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River News for the Week of August 25, 2000
SNAKE RIVER DAMS: The Seattle City Council this week unanimously endorsed the bypass of four dams on the Lower Snake River in eastern Washington to save endangered salmon. The City Council resolution, which passed 8-to-0, also endorsed energy conservation and renewable energy source investments to replace lost hydropower. The city council also sets policy for Seattle City Light, the largest public utility in the Northwest. Dam removal would increase Seattle's residential electricity bills by about $1 per month, studies show. Studies also show that under current conditions, the Snake River's wild spring/summer Chinook salmon will be functionally extinct by 2017. Dam removal would not begin until 2014, if the White House endorses a draft plan developed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal agency charged with protecting the salmon. Conservation groups have urged the Clinton Administration to require dam bypass in 2005 unless salmon populations rebound, and to start implementing more significant interim salmon recovery measures, including better dam operations. Federal studies show that alternatives which do not include dam removal are not likely to avoid extinction. In addition, federal studies show that delay of dam bypass significantly increases the risk of extinction, and delay will not improve the already strong science supporting dam removal. (American Rivers press release 8/22)
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MISSISSIPPI RIVERFRONTS: At the same time that Mississippi River river towns are revitalizing their riverfronts, federal navigation and flood control projects threaten the river wildlife that communities are celebrating, according to American Rivers (8/21). Towns up and down the Mississippi River are rediscovering their river heritage, tying their economic fortunes to redeveloped riverfronts and the river's natural areas. Major riverfront projects are underway or planned in many communities along the river, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Dubuque and Clinton, Iowa, Quincy, Illinois and Hannibal, Missouri. Presidential candidate Al Gore and his running mate Joe Lieberman concluded a four day Mississippi River swing this week in Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain's birthplace and a showcase for community riverfront revitalization. Their trip has focused national attention on the historic river's problems and promise. The Upper Mississippi River and its natural areas support 115 species of fish, and more than 300 bird species, including the largest population of breeding bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Nearly 40 percent of all North American migratory waterfowl use the river as a flyway. But more than 200,000 acres of migratory bird habitat along the Mississippi River could be lost during the next decade, according to American Rivers. Sprawl, sedimentation, flood control projects, elevated river levels, and barge wakes are among the threats facing the wetlands, side channels, and floodplain forest that support millions of birds annually migrating along the Mississippi.
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RUSSIAN RIVER: Sonoma County Judge Lawrence Antolini will decide whether Sonoma County can pump more water from the Russian River in California, after hearing final arguments Friday. A coalition of environmental groups has brought a lawsuit against Sonoma County, who they say have not taken into account the impacts of their $144 million project on the Eel River, which provides most of the Russian's summer flow. As reports the Press Democrat (8/20), "Sonoma County officials said the project won't affect the Eel because all of the additional water will come from Lake Sonoma, the largest reservoir in the Russian River watershed." The county, which has the right to draw 75,000 acre-feet annually from the river, has asked to pump an additional 26,000 acre-feet of water from the Russian each year for its customers in Sonoma and Marin counties. Opponents argue the project will take water that belongs in the Eel, where native salmon and steelhead are on the federal Endangered Species List.
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COEUR D'ALENE RIVER: The state of Idaho and the US Environmental Protection Agency are planning to release final metals limits for the Coeur d'Alene River Basin next week. The limits, known as total maximum daily loads, detail how much pollution that mines and sewage treatment plans can release into the Coeur d'Alene River. Regulatory relief will be available to wastewater treatment plants, who had complained that the limits would be impossible to reach without costly overhauls, reports the Spokesman Review (8/22). Mining companies have called the limits "unattainable for mines." As reports the Review, "the limits are based on strict federal 'gold book' standards based on national limits on lead, zinc and cadmium to protect cold-water fish species."
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SAVANNAH RIVER: A report released this week by the National Academy of Sciences will delay a plan to build a $1 billion disposal facility to clean up nuclear waste at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. As reports the Augusta Chronicle (8/22), the reports reveals problems with the project, saying that it is too early for the U.S. Department of Energy to select one of three methods being developed to replace the site's In-Tank Precipitation Facility. As repots the Chronicle, "the department invested 15 years and about $500 million in the In-Tank plant, only to watch it fail because workers could not prevent benzene from collecting in the facility's tanks."
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MISSOURI RIVER: The state of Missouri has sued the US Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to designate critical habitat for the pallid sturgeon and the interior least tern, two endangered species. The lawsuit is part of a continuing debate between state and federal officials, and environmentalists over the water levels in the Missouri River. According to the suit, while federal officials designated the two species as endangered, they failed to designate the critical habitat necessary for their survival. Designating that critical habitat is a key issue in how the Army Corps of Engineers decides to manage seasonal flows on the Missouri. Many environmentalists and the Fish and Wildlife Service say that the flow should be increased in the spring and decreased during summer months, increasing the shoreline habitat of the bird and the shallow-water habitat of the fish, and helping reproduction for both. According to the Jefferson City Post Dispatch (8/22), "state environmental officials say such a move goes against historic river levels and could actually hurt the species." The suit asks that a federal judge order the service to designate the habitats and to stop having closed meetings with the corps over these issues.
