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Latest CBB News > Chapter I

EXCERPT: Chapter I

Salmon and Hydro: An Account of Litigation over Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinions for Salmon and Steelhead, 1991-2009

I. 1991-1995: Three ESA Listings, Four Biological Opinions, Five Court Challenges

 . . . NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service) then issued another biological opinion in 1993 only for operations covering the period April 1993 to January 1994. NOAA concluded that the dams during those 10 months were "not likely to jeopardize the continued existence" of the listed species.

In particular, the biological opinion predicted that the population of two of the listed species would stabilize over the next four life cycles.

NOAA predicted the proposed actions would decrease mortality by amounts ranging from between 2.5 and 11.4 percent for Snake River spring/summer chinook and between 5.1 and 8.9 percent for Snake River fall chinook.

The state of Idaho filed suit against this 1993 BiOp.

The challenge came at the time Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus was pushing for federal agencies to adopt the so-called Idaho Plan, which called for drawing down reservoirs in the spring on the lower Snake and Columbia Rivers. Idaho contended that drawdowns would increase the river current through the slack water behind the dams, helping flush juvenile salmon migrants to the sea.

Drawdown advocates contended barging fish around the dams had failed to restore fish runs.

And some Idaho interests looked to drawdowns as a way to reduce calls for using southern Idaho irrigation water to increase flows for salmon.

Experimental drawdowns implemented behind two dams had prompted widespread opposition from interests who depend on the reservoirs – barge companies, ports, marinas, irrigators, inland farmers, timber companies and others.

The drawdown issue was not specifically mentioned in Idaho’s challenge to the 1993 BiOp. Instead, Idaho and other opponents of the biological opinion stressed that federal agencies had missed the mark on measuring the true risk of salmon extinction.

In the 1994 case, Idaho vs. NMFS, Judge Marsh struck down the 1993 BiOp as inadequate.

“…the process is seriously, significantly, flawed because it is too heavily geared towards a status quo that has allowed all forms of river activity to proceed in a deficit situation – that is, relatively small steps, minor improvements and adjustments – when the situation literally cries out for a major overhaul.” . . . .


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I. 1991-1995: Three ESA Listings, Four Biological Opinions, Five Court Challenges

II. 1995-1998: Reasonable And Prudent Alternatives, Spread The Risk, Long-Term Configuration, Adaptive Management; River Governance; Regional Parties Stake Their Positions; A BiOp Finally Passes Legal Muster

III. 1998-1999: More ESA Listings; A Supplemental Steelhead BiOp Guiding River Operations; Independent Science Advisory Board Weighs In On Smolt Transportation; Appeals Court Upholds 1995 BiOp; Supplemental BiOps On New Listings, Snake Water

IV. 1999-2004: Not Just Hydro, But All The ‘Hs’; Recovery In 48 years?; Mitigation Must Be Certain To Occur; Another BiOp Bites The Dust; A Remand; Corps Rules On Snake River Dam Removal

V. 2004-2008: A New BiOp Says No Jeopardy From Hydro Operations; A New ‘Environmental Baseline’; Redden Says No Again; Discretionary Actions vs. Non-Discretionary (Dams’ Existence); Court Runs The River; Upper Snake River Gets Own BiOp

VI. 2008-2009: A ‘Collaborative’ BiOp; New Fish Funding Agreements, New BiOp Support; Montana Finally Likes The Reservoir Plan; Earthjustice Says New Approach Inadequate; Oregon Left As Only State Opposed To BiOp; Should Independent Scientists Evaluate BiOp?; Parties To Litigation Grows; Clean Water Act Now An Issue; A New Round Of Briefings

VII. Conclusion: Rushing To Redden’s Finish Line




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