U.S. issues new draft opinion on Columbia hydro system operation

Federal fish agency NOAA Fisheries issued its latest draft biological opinion Oct. 31, finding the federal Columbia River Basin hydropower system can be operated in ways to protect and recover threatened salmon stocks.

The reaction was immediate and negative from the environmentalist dam removal lobby because, like four ill-fated �biops� before it, the opinion does not consider removing four Corps of Engineers dams on the Snake River totaling 3,033 MW.

Once a final review is complete, the 2007 biop will be submitted to U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland, Ore., who voided NOAA Fisheries’ 2004 opinion in 2005. Redden ruled that opinion was legally flawed because it found “no jeopardy” to salmon and steelhead listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. He is to review the 2007 biop in ongoing oversight of salmon recovery efforts in the basin. (HNN 10/15/07)

Redden’s ruling stemmed from a challenge by environmentalists, fishing groups, and Indian tribes. It was upheld in April by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (HNN 4/11/07) The state of Idaho is asking the 9th Circuit to reinstate the 2004 biop on rehearing. (HNN 8/3/07)

NOAA Fisheries said the new biops — actually two biological opinions covering the Columbia Basin hydro system and upper Snake River irrigation projects — spell out an �aggressive and comprehensive� series of hydropower system improvements, hatchery reforms, and habitat enhancements.

�The biops reflect hundreds of millions of dollars of research over more than a decade to affirm that the actions will not only prevent harm to threatened and endangered salmon, but will ultimately move the species toward recovery,� the agency said.

The opinions analyze a comprehensive operating proposal by the Corps, Bonneville Power Administration, and the Bureau of Reclamation. NOAA said the opinions respond to Redden’s direction that federal actions should assure survival and provide for recovery of threatened fish through collaboration with states and tribes.

NOAA said collaboration with states, tribes, and federal agencies was unprecedented, involving more than 300 meetings over two years. It said the biops also are based on much broader, more comprehensive analysis than in the past.

�Through this process, our understanding of the salmon life cycle has increased dramatically,� NOAA Regional Administrator Bob Lohn said. �This rigorous scientific review provides us with a great degree of certainty that these actions will lead to salmon recovery.�

Halloween release brings chorus of enviro boos

Immediately upon their release, the biops were pelted with prepared statements from groups such as Idaho Rivers United, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and Save Our Wild Salmon. Most seized upon an Oct. 31 Halloween theme to blast NOAA’s failure to call for Snake River dam removals.

�It’s the Plan of the Living Dead,� Sierra Club Northwest Director Dan Richman said. �We’ve seen this over and over. The courts have repeatedly killed this illegal approach, but the Bush administration keeps bringing it back from the dead. This plan buys us nothing but dead fish, ghost towns for river and coastal communities, and invisible results from taxpayer money spent on phantom methods that will haunt us for years.�

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