remain, as Columbia River basin stakeholders – power
users, salmon protectors, irrigators, navigators and
others – consider the latest plan for assuring federal
hydro projects on the Columbia and Snake rivers avoid
jeopardizing protected salmon and steelhead populations.
NOAA Fisheries on Jan. 17
released its 2014 Supplemental Federal Columbia River
Power System biological opinion for salmon and
steelhead. (CBB, Jan. 17, 2014, “NOAA Fisheries Issues
New Salmon/Steelhead Biological Opinion For
Columbia/Snake River Power System”http://www.cbbulletin.com/429522.aspx)
The document is an answer
to a 2011 remand order from U.S. District Court Judge
James A. Redden that declared the BiOp completed in 2008
and revised in 2010 illegal. (CBB, Aug. 5, 2011, “Redden
Orders New Salmon BiOp By 2014; Says Post-2013
Mitigation, Benefits Unidentified”http://www.cbbulletin.com/411336.aspx)
Redden required the agency
and its federal partners to rethink their strategy for
assuring that the FCRPS avoids jeopardizing the
existence of 13 Columbia and Snake river salmon and
steelhead stocks that are protected under the Endangered
The judge asked that the
new BiOp require more specific identification of habitat
actions planned for the 2014-2018 period of the opinion
and describe how those actions would benefit fish.
NOAA Fisheries adopted its
2014 Supplemental FCRPS biological opinion on Jan. 17,
saying the revised plan answered judge’s questions, and
guaranteed the listed species continued existence.
Responses to the new plan
have been across the board, with fish conservation
parties continuing, as they have since the first ESA
BiOps were issued in the early 1990s, to call federal
fish protection efforts inadequate while others
dependent on river operations insist the planned fish
protections are on track.
The plaintiffs in the
long-running lawsuit – the state of Oregon and a
coalition of fishing and conservation groups led by the
National Wildlife Federation, are mulling their options.
“I just started talking to
our people this morning,” Earthjustice attorney Steve
Mashuda said. Earthjustice represents the coalition.
Mashuda said at midweek that first steps were being
taken to assess the 600-page BiOp and related documents,
evaluate potential legal next steps, and confer with
clients involved in the NWF coalition.
Oregon officials did not
respond to requests for comments.
Comments issued by Save Our
Wild Salmon, whose membership makes up much of the
plaintiff coalition, said that the new BiOp “fails to
address the issues that triggered federal-court
rejection of three previous plans.
“The latest plan, called a
biological opinion, risks continued legal battles just
as momentum is building in the Northwest for a broadly
supported solutions process.,” the SOS statement says.
“Unfortunately, this latest
blueprint is virtually indistinguishable from the plan
rejected by the district court in 2011," said Save Our
Wild Salmon executive director Joseph Bogaard. “Rather
than looking for ways to do more to safeguard imperiled
salmon and bring people together, the federal agencies
have spent the last two years coming up with new reasons
for the same tired conclusions – choosing conflict over
Fishing groups expressed
disappointment with the new plan, and what they say is
the missed opportunity to change course for the salmon
and people of the Columbia Basin.
“Today’s plan fails to help
salmon or boost salmon jobs, and fails to lay the
foundation for a broadly-supported stakeholder process
that could work toward shared solutions,” said Glen
Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast
Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “And in some
respects, such as cutting back spill, this version is
actually a step backwards from what's already been
thrown out of court as ‘illegal, arbitrary and
The coalition says that the
new plan cuts back spill -- water released over the dams
to aid migration of young salmon headed toward the
Pacific Ocean – to levels lower than those in place
under court order since 2006.
The coalition says that
federal, state, and tribal scientists have concluded
spill is boosting salmon survival and adult returns.
“A 17-year study
demonstrates that spill is our most effective immediate
measure to increase salmon survival across their
life-cycle,” said Northwest Sportfishing Industry
Association executive director Liz Hamilton. “The
court-ordered spill in place since 2006 has resulted in
more adult fish returning to the Columbia. That’s helped
salmon businesses and the jobs they support.
“Meanwhile, NOAA and
Bonneville Power Administration seem to be stuck in the
1990s when it comes to spill science. We can understand
dam managers’ reluctance to share the river water with
salmon, but that doesn’t excuse their effort to turn
back the clock and ignore 17 years of data from the
fish,” Hamilton said. BPA markets power generated at
FCRPS dams in the Columbia and Snake river hydro system.
