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NFC: Fw: RiverCurrents for the Week of August 11, 2000

Title: RiverCurrents for the Week of August 11, 2000


River News for the Week of August 11, 2000

CHATTANOOGA RIVERS FORUM: On Saturday, August 12, American Rivers will host a Rivers Forum at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. The Rivers Forum will provide an opportunity to raise local river concerns and explore possible solutions to current threats to rivers. American Rivers opened a new office in Chattanooga June 10th of this year. David Sligh, Southeast Field Director for American Rivers, joined American Rivers to help open the new office and begin working on several hydropower dam relicensings throughout the southeast. Sligh shares his office with Jeff Duncan of the National Park Service's Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA), who was hired in July to work on hydropower relicensing and other river conservation projects.  Attendees will learn about RTCA, one of the most important government programs for rivers, and help RTCA identify and prioritize hydropower relicensing and other river restoration projects in the region.  In addition, American Rivers will provide an overview of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System in the southeast and discuss opportunities for expanding the system. (American Rivers press release 8/10).

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DAM REMOVAL: State and federal officials are celebrating with Simpson Timber and the Squaxin Island tribe plans to remove the Goldsborough Creek Dam in Washington State next summer. As reports the AP (8/6), "the 14-foot Goldsborough dam will be one of the first dams in the Northwest to be demolished to help salmon runs." Removal of the dam will open the length of the creek to spawning salmon for the first time in 115 years. U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., applauds the "consensus" agreement, comparing it to a similar agreement on the Elwha River where local communities have agreed to remove a dam on that river. Dams built in the site have been used to create a storage pond for logs, generate electricity and divert water to power plants. But since a pipeline leading from the dam was wrecked during a 1996 flood, the dam has served no purpose, beyond restricting the movement of chum, coho, cutthroat, steelhead and chinook salmon up the creek. Total price for removal is estimated at $4.8 million, $1.1 million of which will come from the state, $1.1 million from Simpson, and the rest from the corps.

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ALASKA'S WATERS: A study recently released by Alaska state and federal agencies shows that two-thirds of the culverts that carry salmon streams under roads in the Tongass National Forest may be inadequate for fish passage. As reports the AP (8/6), 60% of permanent roads were examined in the forest, with 179 of the 273 culverts on salmon streams being found as inadequate - either by being totally blocked or running too fast for young fish to move through easily during high water. On streams not supporting salmon, the culverts were found to be even worse, with 85% of the 622 not allowing proper fish passage. The study focused on juvenile coho salmon less than 3 inches long, who were unable to navigate the culverts. The Tongass National Forest has spent over $2 million to aid salmon passage and has slated $1.5 million to replace inadequate culverts next year.

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COWLITZ RIVER: This week American Rivers joined with 12 other parties in signing a settlement agreement with the City of Tacoma that determines how Tacoma's three-dam hydroelectric project on the Cowlitz River will be operated for the next 35 to 40 years.  The agreement includes a commitment by Tacoma to open over 200 miles of salmon and sea-run trout habitat currently blocked by the dams by providing upstream and downstream passage at the structures. The Cowlitz, fed by glaciers on Mount Rainier in southwest Washington, is a major tributary to the Columbia River and one of the largest producers of salmon and sea-run trout in Washington state.  The upper Cowlitz was recently identified as a priority sub-basin in the effort to recover Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act.  Cowlitz River Chinook salmon and steelhead trout are listed as "threatened" under the ESA.  No dams exist between Tacoma's dams and the Pacific Ocean, providing an unobstructed migration corridor.  The agreement is the result of a collaborative effort initiated by Tacoma in 1996 to determine how the Cowlitz dams should be operated in the future to both provide energy and protect the river's natural resources, and comes more than a year before the expiration of the existing license.  The project's two major dams, Mayfield and Mossyrock, were built in 1963 and 1968, respectively.  Initial attempts to provide fish passage at the project failed, and a large hatchery complex has been used to mitigate for the loss. In addition to fish passage facilities, other elements of the agreement include a remodeled hatchery designed and operated to assist in the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead runs, improved instream flows below the project, and a $3 million fund to protect and restore important riverside habitat.  (American Rivers press release 8/10)

The settlement comes at a time when the hydroelectric industry is seeking to roll back environmental protections in the Federal Power Act, the federal law regulating the construction and licensing of hydroelectric dams, by imposing extremely burdensome and unnecessary procedural requirements on the public agencies responsible for protecting clean water, fish and wildlife.  Congress strengthened the law in 1986 due to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's repeated failure to adequately protect the environment when licensing hydroelectric dams.

