CHINOOK, Wash. -- This winter, restoration workers punched a 12-foot concrete culvert through the rock rip-rap that lines the Columbia River near the ocean and waited for fish to hit wetlands walled off for a century. They didn't have to wait long. On March 15, the first check, biologists counted 20 juvenile salmon. On April 29, the count totaled 723, mostly chinook and chum. That's the kind of success story operators of the Columbia basin's federal hydropower dams need a whole lot more of. Their 10-year dam operations plan, under the skeptical eye of U.S. District Judge James A. Redden, banks heavily on habitat improvements to bolster seven threatened runs of wild salmon and steelhead that begin life above Bonneville Dam. It's likely the biggest restoration effort in the nation, from the Columbia's mouth to tributaries deep into eastern Oregon, Idaho and Washington. If it works, it could help lift the fish off the endangered species list, dim the spotlight on dams and reduce demands for Snake River dam removal. But translating the effort into hard fish survival numbers that will satisfy the court is another story.