River News for the Week of November 7, 2000
MINING: West Virginia's Governor Elect Bob Wise (D) says that "mountaintop mining will never be done the same way around this state again," and that he will support efforts to overturn a federal court decision restricting valley fills from mountaintop removal mining sites - supporting the efforts of the previous administration. (Charleston Gazette 11/9)
In Kentucky, about 10 percent of the coal sludge that spilled into Eastern Kentucky waterways last month has been cleaned up, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader (11-7). 250 million gallons of coal waste were leaked from a 72-acre slurry impoundment at Martin County Coal Corp.'s preparation plant into adjacent underground mines and eventually into the Coldwater Fork and Wolf Creek watersheds on October 11th. The cleanup is expected to take five or six months. Cleanup officials are worried that potential heavy rains could cause flooding because the two creeks still are clogged with sludge, giving rainwater nowhere to go. Everything in both creeks has probably died, says Kentucky Department for Fish and Wildlife Resources officials, but they are still trying to access the total environmental impact of the spill.
* * *
POTOMAC RIVER: Despite a ruling by a Maryland environmental official that Fairfax County (Virginia) should be allowed to build a new water intake pipe far into the Potomac River, Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) said he will continue to fight the pipe. As reports the Washington Post (11/8), Fairfax County is seeking to build the new, longer pipe into the river to reach clearer drinking water. The current pipe on the shoreline sucks in as much as 200 million gallons of muddy water per day. Penner, the Maryland environmental official that made the ruling, says that the pipe would not significantly harm the river, would promote public welfare, and is in the best public interest. Glendening disagrees, saying the pipe could seriously threaten the public's health and the health of the Potomac River. Virginia has taken the dispute to Supreme Court, and while Maryland says it will allow the pipe if Virginia drops its suit, Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley (R) said the lawsuit will continue in an effort to address additional significant legal issues. Maryland says it controls the river thanks to a 1632 land grant by King Charles I of England, while Virginia says its right to Potomac River water comes from three interstate compacts that date as far back as 1785.
* * *
FLORIDA WATERS: Environmentalists in Florida are upset over a Department of Environmental Protection proposal that would designate waterways as polluted only if they are not suitable for swimming and fishing. As reports the St. Petersburg Times (11/6), the DEP's rule defines "pollutant" and "pollution" only as something illegally dumped in a waterway in a sufficient quantity to alter its nature. This definition would allow the presence of contaminants "in quantities or levels which are not or may not be potentially harmful or injurious to human health or welfare, animal or plant life or property" - and not consider the waterway polluted, says the EPA. Furthermore, the EPA says that pollution would not be considered to exist if it is authorized by applicable law, according to the DEP proposed definition. However, current federal law says "any substance that taints clean water is a pollutant, regardless of whether it has been authorized or if it is being dumped in by the barrelfull." Environmentalists say the DEP is determined to remove about 200 rivers, lakes, streams and bays off a list of polluted waterways around Florida by simply changing the standards for listing. The DEP says it is only trying to do its work efficiently and save the taxpayers money.
* * *
SNAKE RIVER DAMS: A National Marine Fisheries Service study has recommended that the four dams on the lower Snake River be left in place instead of breaching them in hopes of improving salmon runs. As reports the AP (11/4), this latest study "contradicts a five-year, $5 million study by federal, state and tribal biologists that concluded in 1998 the best way to save Snake River salmon was to tear out the four dams to make salmon passage easier." The new study looks at a mathematical model of each stage of the salmon's life cycle, estimating how improved survival at each stage would boost the overall health of salmon populations. According to the study, greater survival in the early life stages and in the estuary has the most dramatic effect on population growth, and that improvements in survival created by removing dams would be too little to save Snake River spring and summer chinook salmon.
Representatives of conservation groups said the report "downplays the potential for delayed mortality after salmon get past the four Snake River dams, plus four more on the main stem of the Columbia," reports the Columbian (11/4). According to Rob Masonis of American Rivers, the stark decline in Snake River salmon stocks is worse than that of other Columbia basin salmon and coincides with the completion of the Snake River dams between 1961 and 1975 - meaning that if dams are not to blame, that there must be something in the ocean that is selecting Snake River stocks only.
* * *
PACIFIC SALMON RESTORATION: The U.S. Congress on Friday, Nov. 3, passed legislation authorizing $30 million to restore critical habitat in the estuaries of the Columbia River and Tillamook Bay, reports an American Rivers press release (11/9). The effort, spearheaded by Representative Earl Blumenauer, Senator Ron Wyden and American Rivers, was supported by numerous Oregon and Washington conservation groups, ports, and waterway users. The provision to restore critical salmon habitat in the Columbia and Tillamook estuaries is part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000.
To commemorate the legislation, and to lay out a vision for the future of the estuary, a group of interested leaders gathered for a major announcement on the Columbia River on Wednesday, Nov. 9. Those present included Senator Wyden, Representative Blumenauer, and representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, American Rivers, the Lower Columbia River Estuary Project, the Port of Portland, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Nation. An estuary provides important food and shelter and allows salmon to make the transition from fresh to salt water. The lower Columbia estuary offers critical habitat to twelve threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead populations and over 200,000 wintering waterfowl and shorebirds. Since 1850 both estuaries have lost over 70 percent of their historical wetland and riparian 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 authorizes and directs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help implement habitat restoration components of management plans recently completed by the Lower Columbia River Estuary Program and the Tillamook Bay National Estuary Project. Both efforts are led by stakeholder groups created by the Environmental Protection Agency's National Estuary Program. The programs bring together federal, state, municipal and tribal governments, as well as labor, environmental and citizen groups to manage and restore their estuaries.
* * *
ILLINOIS RIVER: Last Friday, Congress gave final approval to a popular water projects bill that authorizes $100 million for an ambitious 20-year plan to improve the sprawling Illinois River watershed, a giant step forward for the Illinois Rivers 2020 program. The House voted 312-2 to approve a House-Senate compromise agreement and sent it to the White House, while the Senate passed the compromise version unanimously earlier in the week. As reports the Peoria Journal Star (11/9), Clinton has said that he would sign the measure, which "enjoys bipartisan support because it includes a massive project to restore the Everglades in politically important Florida as well as dozens of smaller projects around the nation." The Illinois Rivers 2020 program is a 20-year, $2.5 billion plan providing a variety of navigation, water quality and wildlife habitat improvements along the Illinois River and its tributaries, including the Sangamon, Fox and Des Plaines Rivers.
* * *
HARPETH RIVER: Water levels in the Harpeth River in Tennessee are at their lowest in 25-30 years, with decomposing leaves helping to kill fish. The leaves that fall into the water use up oxygen as they decompose -oxygen that is necessary to the survival of fish and other organisms. As reports the Tennessean (11/8), conditions in the Harpeth could be especially bad, since it is still is trying to recover from a July 23 sewage spill that killed 150,000 fish.
* * *
ENDANGERED SPECIES: The National Marine Fisheries Service says it will consider listing Columbia River coho salmon under the federal Endangered Species Act. As reports the Oregonian (11/4), Oregon Trout, the Native Fish Society and Trout Unlimited had argued that populations of wild coho spawn naturally in the Sandy and Clackamas rivers. The decision by the agency shows that they, too, now agree. When the conservation groups asked the fisheries service in 1990 and again in 1993 to list the fish, the agency had said that it was unable to find any evidence that the wild fish did not come from hatchery stock. However, in July of last year, the state of Oregon chose to list the fish under the state Endangered Species Act. The action by the state helped the federal agency to make their decision. Listing of the fish could result in severe catch limits or closures of favorite fishing holes for both sport and commercial fishermen.
* * *
SALMON TECHNOLOGY: A group of researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have designed an "electronics-packed, rubber-coated 'sensor fish' to measure the conditions real fish encounter on the perilous journey to the sea." As reports Business Week (October 30) in "Developments to Watch," the information the sensor fish gather will be used to make more fish-friendly turbines. The six-inch fish travel through the turbines on the dams, gathering 96 kilobits of data on parameters such as changes in water pressure and shear forces. Data from the sensor fish is already starting to pay off, researchers say. The data indicate that young fish tend to get trapped in the gaps of a turbine's blades - when those turbines are redesigned to minimize the gaps, juvenile injury rates are cut by 50%, and survival rates increase about 6%. What's more, redesign of the turbines increase power output by about 4%.
To access action alerts, please check out the action
center at http://www.americanrivers.org/takeaction
For more news, please visit us at www.americanrivers.org