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Double Standard: Eco groups silent on federal fish kill
March 15,2005
The Monitor View

Where is the investigation? Where are the arrests? Where is the outrage? An endangered species, the humpback chub, has been pushed to the brink of extinction, yet we’ve seen none of the usual responses. Why? Because the slaughter stems from the questionable actions of federal bureaucrats, at the behest of environmental groups. Wiping out protected species evidently only becomes a crime when some industry or private citizen is involved; good intentions give regulators and greens a pass.

The kill-off came after the Bureau of Reclamation agreed to release a torrent of water and silt from behind Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona and southern Utah to try to replicate the spring floods that occurred before Lake Powell was established. It was the second such experiment, after the first flopped. It’s the government’s unofficial motto, after all: If at first you don’t succeed … turn failure into a routine.

The floods are the government’s way of placating a handful of activists who want the dam and reservoir removed. Draining Lake Powell might be looked on with dismay by millions living in the Southwest who rely on it for electricity, water and survival. So this was the compromise.

For 90 hours last November, valves were opened and the waters were allowed to flow at a rate of 41,000 cubic feet per second. This lowered the massive, drought-depleted lake by two and a half feet. Restoring the spring flood would re-establish sand bars and encourage vegetation downstream, according to the theory. And a healthier river would benefit the chub and other wildlife. It seems the "experts" miscalculated, however, and flushed a generation of juvenile chub down the river. The population was slashed by 63 percent.

Many of the nature groups who backed the flood are mourning the losses in silence, in sharp contrast to what we’d be hearing if some company were implicated in the deaths. For example, Colorado’s Division of Wildlife not long ago sued Coors for mistakenly dumping enough beer in a creek to kill 50,000 fish. The agency claimed each dead fish was worth $35, bringing the damages to $1.75 million. But an endangered chub must be worth at least double what Coors paid, so somebody out there owes the taxpayers some serious money.

It’s estimated that there were 3,000 chub in the river, at least before the flood, which is thought to have killed 1,890 of them. At $70 per chub, that comes to $132,300, plus the going rate for the 224,000 acre-feet of drinking and irrigating water dumped from Lake Powell and $2 million worth of electricity lost because the water bypassed the dam’s power plant.

If the government is not going to rewrite this ridiculous law, it could at least apply it consistently by seeking compensation from the groups that lobbied for the flood. But thanks to what appears to be an endangered species double standard, they seem to be able to tell others to go fish.




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