Washington state, Obama sign salmon agreement

After issuing a new federal plan to manage dams and restore salmon populations in the Northwest, the Obama administration has agreed to provide an additional $40.5 million to improve the salmon habitat in the Columbia River estuary.

The agreement between Washington state and three federal agencies — U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and Bureau of Reclamation — is tied to the Obama administration’s new conservation plan for salmon, which was submitted to a federal judge in Portland, Ore.

The extra funding would be spent over the next nine years on estuary improvements, in addition to the improvements in the new federal plan. The estuary acts as a nursery for salmon before they migrate downriver, providing forage and shelter from predators.

“Estuary habitat improvements benefit all anadromous species in the Columbia Basin with a particular emphasis on those that are listed as threatened or endangered,” said Steve Wright, head of the Bonneville Power Administration.

But the Obama administration’s new federal plan for salmon restoration also directs the U.S. Corps of Engineers to study the removal of four dams on the lower Snake River. Those dams are the 635-MW Ice Harbor, 810-MW Little Goose, 810-MW Lower Granite, and 810-MW Lower Monumental projects.

However, dam removal would be an “action of last resort,” the Obama administration said. (HydroWorld 9/15/09)

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., railed against Obama’s revised plan, saying it could lead to further job cuts and higher energy prices. Hastings is the highest ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee.

“The Obama administration has put dam removal back on the table and delivered just what dam removal extremists have been demanding,” Hastings said. “No one should be fooled by talk of dam removal as a last resort when the Obama administration is immediately launching studies and plans for such action.”

American Rivers, a conservation group for healthy rivers, said Obama’s new federal plan is similar to the controversial plan adopted by the Bush administration and does little to help restore salmon populations.

“The new administration has kept the 2008 Bush salmon plan intact, which sets the bar so low that many Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead runs will remain at a high risk of extinction,” said Michael Garrity, the Washington conservation director for American Rivers.

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