Dam operators will send more water spilling over the eight dams along the Snake and Columbia rivers in an effort to help young salmon survive the notoriously deadly trip to the Pacific Ocean.
The spill management plan for 2019 and 2020 is a win for salmon advocates in a 17-year legal battle where federal judges have repeatedly told the government it’s not doing enough to prevent the extinction of salmon in the rivers of the Northwest. It also brings that litigation into alignment with the work of a Washington state task force determined to prevent the extinction of Southern resident killer whales whose survival depends on endangered Chinook salmon.
In a May 2016 ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon sent the government back to the drawing board for the fourth time to develop an effective plan to help fish survive the gauntlet of dams between the rivers where they hatch and return to spawn, and the ocean where they live most of their lives. This time, Simon said, the government had to consider every reasonable method to protect fish – including the removal of the four dams along the Snake River.
In the meantime, Simon ordered the federal government to spill more water over the dams so that young fish would have an easier time swimming past. Simon also ordered the government to disclose any substantial investments in the dam system, finding that such investments could bias the government against making changes in dam operations.
Spill opponents like the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association and Northwest RiverPartners, a coalition of farmers and industrial interests that depend on irrigation water from the dams’ reservoirs, argued increasing spill costs dam operators by spilling water that could have instead […]