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Originally published January 27, 2014 at 4:04 PM | Page modified January 28, 2014 at 11:44 AM

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Editorial: Water over dams saves salmon

Will a new federal judge find a the latest Columbia River salmon plan to be a reasonable and prudent alternative? History argues against it.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE latest version of the federal operating plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers is déjà vu all over again for many of the parties wondering what would emerge from a 2011 court order to try again, and report back in 2014.

Earlier this month the Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was back with a plan that says continued reliance on habitat and tributary improvements would ensure the survival of salmon and steelhead species in the Columbia River system.

The point of the biological opinion is to make sure that operation of the dams and the federal power system do not compromise fish survival.

U.S. District Court Judge James Redden, who had knocked down three earlier versions of the plan, rejected the 2011 plan because it put the economic interests of river operations above saving endangered fish. The plan was too narrowly centered on habitat mitigation, and lacked reliable, aggressive actions, the judge ruled.

One of those points was additional flow over the dams in the spring and summer to help scoot salmon safely toward the ocean.

Critics of the latest plan, including Joseph Bogaard, executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, do not see a robust role for spill in the new plan.

In 2011, Redden said the plan was adequate for the near term, but not through the life of the plan, through 2018. He wanted hard and fast plans and measurable results.

The plan is likely to be challenged in court, and it will fall to federal Judge Michael Simon to see if the plan is as vague and mushy as viewed by Redden, who subsequently retired.

Two lessons seem to be operative here. One is the role of spill to improve salmon survival and returns; no salmon were trucked before the dams appeared. And this ongoing discussion needs the broadest possible collaboration of stakeholders to succeed.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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