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NFC: river report


River News for the Week of July 28, 2000 

NW SALMON: Leaders of conservation groups this week united to express
deep disappointment with the Administration's draft salmon recovery plan,
five years in the making, saying the plan amounts to "a death sentence
for the salmon" if changes aren't made before it is finalized. The
national conservation leaders agreed that the plan to recover the wild
salmon of the Pacific Northwest leaves out basic measures needed to avoid
extinction, or delays them too long to work for the salmon, rendering it
"just a plan for more planning" and inviting further lawsuits. Removal of
four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington state to save the
salmon, for example, remains only a distant option with many obstacles
remaining in the way. An "aggressive program" of other measures short of
dam removal to bring the salmon back--which federal officials promised in
testimony last week--is also lacking in this week's draft, which is to
become a final document later in the year. The central document of the
plan is a draft Biological Opinion from the National Marine Fisheries
Service (NMFS) about the operation of hydropower dams on the Columbia and
Snake Rivers, including four dams on the lower Snake in Washington state
that scientists say need to be bypassed as part of any successful salmon
recovery effort. Under current conditions, the Snake River's wild
spring/summer chinook salmon will likely be functionally extinct by 2017,
according to a study released last year by Trout Unlimited. The study's
predictions were bolstered when two of seven indicator stocks of wild
Snake River salmon produced zero adults returning to spawn in 1999. 

Also released this week were related draft documents from other federal
agencies describing reforms to hatcheries and harvest, and habitat-saving
measures other than hydropower reforms. Gene Karpinski of U.S. Public
Interest Research Group said that they are missing the aggressive actions
needed to help bring back the Snake River's endangered salmon and
steelhead, such as immediate flow improvements in Snake River
tributaries, and allowing summer spillage over the dams. (American Rivers
press release 7/27)

In a related story, the National Hydropower Association has commended the
Clinton Administration for delaying its decision on Snake River dam
removal, but has sent a letter urging the administration to include new
turbine technologies in its salmon recovery plans. As reports the
National Hydropower Association (7/22), they are advocating incorporating
the Advanced Hydropower Turbine Systems (AHTS) program into the salmon
recovery strategy. The AHTS program is designed to improve the
environmental performance of hydroelectric operations. According to the
association, a modified turbine tested at Bonneville Dam has reduced fish
mortality by as much as 50%.

     *     *     * 

OCKLAWAHA RIVER: A judge this week denied the request by the state of
Florida to call a temporary halt to the clear-cutting of land along the
Rodman Reservoir, threatening plans to restore the scenic Ocklawaha
River. As reports the Daytona Beach News-Journal (7/26), state Department
of Environmental Protection lawyers argue that timber harvesting will
inflict severe damage, though the judge says the state has failed to
prove its claim that the cutting would cause immediate and irreparable
harm. The ruling now allows the paper corporation Georgia Pacific, the
land owner, to proceed with the harvest, at the opposition of
environmentalists who just last week were applauding the new plan to
dismantle the dam at Rodman Reservoir and restore the Ocklawaha River.
Harvesting of the trees will cause erosion and allow more contaminants
from surface water runoff to enter the river.

     *     *     * 

PINTO CREEK: EPA officials this week issued a stormwater drainage permit
to the Carlota Copper project on Pinto Creek in Arizona that
environmentalists fear will clear the way for the controversial new mine
to be built along the creek. Environmental groups have been fighting
against the project since 1995, which would use 3,050 acres of private
and Forest Service land. As reports the Arizona Republic (7/25), much of
that land is along the 28 mile long Pinto Creek, which is considered by
environmentalists as one of the "last true desert streams in the state."
Pinto Creek was listed as one of America's most endangered rivers in 1997
and 1998 due to this threat. As reports the Republic, the Carlota plan
"calls for the creek to be moved several hundred yards via concrete dams
and diversions to allow mining of ore beneath the natural stream bed."
EPA officials say they are satisfied with their deal with Cambior Inc,
the Canadian mine owner, who has agreed to clean up some of the mess from
the nearby Gibson mine and to not raise the amount of copper in Pinto

     *     *     * 

PESTICIDES AND SALMON: The Washington Toxics Coalition in Seattle and the
Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides in Eugene have
announced their intention to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for
failing to develop a plan to safeguard salmon from pesticides in the
region's streams and rivers.  The EPA must now act within 60 days to
avoid the lawsuit invoking the federal Endangered Species Act. As reports
the Seattle Times (7/27), the EPA is responsible for regulating
pesticides, and in this case organophospates in particular, that have
been found to affect fish development, behavior and reproduction.
According to the groups, the EPA has failed to assess the pesticide risks
for salmon runs listed for protection, and should consider restricting
pesticide use.  They also want the EPA to consult with the National
Marine Fisheries Service, which has the lead in protecting the salmon. 

