by Scott Learn, April 12, 2010
An independent science panel has weighed in against the Obama Administration's plans to curtail spills over Snake River dams come May 1, setting up a showdown between the administration and salmon advocates in federal Judge James Redden's courtroom.
The Independent Scientific Advisory Panel issued its report late Friday on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's plans to increase barging of young fish headed for the ocean around three Snake River dams while ending May spills at those dams designed to aid fish migration.
Higher spill reduces power generation from the hydroelectric dams and could increase electricity rates. Redden, the U.S. District Court judge overseeing a lawsuit on management of salmon in the Columbia and Snake system, has favored spring spill since 2007.
River flows are projected to be very low this year, and NOAA says more barging of young salmon and steelhead from the Snake River dams to below Bonneville Dam in May -- allowing them to avoid a huge stretch of the Snake and Columbia rivers -- will increase ultimate fish survival in those conditions. River temperatures are higher in low-flow years, the agency and groups such as Northwest River Partners say, a drawback for the cold-water fish. Consumption of young salmon by predators, both other fish and birds, also rises in low water conditions. But the advisory panel, which studied the issue at NOAA's request, sided with a mixed regimen of spill and transport similar to what Redden has favored in the past. That squares with the position taken by salmon advocacy groups such as Save Our Wild Salmon, who say interest groups and politicians in Washington, Idaho and Montana are pressuring the administration to cut spills and keep electricity rates lower. "Spill should be viewed as a default condition," the panel's report said, adding that spill "more closely mimics natural situations and ecological processes." A strategy similar to that ordered by Redden in the past, the report said, is "most in accord with available scientific information." -- Scott Learn, The Oregonian