Spill, Judge Redden, & the Need for a New Process

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Two recent public announcements underscore the importance of a new stakeholder process to solve the Columbia-Snake salmon crisis:

1)   The release of a new comprehensive analysis by state, tribal and federal salmon biologists , which shows that spilling water over federal dams in the Columbia and Snake rivers could get us closer to salmon recovery than previously thought. Increasing spill may not be enough to fully restore some Snake River populations, but it can sure help.

2)   Judge James Redden publicly endorsed the removal of the four lower Snake River dams and suggested that past politics may have prevented successful, science-driven policy.

These two new announcements both deserve thorough discussion and attention. Currently, however, there is not a place for that transparent conversation to occur, where the pros, cons, and tradeoffs of these suggestions can be openly discussed.   A new process is needed where the folks most impacted by such decisions, including the regional agency heads, can sit down and make sound decisions for the region and our wild salmon populations.

Spilling water for salmon and steelhead is working.

The findings from a 12-year, multi-agency study (the Comparative Survival Study or CSS report) are very exciting! Such new science opens the door for a new conversation on the benefits of spill.  The analysis indicates what scientists have been saying for over a decade – that allowing the river to act more like a river is helpful to our imperiled salmon runs. Salmon have clearly benefitted from the court-ordered spill of the past six years, as evidenced by greater in-river and ocean survival, followed by higher adult returns.

Specifically, the analysis demonstrates that spilling MORE water over the dams could be very beneficial for salmon.  In fact, if we spilled about 50-55% of the river instead of the 40% we currently spill, we might – for some Snake River salmon – be able to meet the survival goals set out by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in 2000.  

What’s more, the study concludes that the in-river migration of juvenile salmon and steelhead – aided by spilling water over the dams – is a greater factor in determining overall survival of these fish than previously thought.  This runs counter to some theories that salmon and steelhead returns are mostly a function of ocean conditions- bringing renewed emphasis on the importance of implementing measures and changes to the hydrosystem to further aid in the migration of juvenile salmon.

Spill may or may not be enough to recover salmon, but what we do know right now is that more spill, rather than less, is a good thing for fish.  Spilling at 40%, 50%, or even 55% of the river helps salmon. At the very least, we should test the idea of additional spill, and do so NOW.  

Judge Redden’s Dam Removal Endorsement

It’s reaffirming to see someone of Judge Redden’s stature, with his objectivity and profound knowledge of this issue, endorsing an action that scientists, fishermen, conservationists, and businesses have embraced for the last decade.  

His statement and fuller interview with Earthfix show just how important a stakeholder table is for this issue.  Such a collaborative process would allow for dam removal to be assessed along side other measures, such as increased spill.   

And as for accusations of “bias”: Judge Redden did the job he was required to do as the law demanded: finding facts, applying existing law to those facts, and making decisions within his power. He enjoyed a perfect record of being upheld on appeal. Claiming that the Judge is biased just comes across as sour grapes.

Removal of the four lower Snake River dams must be an option – not a predetermined outcome – of a new stakeholder process

Case in point: we are not the Remove Our Dams coalition, we’re Save Our Wild Salmon.  While we have been advocating for lower Snake River dam removal for several years, we do so because the science and economics show that it’s the best and most cost-effective way to restore salmon and steelhead.  If there is new science and new economic data, we want to support the actions that make the most sense for salmon and for people.  However, without a forum for these questions to be discussed transparently, the region will continue to fight in court instead of finding a path forward together that makes sense.

In addition, the federal agencies are charged – under court order – with providing a thorough analysis of lower Snake River dam removal. Given the federal government’s long track record of avoiding this issue, it would be much better to have a new, inclusive stakeholder process in place so that the region can take a transparent look at the science and economics of salmon restoration measures such as lower Snake River dam removal.

TAKE ACTION: Contact Obama administration officials and your Senators. Show you support for a new stakeholder process in the Columbia-Snake.

Save Our wild Salmon is a diverse, nationwide coalition working together to restore wild salmon and steelhead to the rivers, streams and marine waters of the Pacific Northwest for the benefit of our region's ecology, economy and culture.

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