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Salmon to Get Spring Relief with Added Dam Spills

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A federal court has mandated that dams in the Columbia River Basin increase spill for salmon four times since 2005. (U.S. Forest Service/Flickr)
A federal court has mandated that dams in the Columbia River Basin increase spill for salmon four times since 2005. (U.S. Forest Service/Flickr)
 By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA - Producer, Contact
April 3, 2018

SEATTLE – A U.S. appeals court on Monday upheld a decision to allow Northwest dams to release more water over their spillways to help young salmon heading toward the ocean. Dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers will begin spilling more water in the next week.

Federal agencies appealed a decision last year to enable more spill, saying there wasn't enough time to come up with a plan. This year, the agencies argued that salmon weren't in need of this extra protection. However, the three-judge appeals court agreed with U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon that salmon are in a "precarious" state.

Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda says spill has a proven track record for helping juvenile salmon.

"Spill is really the one bright spot in efforts to preserve salmon over the past 10 years or so," he explains. "It's really the one most direct measure that we know will make a difference for fish. And so, it's the one thing that we have some control over."

This is the fourth time since 2005 that increased spill has been mandated by a federal court. The decision marks a win for plaintiffs in the case, which included conservation and fishing groups, the Nez Perce Tribe and the state of Oregon.

However, Joseph Bogaard, executive director of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, says the spill is only one part of efforts to restore the regions' salmon. He says the federal government continues to propose inadequate plans to save the 13 populations of Columbia River Basin salmon that have been endangered for the past two decades, and that's hurt the people of the Northwest.

"I think it's very safe to say that fishing businesses and fishing people are very concerned about livelihoods, about fishing opportunities, and about what the future holds, especially given the continuing resistance on the part of the agencies," he says.

Bogaard says orcas have suffered in recent decades too because of declining salmon populations, one of their major food sources.

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