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OHIO RIVER: Environmentalists are praising the Army Corps of Engineers for its recently announced plans to restore wildlife habitat on the Ohio River. The Ecosystem Restoration Program includes more than 250 individual projects requiring an initial federal investment of $200 million that will restore side channels, islands, gravel spawning beds, floodplain forests and wetlands without interfering with commercial

navigation and other traditional river uses. As reports the Courier Press (8/8), "ancient islands, backwater tributaries and floodplain forests could be restored to the Ohio River over the next 15 years as state and federal engineers develop an environmental program to foster native habitats along the waterway." The projects, which extend from Pittsburgh to the Mississippi River, will be financed through a matching program with state and local resources, and conducted primarily by the Corps. Final approval of the plan, plus funding from Congress, may not come until October 2001.

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LOWER SNAKE RIVER DAMS: Although a 1999 memo written by staff for the EPA and three other federal agencies has estimated that it would cost roughly $400 million to update the four Lower Snake River dams to comply with the Clean Water Act, Brigadier Gen. Carl Strock of the Corps responded that "As a matter of policy, not as a legal requirement, the corps complies with applicable water quality standards to the extent practicable." At issue is the fact that the water in the Snake River often exceeds the temperature limit set by the Clean Water Act - 68 degrees. The Columbia and Snake also exceed the limit set by Washington for dissolved nitrogen, which can give fish a condition similar to the bends. As reports the Spokesman Review (8/8), "the rivers become super-saturated with nitrogen when water is spilled over dams, sometimes as a flood-control measure and sometimes to help wash young salmon to the ocean."  However, this week Charles Findley, regional chief of the EPA wrote to Strock that "EPA disagrees that the corps has no legal obligation to comply with applicable water quality standards in operating the Snake River dams." Findley also wrote that "the corps' Snake River study overlooked both the cost of complying with water standards and the environmental impact of operating dams that are out of compliance."

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SPOKANE RIVER: An ordinance being proposed by the Spokane city Planning Department would severely restrict all development within 250 feet of the Spokane River and Hangman Creek to protect wildlife habitat. According to the Spokesman Review (8/10), existing structures could stay but all other new development and activity would be restricted unless the landowner could prove that there is no other reasonable use for the land. Washington State's Growth Management Act requires that critical areas be protected, including fish and wildlife habitat. Not complying with the Act would make the city ineligible for state trust fund loans and other funding programs. Mayor John Talbott complains that the proposed ordinance is "tantamount to a 'taking' of private property."

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COEUR D'ALENE RIVER: A 30-year, $478 million plan is being proposed by the state of Idaho to clean up metals pollution in the Coeur d'Alene River Basin. The plan will be considered by the US EPA as one of five alternatives to remove or cover up lead, zinc and other metals from historic mining practices. As reports the Spokesman Review (8/11), with this plan "the state wants to limit spending and have as much say as possible in the cleanup process," though Steve Allred, director of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, could not say exactly where the funding would come from. He expects, however, that the state governments of Washington and Idaho, as well as the federal government and mining companies would contribute.

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WETLANDS: The Clinton administration this week proposed new rules to protect environmentally sensitive wetlands from development. According to officials, in the last two years some 20,000 acres of wetlands and 150 miles of streams have been destroyed due to a loophole opened up by a court decision three years ago. As reports the New York Times (8/10), "the new rules, to take effect after a 60-day period of public comment, would close that loophole by adding greater detail to regulations that specify what kinds of wetlands development require an environmental impact review by the government." The loophole was caused when a federal district judge ruled that developers did not need to obtain federal permits to excavate, drain or ditch a wetland as long as they did not dump soil on the property. As reports USA Today (8/11), the new proposal would shift the burden of proof - "rather than force regulators to prove that a project would hurt wetlands, the proposed rules would require developers to prove that it wouldn't do harm." Susan Asmus of the National Association of Home Builders complained of the difficulty in proving a negative.


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