River News for the Week of September 29, 2000
ENDANGERED SPECIES: The World Conservation Union has released a report that indicates that some 11,046 plants and animals are at risk for disappearing forever. Considered the most comprehensive analysis of global conservation ever undertaken, the report examined some 18,000 species and subspecies around the globe -- and scientists acknowledge that even a study of this magnitude only scratches the surface. Scientists suspect that many species may become extinct before they are even identified, much less assessed by scientists. In North America, 30% of the native freshwater fish species are threatened, endangered, or of special concern - and rivers are home to more than half of our bird species and 80% of the wildlife in the western U.S. In fact, aquatic species are now the most endangered of all animals. As reports the AP (9/29), "conservationists estimate that the current extinction rate is 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than it should be under natural condition" - and the primary blame lies with humans.
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MISSOURI RIVER: Approved by the House this week is a $23.3 billion energy and water appropriations bill that is threatened by a promised veto by Clinton. The bill would provide an 11 percent increase in spending from this year and nearly $900 million more than the president's request, but the president promises a veto because the measure contains a provision that would block the Army Corps of Engineers from changing the flow of the Missouri River to more closely mimic its natural water cycle, reports the Wall Street Journal (9/29). Conservationists say the Missouri River must be controlled so that it mimics natural river flow to permit the survival of threatened and endangered species such as the pallid sturgeon, piping plover and least tern, but downriver lawmakers worry about the affect on navigation and potential flooding on nearby farmers.
The Water Resources Development Act includes authorizations for $200 million over 10 years to fund the Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Project and to designate fish and wildlife protection as a primary purpose of the Corps of Engineers," reports the St. Louis Post Dispatch (9/26). It provides funding for the protection, enhancement, and restoration of fish and wildlife habitat on the Missouri River in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri, and "contains protections for private property rights, including language specifically stating that land may be purchased for these projects only if there is a willing seller." A total of $4.5 billion is provided by the bill for water projects such as flood control, inland navigation, environmental restoration and shoreline protection.
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CALIFORNIA WATER: A second group filed this week against the proposed CalFed proposal in order to halt purchases of land and water by the program, claiming that the state-federal agreement could remove 1 million acres from agricultural use and divert valuable water from irrigation to restore flows in streams and waterways. As reports the AP (9/28), the California Farm Bureau Federation, which represents 92,000 farmers, filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking an immediate halt to land and water purchases by CalFed. Earlier this week, the Regional Council of Rural Counties, a coalition that includes watersheds supplying 80 percent of California's developed water, also sued the agency. State officials argue that the program would be buying land only from willing sellers.
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SNAKE RIVER DAMS: Katie McGinty, Al Gore's top environmental adviser, this week said that candidate George W. Bush has chosen political sound bites over a scientifically credible plan to restore salmon runs native to the Columbia River Basin. As reports the AP (9/28), McGinty said that "Bush's vow to never consider breaching Snake River dams would cause lengthy legal action that could doom endangered salmon and hurt the region's economy."
George W. Bush earlier this week vowed to block efforts to breach the four Snake River dams if he is elected president. As reports the Seattle Times (9/26), Bush says that keeping the four dams on the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington is important to farmers and the region's economy.
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SIERRA NEVADA FISH: High levels of mercury left over from California's Gold Rush Days might be showing up in fish caught in the Sierra Nevada, as shown in a report released this week by the US Geological Survey. The survey found that the toxic environmental pollutant was found in fish collected last year from several lakes and streams in Nevada, Placer and Yuba counties, reports the San Francisco Chronicle (9/26). The mercury levels are high enough to deserve further study, but below the level where the Food and Drug Administration will have to take action. Ingestion of mercury can cause nerve damage and developmental disorders. 141 samples of fish were tested, finding that Methylmercury, a neurotoxin that is especially detrimental to children, most prominent in predatory fish like bass and brown trout.
