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NFC: Fw: RiverCurrents for the Week of April 6, 2001

Title: RiverCurrents for the Week of April 6, 2001
RiverCurrents, April 6, 2001
Brought to you by www.americanrivers.org: The online community for
river activists and river friends
 In this week's issue...
On Wednesday of next week (April 11) American Rivers will announce the
Nation's Most Endangered Rivers of 2001
Read the media advisory:

Watch salmon in the Skagit River! (created by artist Dan Corson and the
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       Hudson River
       Klamath River steelhead
       Iowa waters
       Razorback suckers
       West Virginia mining
       Walker River
       Northwest salmon
       Willamette River
       Small streams
       California coho


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HUDSON RIVER: The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has released a report showing hazardous levels of PCBs on the banks of the Hudson River and in some animals. The study was commissioned by federal and state officials and measured PCBs in minks, otters, shrews and Hudson River floodplains.

General Electric, which is blamed for discharging an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the river, says there is no way to determine how the chemicals got there, and no proof that the chemicals on the shore and in animals are connected to its plants, reports the Albany Times Union (4/4/01). 

The new information does not support the need to dredge the Hudson, says the company. GE also says that "interpreting high levels of PCBs detected in mink, otter, shrews and floodplains as a reason for dredging about 35 miles of river" is irresponsible. The US EPA has proposed dredging the river, which could cost the company $460 million. The state DEC tested 12 locations along the river from Hudson Falls to Stillwater in preparation for a federal lawsuit against the company, and views the river as the only source of PCBs. When it floods, PCBs are sent up on its banks.

KLAMATH STEELHEAD: The Bush administration has decided against listing the Klamath steelhead in the Northwest on the endangered species list, saying that the population of fish is relatively safe. As reports Greenwire (4/4/01), environmentalists and sportfishing groups have been trying since the early 1990s to get the fish listed.

Although the population is not considered "robust," it is on the rise thanks in part to voluntary projects in the Klamath basin, says the National Marine Fisheries Service. The population is estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000 fish. Steve Marsden of the Siskiyou Project says the decision is "politically motivated and indicative of the political atmosphere we're in today of an administration that is hostile to the environment."

In a related story, U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong ruled this week that the "U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's dam operations in Southern Oregon's Klamath Basin violated the Endangered Species Act last year and ordered the agency not to deliver water to farmers this season without a 'concrete plan' that better protects salmon." The Oregonian (4/5/01) reports that the judge made the decision based on the fact that the mountains above the basin hold only 29 percent of their normal snow and the runoff may prove too little for salmon as it is. The order will remain in effect until a concrete plan to guide operations is put together by dam managers.

IOWA RIVERS: Nitrates in the Iowa River and the Cedar River in Iowa have nearly tripled since the 1940s, says Bob Libra of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Nitrogen fertilizer used by farmers is the likely culprit, since farmers used more nitrogen fertilizer, planted more corn and soybean acres, and produced better yields during the 60-year period. As reports the Des Moines Register (03/30/01), high concentrations of nitrates are believed to cause health problems in infants and might be linked to miscarriages and some cancers. However, Rick Robinson of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation said other studies have shown no clear trend in nitrate levels in rivers over the past 25 years. Dead plants, livestock and human manure, and sewage-treatment plants can also contribute nitrates to rivers.

Also concerning Iowa waters, scientists fear that antibiotics fed to livestock and applied to crop fields in manure are washing into streams, contributing to a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The Des Moines Register (03/29/01) reports that an estimated 40 percent of the 50 million pounds of antibiotics produced in the United States each year, including common human medicines such as tetracycline, penicillin and erythromycin, are used on livestock.

The animals are fed the antibiotics to keep them healthy and make them grow faster. People who drink untreated water or go fishing, canoeing or swimming and then put their fingers in their mouths without washing could get sick. "Even those who don't immediately get sick could have problems later because bacteria can trade genetic qualities that lead to resistance to certain drugs," says the Register.

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RAZORBACK SUCKERS: Unusually low levels of the male hormone testosterone were detected in about 10 male razorback suckers that were caught in Las Vegas Bay last spring. Chemicals from birth control pills, shampoos and other household items are considered the likely source, endangering one of the Colorado River's healthiest populations of the fish.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers are now testing blood samples from the fish to determine if they contain elevated levels of chemicals found in pharmaceuticals, beauty products and other items. As reports the Las Vegas Review Journal (04/03/01), "previous studies have found that both natural estrogen and ethinyl estradiol, a synthetic hormone found in birth control pills, are being carried into Lake Mead by human waste." The razorback sucker was placed on the endangered species list in 1991.

WEST VIRGINIA MINING: West Virginia might have to spend more than $2.6 billion over the next 50 years to clean up newly abandoned coal mines. As estimated by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, the cost might be as much as $10 billion over the next 100 years. The 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act forces coal companies to post reclamation bonds to obtain mining permits which are supposed to pay for reclamation if the companies file bankruptcy or just walk away from a mine.

