The central questions back then are the same ones we’re facing today: Do the Columbia Basin dams jeopardize salmon survival? Does the federal plan to protect the fish meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act? But today, Judge Redden has asked parties to the court case to focus on six slightly more specific questions, as you can see in the letter below.
A couple weeks ago I talked about the case with Lorri Bodi, Bonneville Power Administration’s vice president for the environment, fish and wildlife. BPA sells the electricity generated by dams in the Columbia Basin. Bodi said one of the central questions in the case today is how much salmon habitat restoration contributes to salmon recovery. If you put back some salmon spawning grounds and rearing habitat for juvenile fish, can you count on that habitat to offset impacts from the dams and improve salmon survival? You can see that question reflected in the judge’s letter.
There is also the question of whether dam managers have done all they can to improve fish passage – including whether they’re spilling enough water over the dams to help outmigrating salmon get to sea. Spilling water over the dams means less hydropower generation. Here’s what Bodi said on the question of spill:
“The press makes it sound like we don’t do any spill, and we only care about costs. Every drop of water that goes over the spillway that doesn’t got through the turbines loses power generation, and that’s carbon-free power generation. We’re not arguing for less spill. But the currency is fish survival – not dollars from hydropower generation. …
The amount of spilling that we do is driven purely by the biology. We have a 96 percent survival performance standard. We try to maximize spill to achieve that. At some dams that means more volume, at others it’s less. It isn’t like an automatic turn the crank and the more spill you do the better survival you get. Our goal is to do the biologically effective spill to achieve 96 percent survival per dam.”
Last note: Bodi said it’s uncertain exactly what the judge will do today. Will he make a final decision approving the Obama administration’s plan? Will he strike it down once again? “It’s anybody’s guess,” she said. And even if he does make a decision, “it may not be a landmark change.”