A Pivotal Hearing for the Columbia and Snake Rivers

This coming Monday there is a court hearing that will help determine the future of the Columbia and Snake rivers and their salmon.

At stake is the legality of a plan for operating the federal dams on the Columbia and lower Snake — American Rivers and its allies argue that the plan isn’t strong enough to recover the legendary salmon and steelhead runs harmed by these dams.

The federal government, led by the Bonneville Power Administration, argues that status quo dam operations are good enough to meet its obligations under the Endangered Species Act, even if that means leaving salmon populations at a high risk of extinction.

The case is before Judge James A. Redden, who has struck down two previous federal dam management plans. If he finds the latest plan from the Obama administration (originally outlined under the Bush Administration) unacceptable, we are hoping the result will be an end to litigation and the beginning of settlement talks.

Included in those negotiations should be discussion and analysis of of restoring the lower Snake River by removing four dams that currently turn that part of the Snake into a series of warm, slow moving lakes that can be lethal to salmon. A decision in the case is likely by late spring or early summer.

For a more detailed discussion of American Rivers’ vision for the Columbia Basin, read Northwest Regional Director Brett Swift’s recent column in the Capital Press.