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NFC: Fw: RiverCurrents: May 10, 2001

Title: RiverCurrents: May 10, 2001
RiverCurrents: May 10, 2001
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In the news this week...

* INVASIVE SPECIES: zebra mussels in the St. Croix
* FLOODS: natural events, man-made disasters
* WETLANDS: Wisconsin governor signs major protection law
* TOXICS: cleaning up dioxins in the Penobscot
* TOXICS: mining waste in Montana's Clark Fork
* HYDROPOWER REFORM: FERC proposes "power grab"
* NW SALMON: groups withdraw from talks with Idaho Power
* NW SALMON: groups sue over pesticides
* NW SALMON: cleaning up the Willamette


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1) Muscling out the mussels
Due to an infestation of zebra mussels in the St. Croix River in Minnesota, the National Park Service announced that effective immediately, boats from the south cannot pass beyond a checkpoint about 3.5 miles upstream of Stillwater. Boats above the checkpoint will be allowed to travel downstream, but can't return without being removed from the water and hauled back. As reports the Star Tribune (5/8/01), federal officials are drawing the line in the river in the latest attempt to halt the spread of zebra mussels. According to Tony Andersen, superintendent of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, zebra mussels have infested the river from Stillwater south to the Mississippi, threatening the entire native mussel population in the river. Of primary concern are the native winged mapleleaf mussel and the Higgins eye mussel, which are both on the federal endangered species list.

The zebra mussels spread by attaching themselves to boat hulls, transoms, and motors. After riding along on a boat, mussels can fall off and establish new homes on rocks, docks, bridge piers, native mussels and other solid surfaces. Bait buckets, live wells, or bilge water in boats that move from one section of a river to another can also contribute to the mussels' spread.

Jim Johnson, former mayor of Marine On St. Croix worries that the new restrictions still do not go far enough to protect the upper river from infestation, since the checkpoint is not "24/7" so boats could travel upriver during the evenings or at night.


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2) Not-so-natural diasters
The Washington Post (5/6/01) this week presented an editorial that examines the "not so natural disasters" of the recent Mississippi River floods. The Post's Michael Grunwald writes that this is the Mississippi's fourth "100-year-flood" in the past eight years, and that from 1989 to 1998, floods killed 957 people and caused $45 billion in damage nationally. Floods are indeed natural events, says Grunwald, but they are mostly man-made disasters due to settlements in floodprone areas, the draining of wetlands and farmlands, and the development of levees and flood walls that imprison rivers into tight channels. The artificial barriers give nearby residents a false sense of security that only encourages further building in floodplains, continuing the cycle. "One study estimated that all the wetlands that have vanished from the Midwest would have held twice the volume of the 1993 flood at St. Louis," writes Grunwald.

3) Great scott!
Wisconsin Governor Scott McCallum has signed into law the nation's first comprehensive package of wetland safeguards that will restore the Department of Natural Resources' authority to regulate isolated wetlands. "The new law is in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January that created a loophole in environmental protections, leaving vulnerable 4.2 million acres of isolated wetlands - those not connected to streams or lakes - in Wisconsin," reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (5/7/01). The bipartisan legislation now places those 4.2 million acres under the regulation of the DNR.

The law calls for a 30-day timeline for DNR action in deciding that an application to fill a wetland is complete, and a 120-day period in which the agency must approve or deny the permit. It also authorizes the DNR to investigate possible violations by entering private property, and gives local governments a say in filling wetlands of less than one acre if there are safety concerns. Finally, it calls for a comprehensive Legislative Council study of Wisconsin wetland regulations.



Chad Smith, a native Nebraskan, is the Missouri River regional representative
for American Rivers. Hear what Chad has to say about some critical decisions
that will decide the future of the Missouri River.


4) The diox-sins of the past
The federal government has filed a notice of claim against the Eastern Pulp & Paper Corporation in Maine to preserve its ability to recover $60 million that it might be forced to pay for the removal of dioxin from the Penobscot River. The claim, which was filed on behalf of the Penobscot Indian Nation, is not a lawsuit, but ensures that the government won't be left holding the bag for the cleanup now that the company has moved to file for bankruptcy, says Greenwire (5/8/01). The tribe is entitled to federal intervention based on its relative lack of resources. Bankrupt companies can potentially "discharge" some of their financial responsibility for restoration of polluted sites. The reservation of the Penobscot Nation straddles the river. It is estimated that cleanup and restoration of the river could cost anywhere from $400,000 to $60 million depending on final evaluations.

5) Sediment impediment
Most of the 120 mile Clark Fork River in Montana is contaminated with "more than a century's worth of cadmium, arsenic, copper and other toxic mine waste that has washed down from the hard rock mining that began in 1864 at Butte," reports the New York Times (5/7/01). The Milltown Dam upstream from Missoula has been catching the last of the mine waste since 1907. In the next few months, the EPA will decide how to deal with the river's 6.5 million cubic yards of toxic waste.

The oil company now at the center of attention for the pollution is ARCO, which bought Anaconda Copper Mining in 1977. With that purchase, it inherited one of the largest Superfund sites in the nation. ARCO, however, is arguing against removal of the sediment behind Milltown dam, saying that it would do more harm than good, would cost at least $100 million, take 12 years, and cause undue disruption to the river. In fact, the cost for the cleanup to date is $700 million and is expected to reach $1 billion by the time the company leaves, sometime in the next decade, says the Times.

