by Daniel Jack Chasan, April 26th, 2010
As in George W. Bush's time, the Obama administration still seems to be telling the courts to just trust their work on protecting Columbia River salmon runs. What's a judge to do but listen, instead, to the science?
The federal agencies that operate dams and sell power on the Columbia River will keep spilling water over the Lower Snake River dams next month to float young salmon downstream. They didn't want to. But with the weight of scientific opinion clearly against them, they decided to make the best of a bad thing.
The Bonneville Power Administration, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Northwest office of NOAA had asked the federal district court to let them follow a 2010 Spring Fish Operation Plan under which they'd stop spilling water over the lower Snake River dams by May 1.
On April 19, they told the court never mind.
Given all the scientific opinion to the contrary — everyone but NOAA thought that stopping spill was a bad idea — their chance of convincing the court seemed slim.
Those agencies are, of course, the defendants in the long-running suit over the Biological Opinion issued by the Bush administration in 2008, tweaked but basically defended by the Obama Administration last year, and scheduled to make another appearance in U.S. District Judge James Redden's court next month.
Federal courts have been hammering them over biological opinions for nearly 20 years. Redden, who tossed the Bush administration's first attempt at a BiOp, has expressed strong skepticism about this one, too.
When last seen, the BiOp would have made this year's proposed spring fish operation plan the new norm: federal agencies could spill or not spill at their own discretion. The fish operation plan was basically an effort to jump the gun.
Nineteen years after Columbia and Snake River salmon populations were first listed as threatened or endangered, we're still arguing about how to get them down the river.