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NFC: Fw: RiverCurrents: July 13, 2001

Title: RiverCurrents: July 13, 2001
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RiverCurrents:  July 13, 2001
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In the news this week...

-- Find out how you can get involved

-- Update on Army Corps dam operations

-- Basin states' water-sharing plan
-- More water for pikeminnow and razorback sucker

-- Dams and CalFed tradeoffs

-- Farmers to receive aid

-- Two new reports

-- Neighborhood files lawsuits against General Electric

-- Army Corps to release dredging plan

-- Water quality

-- New algae threatens aquatic life

FEATURE: Copper River Journal

Read our daily dispatches and take a virtual trip down this wild Alaskan river



1) The River Budget: get involved!

Each year, the federal budget poses enormous consequences for river restoration and conservation initiatives.  Want to learn how?  Join American Rivers' Director of Government Affairs and other staff for a free interactive chat session to discuss the River Budget:  National Priorities for Local Conservation -- an annual report that recommends to Congress how best to make investments of federal tax dollars to benefit rivers, wildlife, and communities. 

American Rivers Online will be hosting a series of public meetings to present the River Budget process and answer questions for grassroots leaders and river activists.  This is a great way to present your ideas to our staff and to learn more about how the federal budget process impacts river issues. 

Register in the River Community at http://www.amrivers.org/community/register.asp and meet us in the chat room on Wednesday, August 15th.   Two sessions will be conducted, beginning at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m EDT (11 a.m. and 4 p.m. PDT).  Join river activists and colleagues from around the nation to ask questions, learn about the budget process as it relates to river conservation, or just listen to what's on people's minds. 

Log on:  Wednesday, August 15th at 2 and 7 p.m. eastern time

Learn more about The River Budget here:

2) Missouri River, endangered species need dam reforms

This week, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development marked up the FY '02 energy and water funding bill. As early as next week, Senator Bond could offer an amendment to the bill that would halt efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers to complete an Environmental Impact Statement on the Missouri River "spring rise" alternative.

The "spring rise" -- changes in Missouri River dam operations that would allow a seasonal, more natural rise and fall of water levels-- is needed to prevent the extinction of several species-- the pallid sturgeon, piping plover, and interior least tern. American Rivers listed the Missouri as the nation's Most Endangered River this year to spotlight the need for the Corps to revise its operation of Missouri River dams.

Read "Army Corps Master Manual: Myths & Facts"

3) Colorado River
This week, officials from seven western states agreed to continue cooperating to "wean" California from more than its share of Colorado River water. Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada officials came together during a field meeting of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water and Power to reiterate their support of California's plan to receive surplus water from those six states in the Colorado River basin in return for conservation measures that will reduce its reliance on the river during the next 15 years. However, they "stopped short of wholeheartedly endorsing California Republican Rep. Ken Calvert's plan to seek federal assistance," saying that they favor the idea as long as it doesn't take money away from other projects in their states.

According to the proposal, after 15 years California must be using only 4.4 million acre-feet of water -- its annual allotment of Colorado River water. That's compared to last year when the state used 5.3 million acre-feet from the river, reports the San Francisco Chronicle Online (7/9/01).

An acre-foot is the equivalent of 326,000 gallons, or roughly the amount needed to serve the needs of an average family of five for one year. Had California not gone along with the deal, the state would be facing litigation from the other six states in the Colorado basin.

In other Colorado River news...
In an effort to help the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker, federal water managers are planning to release extra water from several western slope reservoirs this summer. The extra water will ensure that a critical 15-mile stretch of the river between Palisade and Grand Junction doesn't go dry. According to Tom Nesler, a fisheries biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, low water flows force fish to concentrate in deep pools, where competition for food is intense, and prevent young pikeminnows from migrating upstream in the late summer and fall to establish new territories. The Denver Post (7/11/01) reports that the Colorado Division of Wildlife and several partners will spill water from the Ruedi, Wolford Mountain and Wilford Fork reservoirs this summer to help limit stress on the fish. So far this summer, the river is already flowing at levels not usually seen until August.

