Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead, thanks to a ruling this week by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon, will see increased water releases over spillways at eight Columbia and Snake dams, helping ocean-migrating smolts navigate the concrete cluttered basin.
An injunction filed by the State of Oregon, Nez Perce Tribe, and Earthjustice—on behalf of conservation and fishing groups—said that extra “spill” is a critical stop-gap measure to the survival of chinook and steelhead runs listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), especially during low, warm water years like 2015.
The courts have mandated extra water “spill” on a yearly basis since 2005. But this injunction makes that a semi-permanent action—beginning in 2018—and continuing until the feds can come up with a legit recovery plan for the ESA listed fish.
That’s a big deal, because so far the federal plans we've seen smelled like hot garbage to the courts. And judges have rejected every recovery plan to date, ruling them entirely ineffectual in the recovery of salmon and steelhead populations on the Snake and its tribs.
“As the Court has repeatedly found over the last 20 years, the listed species are in need of additional survival protections now,” said Judge Simon. “‘Kicking the can down the road’ after invalidating each of the FCRPS biological opinions, although necessary under the circumstances of this case, provides little protection to the listed species that are in an ongoing state of peril.”
Courts (and anglers) have been waiting for the feds to consider nixing the four lower Snake River dams, which biologists and conservation groups say are the biggest “deadbeat” obstacle to salmon and steelhead recovery.
The injunction also sought to halt all new dam spending until the new federal plan is approved. Judge Simon went half way, ordering the Corps to notify citizen groups and tribes when considering spending tax dollars on new projects for these antiquated dams. The feds are currently studying up on an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as part of the NEPA process, for their latest plan offering due March 2018.