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HUDSON RIVER: A New York state judge has thrown out an attempt by a state attorney general to force General Electric to pay the extra cost of dredging PCB-contaminated sediment from the upper Hudson River and Champlain Canal. As reports the Albany Times Union (9/26), attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer had argued that GE is liable for harm to shipping and tourism traffic on the Champlain Canal, since larger boats could no longer pass through the PCB-contaminated silt in the waterways. Because the silt is contaminated with PCBs, dredging is too expensive for the state. However, Justice Stephen A. Ferradino has called the case meritless.
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GEORGIA WATERS: State and federal workers are working to set strict pollution limits in more than 5,200 miles of Georgia's waterways in response to court-ordered deadlines. The federal decree says that the limits must be completed by 2004. "For several counties and cities, the new limits likely will force more stringent treatment of wastewater at a possible cost of millions of dollars," reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution (9/25). The limits might even curtail growth in some locales. As an example, in metro Atlanta, "officials estimate that local governments during the next several years will have to spend as much as $4 billion beyond funds already committed to upgrade sewage treatment plants and other facilities to meet higher wastewater treatment standards." Georgia officials have requested more time to comply with the mandate, though a judge has not yet ruled on the state's request.
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NW SALMON PROTECTION: The price of hydroelectricity in the northwest is rising due to efforts to scale back dam operations to protect salmon in the region. As reports the LA Times (9/25), "California relies on hydroelectricity for 22% of its power, of which one-third is imported from the Pacific Northwest via huge transmission lines that run the length of the state from the Oregon border." But now that supply has been reduced to assist salmon, and since snow fall has also been relatively minor, California has lost a crucial 3% of its power supply this summer -- a primary factor in the state's ongoing electricity crisis. However, "year-to-date fish counts at the Bonneville Dam reached 881,000 as of Tuesday, up nearly two-thirds from last year," according to said Deborah Chenoweth, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operations manager of the dam.
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MARYLAND WATERS: More than half of the thousands of miles of freshwater streams in Maryland are loaded with nutrient pollution and physically in poor condition, according to a new study released this week by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. As reports the Washington Post (9/25), a survey of Maryland's nearly 9,000 miles of small and medium-size freshwater streams shows that most have been transformed or degraded - including channelization or severe bank and channel erosion. According to the Post, the survey measured the "status of fish and other aquatic creatures, the level of chemicals and other contaminants, and the habitat conditions in freshwater streams across the state from 1995 to 1997, then used that data to rate their ecological health." Only 10 percent of Maryland's streams are still found in good condition with healthy environments for aquatic life such as fish, insects and other organisms.
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NARROW RIVER: After a year of study, the Maine State Department of Environmental Management has determined that the Narrow River still has levels of pollution so high in spots that it vastly exceeds the state's standard for safe swimming, and that the river isn't any cleaner now than it was in 1986, when the state closed it to shellfishing. As reports the Providence Journal (9/27), the amount of fecal coliform throughout Narrow River still exceeds the safe level for harvesting shellfish. The study was mandated by the federal Clean Water Act, to determine how much pollution the river can absorb and still meet safe water standards.
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DELAWARE RIVER: This week the Senate opened the way for a massive study of the Delaware River basin to determine whether it is threatened by sprawl, pollution and drought and to figure out what should be done to cope with demands on the river. As reports USA Today (9/27), the Delaware River and Oregon's Willamette River would get priority for study by the Army Corps of Engineers under the Water Resources Development Act. The Senate passed the act 85 to 1. Most likely, it will be several years before the study begins since there's not yet a House version of the Senate bill calling for the study and the Senate bill only authorizes the study. Another will be required to provide the money for the study.
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PECOS RIVER: Forest Guardians in Sante Fe are saying that the situation in the Pecos River in southern New Mexico is reaching a critical level, since sections of the river could go dry over the next two weeks. That would spell bad news for the Pecos bluntnose shiner, which is being threatened by the operation of dams along the Pecos, says the group. As reports the AP (9/27), Forest Guardians sued federal water managers in May, alleging that operation of dams along the Pecos is harming the bluntnose shiner. The group will meet the other parties in the lawsuit in federal court next week over the situation.
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