Growing sentiment in Missoula is pushing for removal of not only the sediments, but the dam as well. EPA estimates put the cost of sediment removal at $120 million, the cost of both dam and sediment removal at $130 million and the cost of leaving the sediment in place and retrofitting the dam at $20 million.

Another proposal offered by Missoula County would remove Milltown Dam as well as another dam on the nearby Blackfoot River, which would allow the rivers to reconnect after a century apart, creating a stretch of whitewater where the Milltown Dam now stands.

6) A license to damn
Responding to Congressional direction to find ways to "reduce the cost and time of obtaining a [hydropower dam] license," the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) proposed this week to dramatically weaken states', tribes', and federal resource agencies' ability to protect the environment during the hydropower licensing process. The report comes just days after the General Accounting Office concluded that until FERC improves its data collection on the cost and timing of its process, "FERC will not be able to reach informed decisions on the need for further administrative reforms or legislative changes to the licensing process."

FERC's report, entitled "Report on Hydroelectric Licensing Policies, Procedures, Procedures, and Regulations," proposes five legislative and eight regulatory changes which would have a number of negative consequences for rivers, fish and wildlife, and the recreational opportunities rivers provide, including:

* Dramatically limiting the ability of state agencies to enforce the Clean Water Act
* Undercutting the ability of federal and state agencies to require steps to protect fish and wildlife
* Transferring ultimate authority on dams located in National Forests and on Tribal lands to FERC
"These changes would take us back to the day when FERC and the hydro industry could decide the fate of our rivers behind closed doors," said Matt Sicchio, Coordinator for the Hydropower Reform Coalition. "A license to dam a public river is a privilege, not a right." (American Rivers press release 5/9/01)

Read the press release: http://www.amrivers.org/pressrelease/hydro05.09.01.htm



Get the latest from Capitol Hill-- find out about legislative decisions
that could impact your river.


7) Hells bells
A coalition of conservation groups has withdrawn from talks with the Idaho Power Company concerning the relicensing of the company's Hells Canyon dam complex. Citing the power company's "lack of good faith," American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, Idaho Rivers United, and Hells Canyon Preservation Council say that the company's efforts to "stifle discussion of important issues, and its refusal to disclose results of its studies on the impacts of the dams on salmon," caused them to drop out of the talks. The decision came after the company unilaterally changed the terms of the process and shut down discussions on key issues, despite objections from participating agencies, tribes and other stakeholders.

Idaho Power owns and operates the three-dam Hells Canyon Complex (HCC) on the mainstem of the Snake River, under a license with FERC that expires in 2005. The company has been working to prepare proposed terms for its new license (which will last 30-50 years), and invited conservation groups and resource agencies to take part in a collaborative process in the mid-1990s. The dam complex blocks access to a large portion of salmon and steelhead habitat, including over 80 percent of fall chinook habitat in the Snake River basin, and harms downstream fishing resources by cutting off the flow of nutrients and sediments, manipulating the timing, quantity and temperature of flows, and causing severe erosion by using extreme peaking operations that ramp water releases. However, the company now says that it will no longer discuss or release "any studies regarding the HCC that are relevant to a biological opinion due to be released by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)." (Trout Unlimited press release 5/0/01)

8) Streams of simazine, brooks of bromoxynil, creeks of chlorothalonil
The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that pesticides harm fish but has failed to take required action according to documents filed in court this week. As a result, the EPA was sued by a coalition of groups on January 30, 2001 for failure to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service concerning adverse impacts on listed salmon of pesticides that are registered for use by EPA, reports Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund (5/7/01).

The documents were filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Washington Toxics Coalition, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources. The groups found volumes of government documents supporting the fact that 48 pesticides currently being used are likely to harm salmon. According to Earthjustice, the EPA has determined that current uses for 41 pesticides are likely to result in surface water contamination levels that threaten fish or their habitat. The US Geological Survey found an additional 13 pesticides that are present in watersheds used by salmon at concentrations at or above levels set to protect fish and other aquatic life. An earlier study by NMFS confirmed these findings by showing that certain pesticides inhibit the ability of salmon to smell, which they use to identify predators and to locate food, mates and their natal streams.

Background information identifying the 48 pesticides and in what states they are commonly used or frequently detected can be found at http://www.pesticide.org/.

9) Shaping up sewers for salmon
The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission has rejected an interim proposal to delay by nine years the cleanup of Portland's sewer overflows into the Willamette River. City officials were proposing the Clean River Plan to free up $110 million for federally mandated stream restoration and other "green" projects without increasing already soaring sewer rates. But the Commission says that the city needs to protect salmon and meet its 2011 deadline for stopping sewer overflows, reports the Oregonian (5/8/01).

State-imposed deadlines commit Portland to eliminating by 2011 the approximately 2.8 billion gallons a year of sewage and stormwater overflows that currently make their way to the Willamette. City officials, however, have been arguing since last year to postpone the deadline for the $660 million project to 2020 to allow the city extra time to use natural methods such as planting trees and making streamside land purchases to reduce the stormwater runoff. But the Commission said that the city did not make its case from an environmental point of view.


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