River News for the Week of September 15, 2000
NW SALMON: U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) this week introduced legislation in Congress to restore critical wildlife habitat in the Columbia and Tillamook estuaries. The Save the Estuaries Act would earmark $175 million for a multi-year habitat restoration program. Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Congressman David Wu (D-OR) and Congresswoman Darlene Hooley (D-OR) are original co-sponsors of the legislation. The Save the Estuaries Act enjoys robust regional support from a bi-partisan group of regional elected officials including Gov. John Kitzhaber (D-OR), and Gov. Gary Locke (D-WA). A number of conservation and industry groups have also joined together in support of this legislation, including American Rivers, the Port of Portland, and the Pacific Waterways Association. Recognition of the region-wide significance of the estuaries (the zones where rivers meet a sea) has prompted this convergence of interests -- twelve different runs of threatened or endangered salmon and steelhead and 200,000 wintering waterfowl use the Columbia estuary for critical phases of their life cycles. Since 1850 both estuaries have lost over 70% of their historical wetland and riparian (shoreline) habitat, primarily due to the construction of agricultural levees and floodplain development. The Columbia River and its estuary have also been damaged by channelization and dredging for navigation. The legislation would authorize and direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out habitat restoration portions of management plans recently completed by the Lower Columbia River Estuary Program and the Tillamook Bay Estuary Project. The legislation calls for appropriations over a ten-year period.
* * *
ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: The Army Corps of Engineers is "the nation's unlikeliest regulatory agency, assigned by the Clean Water Act to protect wetlands from development," reports the Washington Post (9/13). In part of a five-part series, the Post looks at the work of the Corps, which has altered more wetlands with its dams, levees and other water projects than any other American developer. According to the Post, the $117 million regulatory program run by the Corps is mostly a "permitting program" with over 99% of developers' draining, dredging and filling requests being approved. In 1999, the Corps turned down less than half the applications to fill wetlands as it did in 1992, and approved more than twice as many wetland fills through nationwide or regional permits. It also carried out far few inspections for violations to wetlands and of violations found, took far fewer to court.
* * *
CORPS REFORM: Conservation and taxpayer advocacy groups have called upon President Clinton and Congress to make significant changes to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to break a cycle of mismanagement of water resources throughout the country. The groups are calling for Congress and the Administration to reform the Corps of Engineers by implementing a 10-point "Prescription for Reform" to begin treatment for an ailing Corps. The Prescription outlines five specific steps that Congress can take and five steps the Administration can take this year to protect the environment and save tax dollars from controversial Corps construction projects. In recent months, several Corps projects have come under scrutiny, including lock expansion, channel and harbor deepening, and contaminated site cleanups. In particular, top Corps officials allegedly ordered their subordinates to inflate the benefits of proposed projects to help increase the agency's budget by 50 percent. During the final weeks of this congressional session, and in the final months of the Clinton Administration, several opportunities exist to implement reform measures. Neither the Senate nor the House has approved its versions of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (WRDA), the omnibus bill that authorizes new Corps projects and sets Corps policy. Conservation and taxpayer advocacy groups are calling for items in their "Prescription for Reform" to be incorporated into that legislation. While the House version of WRDA does address some reform topics, the Senate has avoided the issue. Also, Rep. Ron Kind and five other members of the House have introduced H.R. 4879, the Army Corps of Engineers Reform Act of 2000. This legislation provides an additional opportunity for reform in the next several weeks. (American Rivers press release 9/13)
* * *
SALMON PROTECTION RULES: The Washington Environmental Coalition, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, the Pacific Rivers Council and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations this week sued the federal government with the goal of strengthening rules to protect Northwest and California wild salmon runs from extinction. Saying that the government is not doing what the law requires to ensure that salmon survive and recover, the lead attorney for the case, Patti Goldman from Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, says the government is allowing harm to continue, while claiming to have recovery at the same time. The groups oppose the salmon-protection rules issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service in June, which give local and state governments the flexibility to come up with their own plans to regulate activities such as logging, road-building and urban development and be exempt from the rules. The environmental groups say these exemptions amount to "sweetheart deals for developers and the timber industry."
* * *
HUDSON RIVER: In three months, the EPA is due to reach a decision on the decades-old problem of PCB contamination in the Hudson River. However, a bill passed in June by the House of Representatives requiring the environmental agency to consider a study on the impact of dredging, before authorizing any new dredging, might delay EPA's ruling since the study is running behind schedule. Since the EPA is considering dredging as a remedy, the move could delay EPA's decision that was anticipated by December. As reports the New York Times (9/13), opponents say the House bill would make dredging and other cleanup decisions much more cumbersome and complicated to undertake. This week the Senate Appropriations Committee will look at its own version if the bill, which does not require the E.P.A. to consider the dredging study.
* * *
ELWHA RIVER DAMS: Removal of the two dams on the Elwha River in Washington would increase downstream siltation and erosion, says the US Geological Survey. A new report by the Survey based on a 1994 study cannot fully predict what would happen once the dams are removed, but bases its conclusions on the 300,000 cubic yards of sediment that were released when the level of Lake Mills behind the upper Glines Canyon Dam was dropped 18 feet during the weeklong experiment six years ago. As reports the Columbian (9/13), the federal government acquired the dams earlier this year for $29.5 million, and believes removal of the dams will improve salmon runs. The Survey hopes that its report will give planners a good idea of what to expect when the dams are removed.
* * *
DELAWARE RIVER: The Senate has voted to spend $150,000 to help the Army Corps of Engineers "market" the dredge spoils that will be produced when the corps deepens 103 miles of the Delaware River by five feet, reports USA Today (9/12). A third of the dredged sediment will be used to rebuild Delaware beaches, but the rest was to be dumped on federal land in New Jersey, against New Jersey state wishes. But with the action of the Senate, the Delaware River Port Authority will have $150,000 to help them market the dredge spoils to builders. Delaware Gov. Tom Carper's chief of staff, Jeff Bullock, says the Corps is getting ahead of itself, since the dredging has not yet been approved. Delaware is insisting that the Corps obtain state environmental permits to dredge the river, which might take years to obtain, if permitted at all. The Corps has not yet agreed to obtain the permits.
* * *
WILLAMETTE RIVER: A cargo ship this week pumped enough oil into the Willamette River in Oregon to fill a 40,000-square-foot area in North Portland. The incident occurred when crew on the Egyptian vessel began to pump out the ship's bilge -the bottom of the ship where water is often stored for balance along with oil that typically collects in the area. Pumping bilge at sea is legal, but is illegal on rivers, reports the Oregonian (9/13). The Coast Guard will analyze the spill for potential contamination of the area, and will assess any penalties against the ship's crew.
* * *
SNAKE RIVER DAMS: In an effort to help GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush, Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington is planning to add an amendment to a must-pass FY2001 spending bill that would block any effort to remove hydroelectric dams on the Snake or Columbia Rivers. As reports the National Journal (9/15), "by adding the rider to the FY2001 Interior spending bill, Gorton seeks to force Vice President Gore to take a firm stand on the highly charged issue in Washington." By supporting the amendment, Gore would effectively lock his potential administration into support for maintaining the dams. If he opposes the amendment, then Washington and Oregon, traditional Democratic states, could potentially support the GOP based on this highly charged issue. Gore has been criticized as being too "wishy-washy" on the dam removal issue.
* * *
JOB OPPORTUNITY: American Rivers is seeking a Associate Director
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.
To add yourself to American Rivers listserves for River Policy
Corps Reform, Snake River alerts, and action alerts on other issues,
please visit <a
register. Thank you for your interest in rivers!
For more news, please visit us at www.amrivers.org