River News for the Week of August 4, 2000
GOP SALMON POLICY: A GOP platform plank opposing the removal of Snake River dams is a "policy that would lead to extinction of salmon," according to American Rivers, a national river conservation group. The platform plank, sponsored by Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings (R-WA), opposes breaching the earthen portion of four dams on the Lower Snake River. As adopted earlier this week, it says: "Breaching dams would not only raise electric rates but would deny western farmers irreplaceable water for irrigation and a cost-effective means of moving their crops to West Coast ports. We should develop and use technologies that will help enhance salmon runs while keeping the dams in place." Scientists say the earthen portion of the dams must be removed to avoid the extinction of four runs of Snake River salmon. (American Rivers release 8/1)
Also this week, environmental leaders, led by former Sierra Club Executive Director David Brower, joined Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader in their criticism of the Clinton Administration in failing to "forestall the extinction of endangered fish species in the Columbia River and Colorado River watersheds." Presidential candidate Gore is also now on record in support of the Administration's recent decision to abandon the breaching proposal. The Clinton Administration also dismissed calls for decommissioning the federal dams in the Colorado River watershed, which are blamed by many for endangering four fish species native to the area. (Glen Canyon Action Network release 8/1).
In a related story, the Bonneville Power Administration had planned to suspend "salmon-friendly" operations at federal dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers to generate more electricity for California residents. To increase power generation, more water would be run through the turbines and less over spillways, increasing the chance for salmon injuries, reports the Seattle-Post Intelligencer (8/2). High temperatures resulting in soaring power demands for the fifth consecutive day have California power authorities stopping just short of imposing rolling blackouts. However, the agency was able to increase power generation without suspending the salmon-friendly operations that would have killed an estimated 2 percent more of juvenile fish migrating downstream (Seattle-Post Intelligencer 8/3).
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OHIO RIVER: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week proposed a major new Ohio River habitat restoration program, drawing praise from conservation groups. The program, 15-years in the making, will restore side channels, islands, gravel spawning beds, and floodplain forests and wetlands without interfering with commercial navigation or other traditional river uses. Scott Faber of American Rivers praised Brigadier General Hans Van Winkle, who initiated the program while the serving as the Commander of the Ohio River Division. Gen. Van Winkle now oversees the Corps' civil works program in Washington, D.C. The Corps worked with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state officials from Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania to identify more than 300 habitat restoration projects. (American Rivers press release 8/3).
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MISSISSIPPI DELTA: The US Army Corps of Engineers has announced their decision to approve a huge pumping station on the Mississippi Delta, which environmentalists call an "enormously expensive, environmentally destructive, structural flood control project designed to drain water from one of the most sparsely populated regions in Mississippi," reports the Washington Times (8/1). The Yazoo River plan is meant to assist "flood-fatigued" farmers, though it is considered one of the environmental movements most opposed water projects. Initial cost for the project is estimated at $181 million, and will result in a 14,000 cubic feet per second diesel pumping station. A draft report on the project will be released later this month for public comment before the final report is released
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FEATHER RIVER: The Feather River's North Fork tributary in California tends to disappear during the year, due to a series of dams along the river that takes up to 97 percent of its summer flow and leaves more than 90 miles of the North Fork and its tributaries dry during the hot months. However, as reports the San Francisco Examiner (8/1), the condition might even get worse as PG&E plans the sale of its hydropower assets to the highest bidder. Environmentalists fear that the winning bidders might reduce the flow even farther to generate more revenue. PG&E spokesman John Tremayne says the water flow will be maintained as it is now by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but since three of the largest facilities are about to be relicensed, the terms of flow may change based on public, state and local agency input. The state Public Utilities Commission initiated a series of hearings on PG&E's auction proposal earlier this week. The North Fork of the Feather River was listed as one of America's most endangered rivers of 2000.
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COLORADO RIVER: This week federal and local officials announced their decision to drop a proposal to use water from the Colorado River to reduce the high salt content of the Salton Sea in California. As reports the LA Times (8/2), officials will now kick off a "new round of studies to assess a method that would combine shallow ponds and the sun's power to take salt from the environmentally troubled lake." A follow-up report to the restoration strategy is expected in January. Currently, about $10 million is already being spent on test projects, wildlife studies and long-term planning for the 35- mile long sea that is an important sanctuary for migrating fowl. While the mortality rate for fowl has been increasing , the inland sea still supports a robust fishery. Total recovery costs for the body of water could be as much as $1 billion.
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RIO GRANDE: Recent samples of Rio Grande water show that water north of Albuquerque has high levels of fecal coliform bacteria counts well above federal and state limits after a Rio Rancho sewer plant sent about 400,000 gallons of waste water and sludge into the river. Contamination has continued since the spill, however. A health advisory has been in place for the river, warning people against drinking, swimming or fishing. U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Tom Bauer says bacteria concerns are not as great as those for heavy metals, since bacteria will be killed if the fish is cleaned in clean water and cooked well. The state is now working on a long-range study which is expected to last five years to determine exactly how dirty the river is or where the pollution is coming from, reports the Albuquerque Journal (8/1).
Also in the Rio Grande, the silvery minnow, an endangered species, will be protected through the end of the year, while the irrigation season for farmers will be extended thanks to a landmark agreement. The deal comes from a settlement from a lawsuit brought by environmentalists last fall to protect the silvery minnow and the Southwest willow flycatcher, and the Rio Grande ecosystem. Every year during drought conditions the middle portion of the river dries up, killing the minnows. But with this deal, the city of Albuquerque and the irrigation district will contribute some of their San Juan-Chama water, which comes from southern Colorado and eventually flows into the Rio Grande. As reports the Albuquerque Journal (8/3), they will receive in exchange $1 million each by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. This arrangement brings the total amount of water obtained for the minnow to 170,000 acre-feet.
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OREGON WATERS: A federal judge has approved a settlement between two environmental groups and regulators that will result in a 10-year cleanup plan for more than 13,000 miles of streams, rivers and lakes in Oregon. As reports the Oregonian (8/2), the US EPA will ensure that the state completes 1,153 pollution-management plans by 2010 for streams, lakes and rivers with poor water quality. The settlement sets numeric milestones for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to meet as it establishes the plans, though the EPA will take over if the state does not finish the plans on time. Northwest Environmental Advocates and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center forced the action. However, some environmental groups say the settlement is too weak.
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NEW YORK WATERS: In New York State, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce river community grants in the Capital Region next week. Hoping to direct more than $50 million in grants and loans to projects along the Hudson River from Alabany south, the money would fund community-based projects from new sewers to recreation facilities, reports the NY Times Union (8/3).
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SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: Dead carp have been showing up on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania since mid-June, though officials who are monitoring the situation are still not sure what is killing the fish. The most likely cause is some sort of virus, which the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) feels poses no threat to humans. As reports the Lancaster Intelligencer (8/4), officials feel the cause is not pollution, since that would kill several species of fish and not just carp. Instead, "biologists believe the carp are dying as the result of some broad-reaching phenomenon which could include infectious organisms," according to the PFBC.
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HARPETH RIVER: The City of Franklin in Tennessee might be forced to pay at least $75,922 for the 148,000 fish killed after a July 23 sewage leak into the Harpeth River if the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation approves a report by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources. That number is considered the value of the fish killed in the river, says David Simms, an aquatic biologist with the TWRA. Dead carp, suckers, red horses, crappie, blue gill darters, and smallmouth bass were found. Any money awarded will be used for aquatic habitat improvement, stream bank management and aquatic habitat protection and enforcement, reports the Tennessean (8/4). The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is strongly advising people to avoid contact with the water until further notice.
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