New Judge To Hear Arguments On Columbia River Dams And Salmon

The first powerhouse of the Bonneville Dam, 40 miles east of Portland, on the Columbia River.WikiCommons
The first powerhouse of the Bonneville Dam, 40 miles east of Portland, on the Columbia River.


by Cassandra Profita, OPB/EarthFix


The longstanding legal battle over maintaining dams and salmon in the Columbia River is back in court this week. On Tuesday, a new judge will hear arguments on the Obama administration’s latest salmon plan.

Conservation groups along with the state of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe have challenged the 2014 biological opinion, or BiOp, that guides dam operations. They’ll argue their case before Oregon U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon, who took over the case when Judge James Redden retired.

The question behind the case:  how to offset the impacts of Columbia River dams on threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. That question has been subject to more than 20 years of legal conflict. Tuesday’s hearing is a continuation of a lawsuit that was filed in 2001.

Federal agencies that run the Columbia River hydropower system have submitted several salmon protection plans under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, but they’ve all been challenged and ultimately rejected in court. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration will defend their 2014 plan on Tuesday.

Supporters of the plan say strong salmon returns in recent years prove the latest plan is working. But opponents say it doesn’t do much more to protect salmon than previous plans already struck down by the courts.

Before retiring, Redden rejected the Obama administration’s 2011 salmon plan. After announcing he would step down from presiding over the case, he said in an interview that the four dams on the lower Snake River should be removed as a way to help struggling salmon runs. He also supported spilling more water over dams and increasing water flows to help young salmon and steelhead migrate to the ocean.

Joseph Bogaard, executive director of the plaintiff group Save Our Wild Salmon, said the administration’s new plan doesn’t consider Redden’s recommendations, and it actually allows the government to reduce the amount of water spilled over dams to help fish.

“So, they’re moving in the wrong direction,” he said. “In many ways this plan is simply just a recycled version of the plan that was invalidated by the court in 2011. Though, this plan actually allows for a reduction in spill. So, in that regard the new pan is actually weaker than the plan it seeks to replace.”

Terry Flores of Northwest RiverPartners represents commerce and industry groups that defend dams on the Columbia and lower Snake rivers. She said the current salmon plan does a lot to help salmon, including investing around $100 million a year in habitat restoration.  High rates of salmon survival show that the plan is working, she said, including the amount of water being spilled over dams to help fish.

“We’re seeing incredible results,” she said. “The federal agencies did look at the spill program and reached the conclusion that it’s working very well. It wasn’t like they didn’t look at it. They looked at it and said it is absolutely working.”

Flores said only Congress can address the removal of the lower Snake River dams.

Groups Negotiate To End Megaloads Lawsuit

Members of the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho block the passage of a “megaload” being shipped by Omega Morgan in August 2013. | credit: Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network
Members of the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho block the passage of a “megaload” being shipped by Omega Morgan in August 2013. | credit: Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network


Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Rivers United and the Nez Perce Tribe are in mediation with the U.S. Forest Service to end a lawsuit concerning megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 in northern Idaho.

Kevin Lewis of Idaho Rivers United said Wednesday the groups are seeking to have the federal agency come up with specific rules concerning gigantic loads traveling on the northern Idaho route that includes a federally designated Wild and Scenic River corridor as well as tribal land.

The groups sued the Forest Service last year, and U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in September granted a preliminary injunction halting shipments.

His ruling required the Forest Service to conduct a corridor review, and the agency on Monday released a document attempting to assess impacts the giant loads have passing through the rugged area.

Nez Perce Tribe’s Resistance to Keystone XL Pipeline is Nothing New

Renée Holt, Native News Network, Guest Commentary

As I enjoy the last day of summer break, before I return back to school, I have been thinking about the recent media publicity my tribal community has received regarding the Keystone XL pipeline.

As an enrolled member of the Nez Perce Tribe, and a mother to three beautiful children, a couple weeks ago, our community, the Nimiipuu (aka the Real People) stood in solidarity with our First Nations brothers and sisters in Canada who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.

Keystone XL Pipeline Resistance

Our community has been protesting the Megaloads for well over two years.


Although regional media has highlighted the Nez Perce tribal council arrests and members of our community for their Indigenous activism, what media has failed to see is that our community has been protesting the Megaloads for well over two years. It just happens to be that we held our first town hall meeting in March 2011 and Winona La Duke shared information on the negative effects of the Keystone XL and the importance of a protest.

In collaboration with the grassroots organizations Friends of the Clearwater and Wild Idaho Rising Tide (who have worked tirelessly on this environmental issue) our tribal council made an informed decision with the intention of making it known the Nimiipuu oppose the Keystone XL pipeline and the transportation of the Megaloads through our ancestral homelands.

From the ancestral homelands of the Nimiipuu people, located in North Central Idaho, I am writing this to members of society, both Indigenous AND non Indigenous, to do more than question and challenge this global climate issue, but to also help fight the battle against the Keystone XL pipeline.

It has been shown in studies from the Environmental Protection Agency and grassroots organizations such as the Rainforest Action Network that gas emissions were toxic and communities located near these sites have higher rates of cancer and contamination of water resources. Not only do the Indigenous communities that are located near these sites suffer, but so do the plants and wild life. If there is one common thread we share as citizens of the global community, it is this, water is necessary to live. Once water is poisoned, we’re all poisoned.

Keystone XL Pipeline Resistance

We need to educate and inform citizens and look respectively at Indigenous governments who are protecting their homelands.


Whether in the United States or Canada, Indigenous lands and surrounding areas are continually being devastated by oil pipelines. The lives of people, wildlife and plants suffer and the Megaloads protest ought to remind us, as human beings, the value and sacredness of life is a responsibility. Whether Indigenous or non Indigenous, as humans, to oppose and protest the Keystone XL Megaloads being transported through ancestral homelands is rooted in a responsibility to community and Mother Earth. At this time, due to frustrations with the US Forest Service, the Nimiipuu community and grassroots efforts have filed a lawsuit.

If they are not stopped, the Keystone XL pipeline devastation will continue and the health and well being of those who live near these environmental hazardous areas, regardless of racial ethnicity, will be negatively affected. As an Indigenous woman, I am writing this to share with non Indigenous readers a little bit of who we are as people. Because we often make our homes where our ancestors made their homes, we also live on reserves/reservations that were at one time unwanted land. Today, the unwanted land is now sought by big oil corporations where environmental hazards have disrupted and devastated the ecosystem.

I also believe it is important to mention that the Keystone XL pipeline is an international issue. The responsibility is that of Secretary of State John Kerry to oversee international issues as appointed by President Obama.