Three suggested options were rejected by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when it publicised its comments on the US Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) draft environmental impact statement on the Lower Snake river dams in the northwest US. The USACE released its draft salmon recovery plan in December 1999 and the US$20M study outlined several alternatives to dam breaching. The Corps also claimed that the dams

do not adversely effect water quality.

The three alternatives to dam removal, proposed by USACE, were all deemed ‘environmentally unsatisfactory’ by the EPA. The EPA, one of nine federal agencies involved in the dam removal decision, concluded in its comments that the Snake river dams cause water quality violations that degrade the health of the watershed, killing and injuring salmon. According to the EPA, besides complying with the Endangered Species Act, the dams must also meet the terms of the Clean Water Act if they are to remain in place.

So far, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is the only other agency to conclude that dam removal is the best alternative for salmon recovery.

Furthermore, on 24 March a federal judge ruled that the Corps’ operation of the Lower Snake river dams must comply with Clean Water Act standards. The decision, which followed a lawsuit filed by conservation groups and the local Nez Perce tribe, did not say whether the dams currently violate the act.

The EPA’s rejection of the Corps options has injected new life into the conservationists campaign to demolish the dams.

Conservationists were disappointed recently when the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) decided to recommend possibly postponing the dam removal option for 5-10 years, until the success or failure of other conservation measures could be gauged. Environmentalists argue that every moment counts for Snake river salmon and steelhead. Extinction of these spccies have been predicted to occur as early as 2017.

The regional director of NMFS says that the sweeping recovery plan being developed for all 12 stocks of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin will not call for the immediate removal of the dams. The plan to leave the dams in place is still being drafted and needs approval from the Clinton administration.

The NMFS plan will call for vigorous efforts to protect streams used by spawning salmon and an intense program to gauge the recovery of salmon. If salmon numbers do not rebound, it says the fall back option, at least for the Snake river stocks, is full scale dam removal