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COLUMBIA RIVER: Tuesday of this week a semitrailer truck carrying a lethal herbicide crashed and caught fire, spilling the chemical into a Columbia River tributary and posing a threat to endangered salmon. About 3,000 gallons of the household herbicide "Goal" were spilled, entering the Fifteenmile Creek about a quarter-mile from where it empties into the Columbia. As reports the AP (8/23), several hundred juvenile lamprey were found dead in the creek, as well as other fish. A spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers says that it is likely that everything in the creek is dead. A boom and an overflow dam have been put up to keep the chemical from entering the Columbia River, though some of the herbicide has already entered the river. Two fall chinook salmon species, three steelhead species, and sturgeon in the Columbia are threatened by the chemical, though none have been found dead so far.
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SNAKE RIVER: About 2,300 dead fish were found in the Snake River's Brownlee Reservoir near the northeastern Oregon town of Richland this week, with investigators suspecting improper application of a chemical called Xylene, sometimes used to control weeds in irrigation ditches. However, if that chemical is to blame, most of it would have dissipated in the water within 24 hours. Most of the dead fish were crappie with some smallmouth bass and catfish mixed in, reports the Oregonian (8/19). The die-off is suspected to have occurred around August 7 or 8. Low levels of dissolved oxygen could also be to blame, which often happens in the reservoir in August or September, due to high summertime temperatures, die-offs of aquatic vegetation or a drop in the reservoir level.
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RIO GRANDE: A recent study shows that birds alone contribute up to 198 trillion units of fecal coliform bacteria to the Rio Grande in the Southwest daily. The city of Albuquerque commissioned a study measuring the bacteria levels in the river, and found that beyond that contributed by birds and small mammals, four additional potential sources of bacterial contamination were present, including storm water, sewer treatment and industrial plants, underground septic tanks and petroleum storage tanks. Runoff is considered the biggest source. Education is recommended as the best control of bacterial contamination, as well as more stringent zoning rules and "scientifically sound environmental regulatory standards." As reports the Albuquerque Journal (8/23), the results of the study will be part of the Waste Water Division's 2020 master plan, which will also be used by the state Environment Department as part of its own long-term study of the river. According to the study, pristine waters in the river never existed, though "Indian pueblos maintain the river once was much cleaner and healthier." The study focused on the middle segment of the river, from north of Bernalillo to Los Lunas.
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ZEBRA MUSSELS: Ironically, while zebra mussels have significantly increased visibility in the Great Lakes, what is now clear is the heavy damage they are inflicting on old underwater shipwrecks and jeopardizing future archaeological recovery efforts. As reports the Washington Post (8/22), a single zebra mussel can filter a quart of water a day, resulting in water clarity in the western basin of Lake Erie increasing by 77 percent. However, that clarity also highlights the damage the mussels inflict on underwater wrecks - as reports the Post, "huge masses of the pests have nearly obliterated many wrecks, and the divers' expensive wet suits are easily torn by the mussels' sharp
shells." The weight of some mussel colonies alone has been seen to collapse some of the older wrecks.
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OREGON WASTEWATER: The Oregon State Department of Environmental Quality is proposing to issue a permit to Oremet, a titanium producer, that would give the company two miles of a creek and 375 feet in the Calapooia River to dilute its wastewater. The reason for the proposal is that the treated wastewater that contains ammonia, chloride, metals and other solids would provide flows for fish in a creek that otherwise dries up each summer. The company also says their studies show that their wastewater creates stable flows in a creek supporting blue herons, red tailed hawks and osprey. As reports the Oregonian (8/23), "the permit would be the first issued under a new state rule that suspends water-quality standards for qualified industries and city sewage plants whose discharges dominate streams in summer." Now up for public review, the permit is likely up for a fight, as environmentalists say the proposal bypasses the intent of the federal Clean Water Act. It also would reverse a 1995 settlement that one group worked with the DEQ to force Oremet to meet pollution standards at the end of its discharge pipe, reports the Oregonian.
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JOB OPPORTUNITY: American Rivers is seeking a Associate Director of Communications for our DC headquarters, to work closely with the Vice President for Strategic Communications. Duties would include working with media team and conservation staff to coordinate national and regional media campaigns publicizing river conservation, pitching reporters, TV producers, and newspaper editorial writers on stories involving rivers, writing and editing press materials, a quarterly newsletter, the annual Most Endangered Rivers report, and promotional materials, handling logistics of press events, and esponding to media requests. Candidates should have 1-3 years experience in public relations/communications/media field, strong writing, editing, and research skills along with ability to juggle multiple projects in fast paced environment, and an interest in conservation. Please send resume, cover letter and writing sample to Director of Administration, attn: press hire, American Rivers, 1025 Vermont Ave NW, suite 720. Washington, DC 20005 or email: wsisson at amrivers_org. No Phone Calls Please.
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