Pick up some summer reading!

Visit Powells.com and get good books at great prices:

We suggest:
Living downstream: an ecologist looks at cancer and the environment


4) California dams

The $8.6 billion California water-sharing agreement known as CalFed has environmentalists divided over a provision that would allow more water for endangered species in exchange for the development of new dams and expanding old ones.

One dam in particular that would be affected is the 602-foot Shasta Dam which would be raised between 6 feet and 200 feet. As reports the New York Times, CalFed is "one of the most ambitious water-management programs in history, one that involves raising the heights of several dams in California and building new ones, in the first federally financed dam construction of this type in years."

The proposals included in the agreement have been put together by some of the same groups that have been fighting over dams for years, including a number of environmental groups -- those groups have been forced to consider additional dams and expanding older ones due to the state's "seemingly limitless" need for cleaner and more plentiful water. Environmentalists worry about the slippery slope they navigate as they allow for expanded dam use in exchange for other benefits.

The program focuses on one of the largest and most overtaxed systems of natural and man-made plumbing in the world -- the 700-square mile Bay Delta -- where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers reach the eastern reaches of the San Francisco Bay through channels, aqueducts, oxbows, dams, islands and wetlands. Everyone sacrifices in the plan, with farmers receiving less water than at times in the past, but with more reliable deliveries. Urban areas will get cleaner water, but less of it. And environmentalists see some areas lost at the expense of other areas being revived. Also, better flood control would be imposed, more water available for times of drought, and new money would be available for conservation and recycling. --New York Times (7/8/01)

River Policy Update

From Capitol Hill: the latest on energy policy, appropriations, global warming, and more:

5) Klamath Basin
The U.S. Senate has approved $20 million in disaster aid as part of an emergency bill for Klamath Basin farmers suffering from the economic impact of a drought in the northwest. As reports the San Francisco Chronicle Online (7/11/01), "the funding will come as direct economic assistance to more than 1,000 farmers from the region that straddles the Oregon-California border, "who have lost most of their irrigation water to threatened and endangered fish." This action follows the decision last April by the Bureau of Reclamation to stop providing water to 90 percent of the land in the Klamath Project in order to assist endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.

Without the water they need, farmers in the Klamath Basin have had to sell off cattle, let pastures and hay fields go brown and give up annual plantings of potatoes, grain and other crops. Ron Hathaway, chairman of the county Extension Service, says that an Oregon State University study estimates that farmers could suffer as much as $157 million in lost sales. The total economic cost to the region is expected to be about $250 million, according to M. Steven West, chairman of the Klamath County Board of Commissioners.

Most Endangered Rivers
We are currently accepting nominations for the Most Endangered Rivers list of 2002.
Find out how you can nominate your river!


6) Mining: two new reports
Mountaintop removal mining and other strip mining practices make flooding more likely and more severe, according to a still-unreleased study by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and the Army Corps of Engineers. According to the study, mining of Samples Mine, which straddles Kayford Mountain in West Virginia, could increase peak storm runoff by up to 10 percent. However, as reports the Charleston Gazette (7/11/01), "agency officials have no plans to review active or reclaimed permits for site-specific flooding potential," and will conduct such reviews only for new and revised permits.

In Montana, a report by a Montana Department of Environmental Quality hydrologist says that mining underneath the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness could potentially drain alpine lakes and contaminate mountain streams. As reports the Spokesman Review (7/12/01), the news has pushed the state and the US Forest Service to impose new conditions to reduce those risks on the proposed Rock Creek Mine. The final environmental impact statement for the copper and silver mine owned by Sterling Mining Company should be finished by the end of the summer. Even if the mine is permitted, it is too soon at this point to say whether mining operations will ever actually go forward at the site.

