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Scientists and Obama Administration at Odds over Spill & Salmon

April 12, 2010

SEATTLE - Keep spilling Snake River water over the dams to protect young salmon. That's the bottom line in a new report by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB), and it comes on the heels of a request by the Obama administration to significantly cut back on the amount of water that bypasses power-generating turbines this spring because of tighter-than-usual water supplies.

Jim Martin, conservation director for the Pure Fishing fishing tackle company, says, "This is the first test of what the Obama administration's fundamental priority is: Is it to protect electrical rates or to protect endangered fish? This is the time to prioritize the fish. That's what's demanded by the law, and it's demanded by the science."

U.S. District Court Judge James Redden requested the scientific report. He is expected to rule in a matter of weeks on whether to continue the spill program.

Opponents contend spill does not always lead to higher survival rates for salmon but does raise power rates. Glen Spain, regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, disagrees, saying the new report verifies that spill does protect young salmon and calling the power rate-increase statement misleading.

"In fact, that's not the case in this instance, because the spill program that has been ordered by the judge is already figured in the rates. Therefore, continuing along the same path will have no impact at all on rates."

The federal National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed eliminating key portions of the spill program. Martin says he is disappointed.

"They purported to support transparent science, so why is it we have to fight them every step of the way in Judge Redden's court to stand up for these fish as required by the law? From this administration, I expected more."

Information about the ISAB research is available at www.nwcouncil.org.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - WA