     *     *     * 

TMDL STUDIES: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee this week
approved the launch of a series of studies of the EPA's TMDL rule that
targets nonpoint source pollution washing into rivers from farm fields,
parking lots, and city streets.  The Committee also approved $750 million
a year to help states implement the TMDL rule.  As reports the National
Journal News Service (7/26), the move amends measure S. 2417 and would
"provide state grants for controlling water pollution, the panel in a
voice vote approved a $2 million study of the science behind the
Environmental Protection Agency's proposed Total Maximum Daily Load
regulation, a $3 million study of the feasibility of putting the rule in
play and a $2 million pilot study of how the rule would be applied in a
single watershed." The science study would be carried out by the National
Academy of Sciences and the feasibility study by the National Academy of
Public Administration.

     *     *     * 

COLORADO RIVER: Keith Eastin, financial director for
PricewaterhouseCoopers, trustee for the bankrupt Atlas Corp., has
requested permission from the federal government to implement one or more
of several possible measures to minimize fish mortality caused by
radioactive tailings leaching large amounts of ammonia into the Colorado
River. The 13 million ton pile of radioactive tailings just north of
Moab, Utah, left over from three decades of uranium-ore processing at the
site, contributes large amounts of ammonia to the river that are lethal
to fish. The plan to protect the fish is only temporary, until a
permanent solution is finalized. However, as reports the Salt Lake
Tribune (7/27), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worries that a
temporary fix may impede implementation of a good, permanent one. Any
permanent remedy will not be completed for seven to 10 years. 

Also concerning the Colorado River, ten thousand bonytails (Gila elegans)
will be introduced in the Green and Yampa rivers in Dinosaur National
Monument, which feed the Colorado River. The fish disappeared from the
rivers 40 years ago, and can grow up to 24 inches and live up to 50
years.  They are considered the most endangered fish within the Upper
Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, which is an effort by
state and federal agencies, water developers and private interests to
bring back native species while accommodating water users. The Colorado
River pikeminnow (nee squawfish), razorback sucker and humpback chub are
also in the program. As reports the Gazette (7/25), the bonytail
reintroduction is part of a $100 million effort affecting the entire
Colorado River drainage - this fish has suffered through altered stream
flows, dams and other obstructions and the introduction of non-native
species that prey upon or compete with the natives for habitat.

     *     *     * 

MINING: Florida officials worry that the source of drinking water for one
million residents could be threatened by contamination if rock companies
are allowed to open new quarries near county wells, reports the Miami
Herald (7/25). Of concern to officials is the source of South Florida's
drinking water that might be polluted by contaminants introduced through
rain and other sources that would enter the lakes created by rock mining
and eventually enter the Biscayne Aquifer. As reports the Herald, county
Manager Merrett Stierheim this week "urged federal regulators in a letter
last week not to issue new mining permits until the county can decide how
best to protect the well field that supplies about half of all local
drinking water." Industry experts day that the water in the lakes already
is cleaner than that in the aquifer, and that a delay in new permits
could jeopardize plans to mitigate potential problems by restoring lakes
and wetlands in the area.

     *     *     * 
BIG DARBY CREEK: 17,000 fish have been killed in the Big Darby Creek in
Ohio by chemicals in an estimated 20,000 gallons of runoff from
cornstalks and other fodder from Darby Creek Agricultural Enterprises in
Milford Center. Even more fish might be buried on the creek bottom or in
vegetation. As reports the Columbus Dispatch (7/25), the runoff came from
stored livestock feed produced by the company, though no charges have yet
been filed. Criminal or civil action by the state is possible, however.
Cleanup and containment will be difficult if not impossible since the
mixture mixes right into the water. Aeration of the water will be tried,
though an infusion of a large supply of fresh water would be best to
restore the river. 


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Robert Rice
Save those Fishes
Join the Native Fish Conservancy