Water spilled for fish passage is unavailable for power
The coalition says that the
plan also fails to identify any new or additional
measures to address the intensifying impacts of climate
“Climate change isn’t a
future threat on the distant horizon – it’s already here
and harming our imperiled salmon,” said Bogaard of Save
Our Wild Salmon. “Yet NOAA – an agency that certainly
knows better – didn’t include a single additional new
action to help salmon better survive the warming waters
and altered river flows that climate change is bringing
to the Columbia Basin. That’s more than a missed
opportunity – it’s negligence.”
River users, such as power
interests, irrigators and navigators, say the fish
protection plan is paying dividends.
“The dramatic increase in
returns for several endangered fish species over the
last ten years demonstrates the success of regional
investments in fish passage, habitat, and other river
improvements,” according to the Pacific Northwest
“They contribute to ‘All-H’
recovery steps already completed, under way and planned.
Northwest ports and navigation interests have always
strongly supported robust salmon recovery efforts that
preserve the multiple uses of the river system,” the
PNWA statement says. “The updated FCRPS BiOp released
today meets the requirements of the 2011 court remand,
while continuing to deliver the authorized purposes of
the dams. The supplemental BiOp answers Judge Redden's
specifics in his order concluding his August 2011
The new BiOp “is the
product of the best available science, as well as
significant collaboration between the federal agencies,
four states and sovereign Northwest tribes. Highlights
include the conclusion that the agencies' salmon
recovery activities will be more beneficial than
anticipated for 22 of the populations. The higher
survival estimates for these populations provide
additional assurance that the required survival benefits
will be achieved.”
PNWA manages the Inland
Ports and Navigation Group, a subset of PNWA members.
IPNG is an intervenor in the BiOp lawsuit, supporting
the work of the federal agencies.
U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings,
R-Wash., says that “with last year’s record-breaking
salmon runs, it’s safe to say that salmon and hydropower
dams can and do co-exist.”
The release of the new BiOp
“continues much of the significant, ongoing work that’s
been done over the years to ensure favorable conditions
for the salmon’s recovery,” Hastings said. “I’m
encouraged to see the collaborative process is
continuing with the support of the states, tribes, and
“It’s time to finally put
to a close the endless lawsuits and courtroom battles
prolonged by the unreasonable demands of a couple
outlier voices, and allow for the long-term certainty of
continued operation of clean, renewable hydropower dams
for millions of Northwest citizens,” Hastings said.
The two-year remand has
allowed NOAA Fisheries to strengthen its case, according
to a statement released by Northwest RiverPartners.
“NOAA Fisheries has
reaffirmed that measures in the federal salmon plan are
working to protect and restore salmon populations in the
Columbia Basin. The plan… is without a doubt the most
comprehensive and expensive plan to protect an
endangered species in the nation, and likely the world.
“NOAA’s conclusion is
clear: The plan is benefitting listed salmon now and
will continue to protect them well into the future.
Northwest RiverPartners says that BiOp highlights
-- $1.6 billion invested in
new technologies at all eight federal dams and
operational changes is helping young salmon survive at
very high rates and helping adults return to their
-- An unprecedented and
massive program that has restored more than 10,000 acres
of habitat in the Columbia Basin is already showing
“More than one million fall
chinook salmon returned to spawn last year, the highest
numbers since Bonneville Dam opened in 1938,” said Terry
Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners.
“And the plan has worked to bring sockeye back from the
brink of extinction.”
Despite the salmon plan’s
demonstrated progress, environmental and commercial
fishing groups are expected to try to block the plan in
court, as they have done for nearly two decades, the
RiverPartners statement says.
“Lawsuits are these groups’
bread and butter, and they will continue to sue – no
matter what the facts say,” Flores said. “They are bent
on removing the federal dams, no matter how well the
salmon are doing, so it’s simply not in their interest
to acknowledge the tremendous progress being made.”
She said Oregon and the
conservation groups continue to press for radical
changes in dam operations, including a ten-year
“experiment” to dramatically increase spill through dams
that would violate state and federal water quality
standards established to protect salmon and other
aquatic organisms and would significantly increase
energy costs for Northwest families and businesses.
“It also would remove
several hundred megawatts of clean renewable hydropower
that fuels our economy and protects our environment,”
Flores said. “This radical spill proposal makes no sense
– until you understand that their ultimate goal is to
reduce the cost-effectiveness of the federal hydro
system in order to make the case for dam removal.”
Redden has withdrawn from
the legal proceedings and U.S. District Judge Michael
Simon will now preside over any future litigation.
Northwest RiverPartners is
an alliance of utilities, ports, farmers, and businesses
joined together in promoting clean renewable hydropower
and salmon restoration policies based in sound science.