NW SALMON: Fishing and conservation groups this week asked Northwest
members of Congress to support a Columbia/Snake river operations plan that would improve river conditions for salmon without reducing power generation as an alternative to a proposal from federal agencies to eliminate important salmon protection measures and run the rivers solely for electricity.
The specific river operations proposal, which focuses on additional
Water from upriver storage reservoirs and more aggressive energy conservation measures, was presented by the groups in formal comments to the federal agencies on March 15. Some water would be used to help fish past dams and the rest used to increase flows and would therefore be used to generate power. A portion of the power revenues should be used to compensate farmers hurt by this year's drought.
These same groups also sent a letter to Northwest members of Congress requesting their help in "preventing a massive loss of Columbia and Snake River salmon" by supporting this alternative river plan because it "would not only substantially improve salmon survival- it would not decrease energy generation." The groups said the federal agencies' plan, known as the Proposed Principles, "is bad public policy and likely inconsistent with federal law."
Federal agencies say a water shortage means critical parts of the new federal salmon plan, also called a Biological Opinion, will not be implemented. They want to stop spilling water over dams and to not provide additional river flows for migrating salmon, at least through the summer. Instead of getting additional water to improve river conditions, which they have the authority to acquire, agencies propose to barge and truck as many fish as possible downstream.
The following organizations signed the letter to Congress: Save Our Wild Salmon, American Rivers, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Idaho Rivers United, NW Energy Coalition, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, and Trout Unlimited. (American Rivers press release 03/20/01)
Read the press release at:
Also concerning NW salmon, this week the regional directors of the
Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service told five land management officials that they are no longer in support of a supplemental biological opinion that was signed on President Clinton's last day in office. A spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, Brian Gorman, said that the 1998 regulations provide more than enough help to threatened and endangered salmon. As reports the Oregonian (03/22/01), "the supplement clarified and extended a 1998 biological opinion governing how federal lands are managed east of the Cascades," as well as expanded existing buffers along streams to protect fish habitats by preventing logging in those areas. With the withdrawal by the agencies, the 1998 opinion is left in effect, without the extension of the buffers and other clarifications. Gorman also said that the decision to withdraw approval of the opinion "was inspired in part by questions over whether the regional directors of either agency had the authority to sign the supplemental opinion."
Read more about Snake River salmon at: http://www.amrivers.org/snakeriver/default.htm
HUDSON RIVER: This week a group of 50 Democratic lawmakers signed a letter urging U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Todd Whitman to dredge the Hudson River to clean up its PCB pollutants. "The letter is the latest in an avalanche of correspondence sent to the EPA from New York state lawmakers on the $460 million proposal to dredge General Electric Co. PCBs from the riverbed," reports the Times Union (03/21/01). In the past, republicans Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Assemblyman John Faso and Assemblyman John Sweeney had sent in letters opposing the dredging, but the Pataki administration is in support of the EPA's dredging plan.
ARKANSAS RIVER: The question of whether Kansas is entitled to about $19 million in interest payments from Colorado taxpayers was addressed this week by members of the US Supreme Court. The money results from damages incurred through decades of Colorado diverting Arkansas River water before it reaches Kansas. However, Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar is optimistic that the high court might reject much of the money Kansas is seeking from Colorado. "Kansas and Colorado are tens of millions of dollars apart over how much money Colorado should pay for Arkansas River water that never reached Kansas," reports the Denver Post (03/20/01). Colorado figures damages to be about $9 million or less, while Kansas says damages come to at least $57 million. Kansas had learned of the water diversions in 1969, but waited 16 years before suing Colorado. Of concern to Justice Stephen Breyer is the precedent the case might set if Kansas receives significant money, saying that other states might claim "horrendous amounts" if Kansas receives large interest payments for the missing water. The court's decision is expected this spring.
RIO GRANDE: Mexico has agreed to deliver close to 200 billion gallons of water into the Rio Grande as partial payment of a water debt which promises much needed relief for farmers in Texas who depend on the Rio Grande. As reports the Houston Chronicle (03/19/01), the water supply in the two Rio Grande reservoirs has been reduced to 43 percent of capacity due to a lingering drought. In 1992, Mexico began diverting water from the Rio Grande to industry and large farms, despite a 1944 water treaty that had the two countries agreeing to share the water stored in the two reservoirs. Under the federal agreement reached this week, Mexican water officials will provide 600,000 acre-feet of water by July 31, and also agreed to schedule repayment by the year's end of what remains of the total 1.4 million acre-feet of water debt accumulated since 1992.
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OREGON WATERS: Oregon's US Senator Gordon Smith has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to give state ranches and feedlot more leeway in complying with the Clean Water Act. As reports the Seattle Times (03/19/01), Smith is requesting that EPA Administrator Christine Whitman review the enforcement actions taken against Oregon cattle and livestock operations and to warn ranchers before punishing them for violations. Due to a loophole, most beef-cattle operations are exempt from state inspection, but last year Clean Water Act violations were found at 18 ranches permitted by the state Department of Agriculture. The EPA is seeking to close that loophole to better control water pollution that comes from manure. However, the ranching industry and state officials have been angered by tactics used by the EPA, including flyovers and unannounced inspections.