7) Hudson River PCBs
One hundred separate lawsuits in a Warren County, NY neighborhood are being filed against General Electric. The residents filing the suits, seeking billions in damages, are saying the company damaged property and human health and should be held liable for the cleanup of the neighborhood.

For decades, GE was responsible for PCBs saturating yards and accumulating in capacitor junkyards. As reports the Times Union (7/11/01), the lawsuits "represent a rare, if not unprecedented, legal action in the 25-year saga surrounding PCB contamination from GE's Hudson Falls and Fort Edward capacitor plants." While GE admits that it contaminated the Hudson River with PCBs, the company says it did not directly pollute the properties in question. Instead, says the company, in many cases private companies, local residents and the state carried out the actions that covered the area with PCBs.

Read more about the Hudson, one of this year's Most Endangered Rivers:
Show your support for river conservation

Join our thousands of supporters from across the country-- become a member of American Rivers today!


8) Dredging the Providence River
The Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to release a final plan to spend $104.1 million to dredge the Providence River after almost 30 years of debate and controversy. As reports the Providence Journal (7/8/01), "the Corps and dredging supporters say that the state's largest commercial port will be jeopardized if silt that has clogged the shipping channel over the last three decades isn't removed." Opponents disagree, saying the Providence River and Narragansett Bay will suffer needless damage from the digging up and dumping of sediment.

Public hearings will be held by the Corps this fall, with a plan finalized in December, and dredging to start one year later and be finished by August 2004. The total cost of $104.3 million would be shared by the state of Rhode Island and the federal government, with the state paying about $12.3 million.

Acceptance of the plan relies on what would happen to the dredged material. Rather than dumping the material at sea, some can be used for construction projects. While the Corps says that about 10 percent of the material can be used for construction, environmentalists say that number is too low.

However, even critics say the current plan is better than the previously proposed plan of 1998. With the current plan, the Corps will dispose of the 1.3 million cubic yards of contaminated material in holes dug in the harbor after clean sand and soil is removed. It will then be capped with clean material.

9) Maine rivers
The Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine are "preparing a Supreme Court challenge to state and federal court decisions that gave paper companies access to tribal documents, in a dispute that could ripple beyond the immediate fight over the quality of river water." As reports the Portland Press Herald (7/8/01), the paper companies Great Northern Paper Inc., Georgia-Pacific Corp., and Champion International Corp. have been working for more than a year to get access to tribal documents regarding a dispute over whether the state or the federal government will regulate water quality in the Penobscot River and other area waterways. The companies hope the paperwork will lend additional insight into water regulation. Because of a unique state law treating tribes like municipalities, several layers of courts, including the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, have determined that the companies deserve access to the paperwork However, the tribes say that turning over their tribal documents would threaten their culture and independence.

The whole debate stems from the state's attempt to become the sole regulator of wastewater discharges into Maine rivers. In the past, both the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have licensed the companies and cities that pour wastewater into state waters. The paper companies support the efforts of the state, hoping to streamline regulations. However, the tribes appreciate federal oversight, which they feel holds the politically powerful paper companies at bay.

10) Chesapeake Bay
Biologists monitoring Maryland waters have found toxic algae throughout the state, which could seriously harm aquatic life in the Chesapeake Bay. The biologists have been regularly checking the waters for the toxic algae Pfiesteria since 1997, when it killed fish and sickened people on some Eastern Shore rivers. Their tests, however, have found two previously unknown varieties of algae, in addition to Pfiesteria, that could kill Bay creatures. As reports the New York Times (7/10/01), "while those algae have not been linked to human illnesses in the United States, evidence indicates that they can kill underwater grasses, prevent oyster larvae from hatching, contaminate shellfish, and damage other fragile bay life." This year, low levels of Pfiesteria were found at three sites on the Pocomoke and Chicamicomico Rivers and on Fishing Bay, but no fish kills have yet been reported.

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