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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Agencies seek appeal of order for dam spills

Associated Press

LEWISTON – Three federal agencies have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to appeal last week’s order to begin spilling water over five Snake and Columbia river dams to help float endangered fish stocks to the Pacific Ocean.

Brian Gorman, spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries at Seattle, said Justice Department attorneys filed motions Monday that would preserve the right of the government to appeal U.S. District Judge James Redden’s order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gorman said he expects that if an appeal is filed, the government will ask the court to temporarily block the spill order until the case is adjudicated.

“We believe it is very risky to allow fish to go through the spillways in low water years,” Gorman told the Lewiston Tribune. Gorman explained that scientists don’t know why that’s the case, but the return data shows that barging results in “slightly higher rates of return” in low water years.

Last week, the Portland-based judge ordered increasing the spill over the four Snake River dams – Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite – plus McNary Dam on the Columbia River. Environmentalists say the move is critical to increase salmon survival.

However, Redden rejected the environmentalists’ request to increase by 10 percent the flows out of the Snake River and the upper Columbia. Fish advocates had sought the increased flows to lower water temperatures and speed the migration of young salmon to the sea.

Unless the higher court blocks Redden’s order, the spill will begin Monday and last through August, a peak time for power demand.

Bonneville Power Administration spokesman Ed Mosey said the spill could cost energy users $67 million, based on the amount of power the agency will not be able to produce, plus the expected cost of purchasing power on the spot market during peak demand.

The BPA estimates that power customers, such as rural cooperatives, could be hit with a 5 percent rate increase if the order is allowed to continue.

If Redden’s order is allowed to remain in force, about two-thirds of juvenile fall chinook would be expected to migrate to the ocean by following the flows of the Snake and Columbia rivers, said Witt Anderson, fish program manager for the Army Corps of Engineers at Portland.

The other third will continue to be trapped at the dams and would be transported down river on barges, he said.

The Corps had already planned to trap and transport as many of the young fish as it could this summer.

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