BRONX RIVER: This week the Bronx Zoo agreed to stop polluting the
Bronx River with water contaminated by animal waste, which has been going on for at least 20 years, according to a New York's attorney general, Eliot L. Spitzer. However, Richard L. Lattis, general director of the Wildlife Conservation Society which operates the zoo says they were unaware of the pollution until notified by the attorney general's office two years ago. "The runoff amounted to 200,000 gallons a day and the agreement was the first stemming from a broadened investigation into businesses and individuals that are polluting the river," reports the New York Times (03/16/01). The zoo has agreed to install systems to clean water draining from open fields where animals are kept, and to build a $1 million walkway and nature trail along the section of the river's shore by the zoo. Finally, it will spend $250,000 over the next 10 to 15 years to pay local residents to remove debris from the river.
GULF STURGEON: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been ordered by the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans to establish protective areas of rivers in three states to protect the Gulf Sturgeon, one of the oldest living species of fish.
The rivers that will be affected include the Pearl River in Louisiana, the Pascagoula River in Mississippi, and the Suwannee and Apalachicola rivers in Florida. As reports the Times-Picayune (03/19/01), the order "requires the agency to pinpoint areas where endangered Gulf sturgeon lay their eggs and forbids the Army Corps of Engineers from dredging those areas." The Gulf sturgeon dates back 250 million years, can live 100 years, and can reach up to 6 to 8 feet in length. Dredging, overharvesting by commercial fishers, dams, pollution and other habitat damage have led to its placement on the Endangered Species list.
Read more about the Mississippi River
Read more about reforming the Army Corps of Engineers
WILLAMETTE RIVER: Close to 4 million gallons of raw sewage was sent into the Willamette River in downtown Portland, Oregon after a power failure shut down the city's Ankeny pump station for more than five hours. The spill occurred last Sunday when the pump stopped operating and sewage began flowing directly into the river. Unfortunately, these kind of spills are not particularly rare. Linc Mann, a spokesman for the city's Bureau of Environmental Services, says that a total of 2.8 billion gallons of raw sewage flow into the river each year from combined sewer overflows. As reports the Oregonian (03/19/01), river users were warned to avoid contact with the river for a couple of days.
Also concerning the Willamette River, Gary Filed, the environmental services superintendent of the Smurfit Newsprint paper mill, was sentenced to three years of probation and six months of home detention for illegally discharging pollutants into the river while working at the mill. Field admitted to falsifying water monitoring reports from 1994 to 1999, and was fined by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality $481,400 last year for violating the Clean Water Act. The fine was later reduced to $96,280 because the company reported the violations in 1999, reports the Oregonian (03/19/01).
ILLINOIS RIVER: As a first step in returning the rich backwater lakes, abundant wildlife and diverse habitat that covered a 2,544-acre flood plain just south of Hennepin, IL, less than 100 years ago, the Illinois
River will began to rise on the floodplain. Thanks to a project called The Wetlands Initiative, land has been purchased from nine private landowners in the Hennepin Drainage and Levee District for the last three years. As reports the Peoria Journal Star (03/16/01), only two landowners were reluctant to sell, but finally made deals with the project. One landowner agreed to trade his property for some higher ground owned by LTV Steel of Hennepin, and the other agreed to sell after he and his family were given permission to live on the site for one year.
WEST VIRGINIA WATERS: A report released this week by the West Virginia Rivers Coalition says that the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection needs to do more to find out what state residents think about water pollution permits before they are renewed by the agency. According to the group, the number of permits issued by the agency has increased by 375 percent over the last two years, with the huge permit backlog being reduced to just 30 permits. As reports the Charleston Gazette (03/21/01), the coalition says that "none of the water pollution permits it examined contained federally required anti-degradation reviews." Lawmakers in that state are currently considering a bill that would dictate how the DEP should apply the stream anti-degradation policy.
KLAMATH LAKE: The US Bureau of Reclamation of the Klamath Project irrigation system in Oregon on the Upper Klamath Lake is being sued by environmentalists who say that the federal operators failed to keep thousands of endangered fish from being drawn into diversions to die. The lawsuit says that the Bureau allowed "thousands of juvenile Lost River suckers and shortnosed suckers, as well as hundreds of adult fish, to die by failing to install screens on diversions that draw water from the Link River Dam on Upper Klamath Lake in Klamath Falls." PacifiCorp and Cell Tech International, the permit holders on the diversions, were instructed by the Bureau to install fish screens on diversions on the east and west sides of Link River Dam by June 1, 2000, but have failed to do so.
Also concerning the Klamath Project, the National Marine Fisheries Service decided this week that "irrigation-as-usual at the massive Klamath Project this drought year jeopardizes the survival of the Klamath River's dwindling run of wild coho salmon." The agency said that the Bureau of Reclamation's plans for irrigating 240,000 acres of farm fields poses an unacceptable risk to salmon fry in spring, juvenile coho in summer and returning spawners in fall. The agency also said that continuing irrigations would further degrade salmon habitat that already suffers from logging, road building, grazing, mining, urbanization, stream channelization, dams, wetland loss, unscreened irrigation diversions and water withdrawals. To assist farmers now short of water, the Bureau will pay $2.8 million to 170 farmers who have agreed to not plant crops on 16,000 acres this year, and another 10 property owners will receive $1.2 million for providing 37,000 acre-feet of well water to the Klamath Project.
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