WASHINGTON - A U.S. District Court has given the government one year from May to improve its plans for protecting Northwest salmon, but President Bush has made it clear the improvements won't include breaching dams on the lower Snake River during his administration.
In a speech widely regarded as a response to the mid-August electricity blackout in the Northeast, Bush said electricity-producing dams will not be breached on his watch. He touted Columbia River dams and reservoirs as a major contribution to the region's electricity, irrigation and water transport needs.
Columbia River Basin tribes and a host of allies in the Northwest consider breaching the lower Snake dams a necessary step toward salmon recovery. A growing body of scientific evidence and popular sentiment points to dams as a factor in the decline of salmon runs in recent decades. The fish must make it over the dams on their sojourn to and from the Pacific Ocean, a struggle that may drain some of the strength they need for survival. In addition, dams and reservoirs are known to reduce river current speed, a much-debated factor that may introduce a number of obstacles to salmon survival.
Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission declared the May 7 district court ruling of Judge James Redden "an absolute victory," adding "this decision puts dam breaching back on the table."
Salmon runs have been up in the Pacific Northwest in recent years, a fact the President emphasized. Advocates of breaching the four lower Snake dams call the higher salmon returns a cyclic function of ocean conditions that do not improve the survivability of wild stock salmon, the basis of the species. They also dispute the dams' importance to hydroelectric power in the region.