WASHINGTON, D.C. - More than a hundred members of Congress sent a letter to President George Bush two weeks ago urging "that all scientifically credible options" be considered for restoring stocks of Northwest salmon and steelhead, including breaching Snake River dams and more flow augmentation from Idaho and Canada.
The letter reached the White House a few days after Columbia Basin fish managers boosted the size of the fall Chinook run once again. The 900,000-plus fish return will be the largest since 1942.
The letter, sponsored by House member Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), cited a 2002 study by the General Accounting Office that said the GAO found little evidence to quantify benefits from $3.3 billion BPA had spent on fish in the past 10 years.
BPA took issue with the GAO report, saying that it seriously underestimated fish recovery costs by neglecting to include foregone revenues and power purchase cost for operations, which totaled more than $2 billion over the past five years. NOAA Fisheries had taken issue with the report as well, citing research that found major improvements to juvenile fish survival after 1993, when extensive dam modifications began.
The letter from Congress claimed the 2000 hydro BiOp was seriously under-funded, to the tune of almost $500 million annually. That's likely based on internal NOAA e-mail cited by environmental groups that suggested more funding was needed than appropriated. NOAA officials later said the e-mail was merely part of the policy dialog and did not represent the agency's final position.
The letter also said the recent court ruling that invalidated the BiOp means the Administration is faced with "crafting a new, scientific and economically viable plan that not only protects, but restores salmon to self-sustaining, harvestable populations." However the judge himself said his ruling wasn't based on scientific issues, but on the relative uncertainty that offsite mitigation was going to take place.
The letter said complete restoration was necessary to meet tribal treaty requirements. This year's Columbia River fall run was so large and prices so poor that participation in the Indian fishery above Bonneville dam was down from previous years and some fishers quit early because of deteriorating markets.
Three Washington Democrats signed the letter, Adam Smith, Jay Inslee and Jim McDermott, along with Oregon's Blumenauer and fellow Democrat David Wu.
Smith spokesman Lars Anderson said his boss was mainly concerned about the economic side of the salmon recovery issue to ensure that the final plan is "fiscally responsible. Inslee told the mainstream press that he didn't favor dismantling the four dams.
A dozen House Republicans also signed the letter, including Thomas Petri (R-WI) who co-sponsored legislation last year with Washington's McDermott that called for the GAO to undertake a study of the economic effects of partial dam removal.
The bill, called the Salmon Planning Act, was originally co-sponsored by 89 members of the 107th Congress and asked the Corps of Engineers to conduct preliminary engineering studies for breaching the dams, as well as authorizing the Corps to remove the dams if necessary, a power that now resides with Congress.