GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- A final federal plan to save endangered and threatened salmon species in the Columbia Basin will focus on restoring habitat in tributaries and estuaries but does not rule out breaching Snake River dams.
The final plan, which was released Thursday, calls for federally owned hydroelectric dams to be operated to minimize harm to salmon during migrations to the ocean and spawning beds, as well as habitat improvements, hatchery operations and fishing policy changes.
Removing four hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington has been a lightning-rod issue in Pacific Northwest and national politics.
President-elect Bush said during his campaign that the dams should not be breached. Vice President Al Gore had said the issue needed more scientific study.
Removing the dams, which were built in the 1970s, would cut federal hydroelectric production in the Northwest by 4 percent and wipe out barge service between the Columbia and Lewiston, Idaho. It also would lower reservoirs used for irrigation.
American Indian tribes and environmentalists want to remove the dams to return the river to a more natural condition. The federal plan calls for studies to evaluate the species' recovery before removal is reconsidered.
"Breaching those dams remains an option if the recovery efforts don't meet strict performance standards included in the strategy," Donna Darm, acting Northwest regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, said from Portland. "We believe this plan has the best chance of recovering the fish."
A dozen different runs of salmon in the Columbia Basin are listed as threatened or endangered species. Numbers of steelhead and upper Columbia spring chinook have dramatically diminished in recent years.
Brig. Gen. Carl Strock, division engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, warned that if Congress fails to fully fund the plan, breaching the four lower Snake River dams in eastern Washington "may turn out to be the only thing we can do." The earliest a move could be made to breach dams would be five to seven years.
The plans are estimated to cost up to $190 million a year on top of the $252 million a year the Bonneville Power Administration already uses on salmon recovery. It was unclear how much of the increase would come from Congress and home much from BPA.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.