But if the bond is not sufficient to cover the costs, West Virginia's Special Reclamation Fund (SRF), comprised of forfeited reclamation bonds, a per-ton coal tax and interest on the monies, is to pay for the reclamation. However, as reports the Charleston Gazette (4/2/01), "the fund is broke, in large part because it costs so much to treat acid mine drainage that pollutes water at abandoned mine sites." Tetra Tech EM Inc. prepared the report for the federal Office of Surface Mining, and says that "the results are very sensitive to the size of the sample that was used to derive average long-term treatment costs. Using an entirely different sample of the same size, the results could be significantly different."

WALKER RIVER: Cleanup of an oil spill in the Walker River in Nevada is being considered a success, reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Nearly half of the 3,600 gallons of heating oil that spilled into the river on Dec. 30 when a tanker truck crashed off California Highway 182 near Bridgeport, Calif. Has been removed. Removal of the 1,750 gallons is one of the best recovery percentages on record, says the agency. Normally, only about 10 percent of the oil is removed in such spills.

Assessing the damage done to the river, fish, wildlife, water and vegetation on the riverbanks is the next step, reports the AP(03/29/01). "Direct impacts so far include the deaths of six beavers, one mink and four birds. Forty dead fish were recovered, but not all had visible signs of oil and some may have died after they got caught in the ice," said Pete Tuttle, an environmental contaminants specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Reno. The Walker River is a water source for ranchers in Nevada's Lyon County, and is also popular for trout fishing.

NW SALMON: The Bonneville Power Administration this week declared a power emergency in the Northwest, and announced that it will forgo spilling water over dams to help salmon swim to sea and instead send it through turbines to generate electricity. The Oregonian (4/4/01) reports that a deepening water shortage prompted the emergency decision, which will help Bonneville avoid the twin specter of rolling blackouts this summer and spending $1.4 billion or more to buy power. By declaring an emergency, the agency no longer needs to follow the strict provisions of the federal Endangered Species Act, under which 12 runs of Columbia River Basin salmon are protected. Following the announcement by Bonneville, the US Army Corps of Engineers said it would not commence spilling at any of its eight Columbia and Snake river dams. Northwest tribes are saying that the agency acted prematurely, and should have tried other options first such as postponing its annual payment of more than $700 million to the U.S. Treasury or increasing conservation measures.

In a related story, "halting the spill of all water over dams and instead transporting all young salmon to the ocean in barges would hurt six stocks of endangered or threatened fish, not effect a seventh and actually help an eight," reports the Oregonian (4/5/01). According to an analysis released by the Northwest Power Planning Council, plans are already in place to barge most of the salmon and steelhead that spawn in Idaho so they would experience little or no effect if all spill were halted. The salmon that spawn in the mid-Columbia, however, would suffer the most since there are no plans to catch those fish and barge them. Conservationists and tribes dispute the findings, saying that the numbers are wrong and that the mortality analysis is low.

Finally, the money budgeted for Northwest salmon recovery will likely remain at current levels in President Bush's 2002 budget, despite a number of requests to increase spending such as one from Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber for an additional $438 million. The Oregonian (4/5/01) reports that the Bush administration is trying to hold overall spending growth to 4 percent and is unlikely to increase funding for salmon recovery.

Read more about Snake River salmon

WILLAMETTE RIVER: "At least 20 corroded electric transformer casings leaking PCBs remain buried in the bank of a Willamette River slough," reports the Oregonian (4/5/01). Both state and federal environmental agencies have known about the casings for five years, but still no timeline has been put together to clean up the site. The Environmental Protection Agency recently released a report that says the contamination could potentially "impact nearby sport fisheries, wetlands and other sensitive environments in the Black Dog Slough and the Willamette River."

SMALL STREAMS: A new report released this week shows that streams play a bigger role than previously thought in removing pollutants before they get to larger waterways. In fact, streams remove as much as half of the excess nitrogen from fertilizer runoff and auto emissions, reports Yahoo News (4/5/01). A study was conducted on 12 streams nationwide, revealing that the smaller the stream (shallow depth and high surface-to-volume ratio), the more quickly nitrogen is removed. The finding could have important implications for land-planning, says one of the study's co-authors.

CALIFORNIA COHO SALMON: The California state Fish and Game Commission this week designated coho salmon north of San Francisco Bay a candidate for listing on the state's endangered species list. Though they did not order an immediate listing of the fish, the action is considered a major step in the right direction by environmentalists that have been pushing to list the fish as endangered. Salmon advocates have been pushing since last July to list the fish, but timber companies and landowners argue that such a listing is unnecessary since the fish is already federally listed as endangered. As reports the San Francisco Chronicle (4/6/01), "commissioners also adopted regulations that essentially maintain the status-quo for 120 days for timber companies and landowners who would be most affected by the protection of the fish."

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