River News for the Week of February 2, 2001
SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR: Gale Norton won Senate approval this week in a vote of 75-24 to direct the nation's environmental and natural resources policies, reports the AP (01/30/01). Norton will be the first woman to lead the Interior Department, and will be responsible for managing nearly half a billion acres of federal land. Norton had worked as Colorado's attorney general from 1991 to 1999 and also worked with former Interior Secretary James Watt, considered by some as the worst Secretary of the Interior ever. Watt was a supporter of resource development such as oil and gas drilling, mining and timber harvesting. Since working for James Watt, Gale Norton has taken numerous positions that most conservationists disagree with, says American Rivers (12/29). She worked to pass ill-considered "takings" legislation that would have required taxpayers to pay people not to wipe out critical wildlife habitat on their land. She has argued for giving far more leeway to corporations and state and local governments in deciding whether or not to follow our nation's basic environmental laws. Norton has defended her environmental credentials, "calling herself a passionate conservationist and assuring senators she was fully committed to enforcing U.S. environmental laws," says the AP.
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NEUSE RIVER: Removal of the Quaker Neck Dam on the Neuse River in North Carolina has resulted in immediate benefits enjoyed by anglers, reports the Christian Science Monitor (01/30/01). More than 900 miles of river have been opened up for spawning fish such as shad, striped bass, and even sturgeon. "Mud cats," which are large local flat-head catfish have also reappeared as they feed on the fish returning from the Atlantic. Nearly 500 dams have been knocked over or dynamited in the past 15 years, says the Monitor, leaving another 76,000 dams in place across the country.
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SPOKANE RIVER: The Washington State Department of Ecology has hired Tom Cole of the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a computer model of the Spokane River to map the flows of pollutants, particularly treated sewage and organic materials that reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen in the river. If the model shows that there is insufficient dissolved oxygen in the river, the Spokane Wastewater Treatment Plant and other facilities will be ordered to reduce their output or in some cases halt discharges altogether. "To send all that waste elsewhere - such as a landfill site - would require a massive engineering project that has been estimated to cost from $300 to $800 million," says the Spokesman Review (01/30/01).
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NW SALMON: The Washington State Salmon Recovery Board has approved 147 projects across the state, with total funding of $31.8 million. Local matching money brings the total to $46.5 million, which will go to projects in the South Sound communities, including along the Puyallup and Nisqually rivers, and the Hylebos stream corridor. "The grants reflect the state's effort to respond to recent federal endangered species listings of salmon stocks, including Puget Sound Chinook," says the Tacoma News Tribune (01/31/01).
Also this week, a lawsuit was filed against the US EPA by environmentalists and commercial fisherman to force the agency to protect salmon against minute amounts of pesticides commonly found in rivers. The Oregonian (01/31/01) reports that the lawsuit seeks to "force the EPA to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service, as required by the Environmental Protection Act, over less-than-lethal effects on salmon of a wide range of pesticides used on everything from lawns to farm fields." New research by the fisheries service and British scientists shows that even small amounts of pesticides are making it harder for salmon to survive, causing problems with development, behavior and reproduction. Because pesticide levels impair the ability of salmon to smell, they are less able to synchronize reproduction, identify predators and recognize their spawning stream, says the Seattle Post Intelligencer (01/31/01). The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides and the Washington Toxics Coalition brought the lawsuit.
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MISSOURI RIVER: Missouri state Governor Bob Holden and Gary Doer, the premier of the Canadian province of Manitoba, have signed an agreement that will guard against attempts to move water from the Missouri River into the Hudson Bay Basin. The agreement came as a result of a discussion about the federal Dakota Water Resources Act, which some critics fear will result in moving water from the Missouri River to the Red River of the North. Canadian officials are concerned that moving the water would cause environmental damage in the Hudson Bay Watershed by bringing in exotic species and fish diseases, and Missouri officials are concerned about the quantity of the state's supply of water for drinking and recreational purposes. A "memorandum of understanding" was signed by the two officials that says Missouri and Manitoba will support each other in fighting attempts to transfer water between major watersheds and that "both jurisdictions would oppose the incremental construction of facilities that would be part of an eventual transfer of water." The Dakota Water Resources Act was approved by Congress last month and contains $630 million for water supply and recreation projects in North Dakota.
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ROUGE RIVER: The National Marine Fisheries Service has issued an endangered species act biological opinion that says continuing to trap and haul fish around the Elk Creek Dam will destroy habitat critical to the threatened coho and degrade habitat essential to chinook salmon. As reports the Oregonian (02/01/01), even with a new $8 million trap-haul system around the 83-foot-tall dam, some endangered Rogue River coho salmon will still be in danger of extinction unless the dam is breached. The Corps had decided in 1997 to notch the dam 30 miles north of Medford, but local political pressure has kept Congress from funding the dam breaching. Now, with the release of this new opinion, the Corps will again ask Congress for the funding.
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YAQUINA RIVER: An estimated 5,800 gallons of black bunker oil spilled into the Yaquina River in Oregon after a tractor-trailer rig carrying 8,330 gallons of oil overturned, killing the driver. The Oregonian (01/29/01) reports that a sheen of oil coated the top of the fish- and wildlife-rich estuary before environmental workers could vacuum it up. The lower Yaquina Bay is home to fall and spring chinook and coho, steelhead, cutthroat trout, beavers, otters and migratory birds. The emergency phase of the cleanup is now over, but an evaluation of the final damage is just beginning.
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TRINITY RIVER: A symposium was held last week in Dallas bringing together poets and engineers, philosophers and urban planners to focus on how the Trinity River gives its area residents "joy." Sponsored by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, the participants gathered to rediscover stories of the river's historical importance, reports the Dallas News (02/02/01). They also discussed what the river wants to be, with an engineer from Colorado who restores straight, constricted rivers to a state that looks natural, saying that Dallas residents should consider whitewater. Engineers could create large enough drops in elevation to make a river that would draw kayakers as well as canoeists, said the engineer.
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