Water: law/policy/politics/ethics/art/science

CRT: 3,200 citizens ask U.S. to restore Columbia River ecosystem

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The Columbia River Treaty is in motion.  While U.S. and Canadian diplomats won’t start talking until 2014, U.S. agencies are asking citizens what they want to see in a new treaty.  And the resounding response is: ecosystem restoration, fish passage, clean energy, and fair and transparent governance.

In response to an August 16 deadline, more than 3,200 members of Sierra Club, Save Our Wild Salmon, Oregon WaterWatch, Idaho Rivers United, and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy weighed in.  They  offered their opinions to Bonneville Power and the Corps of Engineers that a modernized treaty must prioritize ecosystem restoration as a new and co-equal purpose for Columbia River dams.  And, it is time to work toward fish passage to restore salmon to the upper Columbia River in the U.S. (e.g., the Spokane River) and British Columbia.

The U.S. agencies will be refining recommendations for a new round of public comment starting around September 19.  Stay tuned and get ready.

However, let us not be deceived.  The electric utilities and water users are demanding more out of the river, including that there be no further efforts or money spent to restore salmon and ecosystem function.  Look for our upcoming post on “Power Politics.”

Meanwhile, here are a few excerpts from the many inspiring comments:

From Judge Mary Pearson:

I’m not a scientist, nor a hydroelectric engineer, but I know that the dams have decimated the salmon and that this has been an ongoing fact.  Some of the dams need to be breached.  Others need to at least install modern, workable, and reliable bypasses for the returning salmon as well as devising a faster, easier, and safer way to get the smolts to the ocean.  If a pneumatic tube can be created to transport man from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a few minutes, it can do the same for the salmon.

From Ms./Mr. Finley:

“No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man,” (Heraclitus, circa 535-475 BC.)

I submit that the Columbia is not the same river it was back in 1964, when global warming and climate change were interesting if debatable theories, fracking was not exactly a household word, and residents of the Pacific Northwest gloried in our land’s cheap electricity, its beauty and seemingly forever adequate natural resources. We are not the same people as we were in the ’60’s. Hopefully new concerns of which we were barely aware in 1964 will be addressed and experience and education will give us wisdom to make protection of the environment our top priority. Thank you for the opportunity to submit a comment.

From Prof. Barbara Cosens of the University of Idaho, on behalf of the Universities Consortium on Columbia River Governance:

 The following comments are based on issues raised by stakeholders either in interviews done by students or in symposia held by the UCCRG. . . .

(2) Although the draft mentions possible attention to a program to reconnect areas of floodplain to the river, this does not go nearly as far as comments by stakeholders suggest it should. Model runs indicate that flood control at 450 cfs primarily through use of a limited list of dams is the major constraint on the system and makes it difficult to balance tradeoffs between power and fish. Stakeholders have raised that serious consideration should be given to raising the target risk level, doing a cost/benefit analysis of potential flood damage to determine what that higher risk should be, spreading flood control implementation to all federal dams in the system – not just those with current flood control authorization, and serious study of non-structural measures for flood risk management.

And, from Kayla L. Godowa-Tufti, member of the Warm Springs Tribe:

Hydropower, to those who have fished and lived along our river since time immemorial, has come at the expense of our entire unique cultural identities. When the dams were constructed our villages, thousand year old fishing sites and burial sites were drowned by the closing of the iron gates.

Currently, as has been reported, many of these dams are now outdated, leaking contaminants into the river and at high risk for breakage. In this critical age of climate change, in the event of a flood, could these dams withstand the pressure from these waters?

I have also been made aware of the current state of the largest environmental clean up project in the world, Hanford, and its leakage of high level radioactive waste into the soil and river. Radioactive waste leakage, floods, along with the out dated dams and their risk of breakage, these accumulative factors could be fatal. I cannot help but think of Fukushima. I do not want my home to be uninhabitable. So, I am challenging our nation, the United States, to honor our treaties and prioritize salmon and river health.

A collective vision is developing for upcoming change on the Columbia River.

Author: naiads

Opinionated (retired) public interest water lawyer

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