also improve passage of adult fish as they return from the ocean.”
The plan sets aside hundreds of millions of dollars for dam modifications. But environmental and fishing groups say that all the money - and the draft plan itself - fall short, in part, because they ignore the main issue.
Glen Spain is with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
Glen Spain: “They tippy-toe around the main issue, and that's the dams, particularly the Snake River dams. They don't really do an adequate analysis of their impact, nor do they do much about them. My own view is that this is just an effort to stall until the Administration is out of office, and leave it to the next people in line.”
Federal scientists are now responsible for turning this biological “assessment” as it's called, into the official “biological opinion.” The final version is expected to support the 1,600 page assessment.
But what the plan needs in the end, is Judge Jim Redden's approval.
Environmental groups predict that won't happen and that the judge will agree with them, that the new plan is just as harmful to threatened fish, as the two plans he's already tossed out.
Federal officials are more optimistic. Redden's decision is expected after the plan becomes final - early next year.