(Page 2 of 5)
Redden rejected the BiOp because it relied heavily on habitat improvements that hadn't even been identified, much less found likely to work. He didn't even have to deal with other problems that he had already discussed in letters to the attorneys in the case. But presumably, if the feds want to create a BiOp that will survive the federal courts next time around, they will have to deal with those problems sooner or later.
Most regional and national politicians shy away from using the "B" word, but it's hard to believe that the courts will approve a biological opinion that doesn't present dam-breaching as a serious option. Even before Redden tossed the last BiOp, he had told lawyers in the case that he wanted at least a contingency plan for dam breaching. He had proposed "developing a ... plan to study specific, alternative hydro actions, such as flow augmentation and/or reservoir drawdowns, as well as what it will take to breach the lower Snake River dams if all other measures fail."
The judge wasn't the only one who thought breaching should be on the table. Around the time Redden remanded the BiOp to the feds, the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society resolved that "the four lower Snake River dams and reservoirs are a significant threat to the continued existence of remaining Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey and white sturgeon." Consequently, "if society-at-large wishes to restore Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and white sturgeon to sustainable, fishable levels, then a significant portion of the lower Snake River must be returned to a free-flowing condition by breaching the four lower Snake River dams."
The Kitzhaber statement stands out in part because there is so little news to report about the situation. The feds have indicated no willingness to move past the failed concepts of the last BiOp. If you read the federal agencies' latest progress report, you'll find that the salmon are doing just fine without breaching.The report hails "marked improvements in survival of juvenile spring chinook and steelhead" at The Dalles, McNary and Bonneville dams, noting that "travel time for juvenile salmon and steelhead migrating through the hydrosystem was among the fastest scientists have observed.
NOAA believes this is likely due to high levels of flow in 2011 and the continued use of spill and surface bypass at the dams." The feds didn't acknowledge that the spring spill had been ordered by the federal court. They also somehow failed to note that in 2010 the feds were going to cut it short, until the weight of scientific opinion against them made it clear that they were going to lose in court, and they decided to keep spilling water without a new court order.
The report is "basically a couple hundred page commercial for the action agencies," says Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. "The problem we've always had," Mashuda says, is that "they've set these performance standards based on things they knew they could achieve." In this case, "we've been achieving those standards for years, based only on spill."
Mashuda sees this year's progress report as just more of the same. "Lo and behold," he says, "they come out this year with another report that says 'we're meeting our dam passage requirements; we're doing a great job.'" Not only is the fact that litigation forced the feds to spill water over the dams not mentioned; the report also obscures the fact that "survival over the concrete . . . doesn't tell you anything about total survival through the system."
Mashuda says that delayed mortality is "kind of the elephant in the room in any discussion of the hydro system." That is, even if the fish do well on their passage downstream, when they come back, the more dams separate them from their spawning streams, the fewer of them survive. Mashuda argues that "the absence of information . . . says more than the information provided."
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!