In a 24-page opinion released today, Judge James Redden rejected the federal plan for managing Columbia River dams to protect salmon. In the opinion, he called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s conclusion that the hydropower system will not jeopardize the survival of protected salmon and steelhead ”arbitrary and capricious.” And he threw in some zingers, too (stay tuned).
The plan is OK through 2013, Redden concluded, but after that there are too many uncertainties. Habitat restoration is a pillar of the federal plan to offset the environmental impacts of dams. But the plan doesn’t say with certainty where all that habitat will come from, Redden writes, or how much will it contribute to the overall survival of protected species of salmon and steelhead.
The best course, Redden decided, is for the feds to follow the existing plan – with court-ordered spills of water over the dams to help fish survival in the spring and summer – until NOAA can produce a better biological opinion with mitigation actions that are “reasonably certain to occur.” Will those actions include removing the Snake River dams, spilling more water or changing reservoirs to help fish passage? Redden mentions all three options: