River News for the Week of December 22, 2000
SNAKE RIVER DAMS: National environmental leaders were encouraged this week to see that the Clinton Administration's final plan to save endangered Columbia Basin salmon will keep alive the option of removing four dams on the Lower Snake River. It does so by creating a framework which provides that Congress may be asked as soon as three years from now to authorize dam removal, if near-term measures fail to meet the plan's new performance standards for wild salmon recovery. The environmental leaders said their optimism is tempered because the plan appears to lack key specifics about near-term actions, and relies on yet-unwritten annual implementation plans to guide agency actions over the next five years. As a result, it is not known if the near-term measures in the government's plan will be strong enough to save the salmon. Thus the critical annual implementation plans may fall short, serving up the issue to Congress sooner rather than later. While campaigning in the Northwest, President-elect Bush promised to save salmon but opposed dam removal. The plan challenges Bush's Administration to act on his commitment to saving the salmon in its first three years, and provides for Congress to authorize dam removal if the new Administration fails to implement the plan or if its actions fail to restore the salmon.
Technically called a Biological Opinion of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the plan creates a framework under which the federal government agrees to pursue immediate actions to improve conditions for the wild salmon of the Columbia River Basin. If those fail, or are not sufficiently implemented, the plan would trigger the removal of the four salmon-killing dams on the Snake River in Washington State. Since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built these dams in the '60s and '70s, the salmon populations, which once numbered in the millions, have crashed. Now every population of Snake River salmon is either extinct or listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The final plan improves on a draft released in July by moving up the decision date for Congressional action regarding dam removal to as early as 2003, with triggering of actual dam removal potentially in five years. The draft plan delayed the first consideration of dam removal for five to eight years and provided no clear path to Congress. The final plan also appears to improve performance standards that will be used to tell whether other measures have worked and whether dam removal is still necessary. (American Rivers release 12/21)
The plan no doubt meets with the approval of more than 200 federal, state, tribal, university and independent scientists with expertise in salmon survival who this week asked President Clinton to order the National Marine Fisheries Service to prepare plans now to breach four Snake River dams in case other recovery measures fail. The Seattle Post Intelligencer (12/19) says that the NMFS officials plan to wait several years to prepare recovery plans, but the scientists say delay will cause some Snake Rivers stocks to disappear within two decades without recovery steps now. This marks the first request to Clinton to order dam-breaching plans to be made. Northwest scientists sent a similar letter to President Clinton in March 1999, but it called for restoring normative river conditions and stopped just short of calling for dam breaching.
* * *
WATER POLLUTION: A study by the American Geophysical Union examined 40 major U.S. estuaries, finding that airborne nitrogen pollutes them sometimes as much as nitrogen in streams. As reports Greenwire (12/19), in about a third of the estuaries examined, "the amount of nitrogen dropped from the air or washed out by rain - and having come from power plants, cars and trucks, for instance - was as large or nearly as large as that brought by streams." The problem of airborne nitrogen is especially bad in the east, where one-quarter to one-third of all nitrogen in estuaries in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic is airborne. However, the report does confirm that most nitrogen in waterways or estuaries comes from non-atmospheric sources, such as farms, industries and wastewater treatment plants.
* * *
SOUTHEAST WATERS: The state of Florida this week refused to extend a deadline to keep negotiations alive for sharing the waters of the Chattahoochee River, ruining Georgia's hopes of a final settlement in its water war with Alabama and Florida. Without the extension, the states cannot hold another bargaining session unless they agree to an emergency meeting. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution (12/19) reports that though Georgia and Alabama reached a tentative agreement last week on the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basin (ACT), the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin (ACF) squabble will probably go to court, where it might take several years and millions of dollars to litigate. Atlanta, GA is in danger of having insufficient water to support the region's growth through 2030 without an agreement in place, but Florida officials are concerned that they maintain enough water flowing into Apalachicola Bay to protect its seafood industry.
* * *
TRINITY RIVER: This week U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt ordered a dramatic increase in flows to the lower Trinity River in Northern California, allowing the river to retain nearly half of its natural flow. Environmentalists and salmon-fishing Indian tribes are happy with the order, while farmers and electricity users worry about the economic consequences of the order. Officials at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District say that "when the Trinity water normally flows through hydroelectric plants in the Sacramento River Basin it generates enough energy to supply 31,000 Sacramento-area homes," though federal officials dispute that figure.
In 1962 the river was dammed, with as much as 90% of its water being sent to the Sacramento River for irrigation and power generation for primarily Central Valley cities and farms. The river's once-plentiful runs of Chinook and Coho salmon and steelhead trout consequently suffered from the low flows, with the Trinity's Coho now listed as a threatened species. Supporters of retaining more water in the river say the move would provide economic relief to Trinity County's 13,500 residents who rely on the tourism industry. Federal officials say the loss of power would be much less than local officials fear, says the Los Angeles Times (12/19).
The new proposal includes: A new instream flow regime that provides for flow volume releases according to hydrologic year type which still allows for over half of the water (52 percent) from the Trinity River basin to be exported to the Central Valley for water use and power Generation; Mechanical channel rehabilitation of 47 sites (all available
readily accessible sites with no continued maintenance); Coarse and fine sediment management and gravel placement; Bridge replacement and infrastructure modification; Watershed restoration; and Adaptive management (Department of the Interior release 12/19).
The Northern California Power Agency calls the decision by the Department of Interior to increase the flow in the Trinity River "irresponsible," based on "bad science," and that it could aggravate the state's energy crisis. (Northern California Power Agency release 12/19).
CLEAR CREEK: The state of Colorado and Coors Brewing Company are nearing a settlement over a beer spill in Clear Creek last August. As reports the Denver Post (12/18), 2,500 barrels of beer spilled into the creek when a worker at Coors flooded the company's wastewater treatment plant with beer by flipping the wrong valve. The beer killed the microorganisms the plant uses to treat wastewater, resulting in several days of discharge-permit violations. The company and the state arrived at an initial settlement soon after the August spill, but resolving the additional violations resulting from the damaged wastewater treatment plant has taken longer. Details will not be released until the Environmental Protection Agency is briefed on the settlement.
* * *
CONNECTICUT RIVER: U.S. Senator Judd Gregg announced a $300,000 federal grant to the Connecticut River Joint Commissions to help preserve and protect the Connecticut River. The Concord Monitor (12/18) reports that the grant will be used for the commission's Connecticut River Partnership Program to provide grants of $500 to $5,000 to help local organizations carry out preservation and protection projects.
* * *
WILD AND SCENIC RIVERS: In a dramatic improvement over the previous Congress, which designated no wild and scenic rivers, the 106th Congress has used the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to protect 11 river segments in eight states. Each designation was a bipartisan decision based on the desire to permanently protect the natural, cultural, and recreational values of the rivers. The Wild and Scenic Rivers program - most commonly associated with protecting whitewater canyons in the West - is now saving wildlife habitat amid growing suburban sprawl near major urban centers. Florida's Wekiva River, for instance, is located within the greater Orlando metropolitan area, the second fastest growing metropolitan area in the nation. Local and state governments have struggled in efforts to protect the river against the damaging effects of urban sprawl. The Wekiva River Basin supports numerous plant and animal species that are at risk, including the American Alligator, the Bald Eagle, the Wood Stork, and the West Indian Manatee. Rivers protected include portions of: White Clay Creek, in Delaware and Pennsylvania; Lower Delaware River, in New Jersey and Pennsylvania; Wekiva River, in Florida; Whitehorse Creek, in Oregon; Kiger Creek, in Oregon; Donner und Blitzen River, in Oregon; Sudbury River, in Massachusetts; Assabet River, in Massachusetts; Concord River, in Massachusetts; Wilson Creek, in North Carolina; and the Lamprey River, in New Hampshire. In addition, a bill was passed to study the Taunton River, in Massachusetts, for designation. (American Rivers release 12/19).
* * *
BOISE RIVER: The federal Bureau of Reclamation is considering replacing the 85-year-old valves in the Arrowrock dam on the Boise River in Idaho. Failure to replace the valves could cause the Boise River to flood, but making the repairs would shorten the boating season on Lucky Peak and Arrowrock reservoirs, reduce threatened bull trout habitat, and may send a plume of mud down the Boise River. As reports the Idaho Statesman (12/19), the bureau conducted two public hearings this week on the environmental impact statement for the $15 million valve- replacement project at Arrowrock Dam, 17 miles east of Boise. At one time (in 1915), the Arrowrock dam was the highest in the world at 351 feet, and was built to store water. The bureau hopes to begin the project in the fall of 2001 and finish in 2004. During the first couple years, Lucky Peak Reservoir, a favorite hangout of boaters, water skiers and anglers, will be lowered to allow work to take place on the downstream side of Arrowrock Arrowrock provides water to 276,000 acres, irrigating 8,500 farms in the Treasure Valley. It also allows federal dam managers to regulate the flows through Boise and the rest of the valley to prevent flooding. More than 1,000 bull trout, which are threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, winter in the Arrowrock Reservoir
* * *
WILLIMANTIC RIVER: State environmental regulators are trying to find the sources of copper, zinc and lead that have been found at higher than desired levels in sites along the Willimantic River in Connecticut. The state Department of Environmental Protection found the metals at several testing points in the river in amounts higher than state-mandated levels, says the Hartford Courant (12/19). Since the river is not used for drinking water, there is no immediate danger to humans, but they might have affected aquatic insects living in the riverbed, which were at lower than expected numbers at three sites.
* * *
PATUXENT RIVER: The federal government is seeking a $674,000 fine against the Potomac Electric Power Co. after a April 7th spill of about 125,000 gallons of oil in the Patuxent River in Maryland. The spill was caused by contractors of the company, and may result in the largest fine allowed by law for most of the corresponding violations. According to the Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety, the company didn't have procedures in place that could have detected the leak quickly and also had several technical violations of pipeline safety regulations. The Baltimore Sun (12/19) reports that the spill was the largest oil spill in Maryland since 1993, with cleanup efforts scheduled to begin again this spring at Swanson Creek, the marsh that absorbed about a third of the oil. The utility says it will appeal, and says that it did not do anything wrong by understating the amount of the spill as only 2,000 gallons in its initial report. The cause of the accident is still being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.
* * *
HUDSON RIVER: General Electric Company is asking the federal government to allow it time to try an alternative to the U.S. EPA's plan to dredge New York's Hudson River to clean up PCBs dumped by the company for decades. Calling the EPA's plan "destructive," GE says its plan "would cost up to $20 million and delay by five years the start of the $460 million dredging project proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency," and "would cut off the three ounces of PCBs per day that leak into the river from bedrock beneath the company's Hudson Falls capacitor plant." However, the Albany Times Union (12/21) reports that GE's plan would not address the 40 hot spots north of the Troy Dam that contain millions of pounds of PCBs. GE officials say that dredging proposed by the EPA will result in negligible benefits to fish, sediment and water compared to their own plan. GE's plan calls for digging a 1,500-foot-long tunnel deep within the bedrock separating the Hudson Falls plant from the river. The EPA's plan calls for operating a total of four dredges 19 hours a day for six months a year.
To access action alerts, please check out the action alert
center at http://www.americanrivers.org/takeaction
For more news, please visit us at www.americanrivers.org