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Appellate court backs hydroelectric operations on Snake


SPOKANE -- A federal appeals court yesterday upheld the federal government's operation of four hydroelectric dams on the Snake River, saying the Army Corps of Engineers keeps water temperatures as low as it can to protect endangered salmon.
The split decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Army Corps against environmental groups, and concluded that the agency is complying with state water-quality standards as required by the Clean Water Act.
It was a victory for forces that want to keep the dams over those calling for removal of the structures.
Kristen Boyles, a lawyer with Earthjustice in Seattle, said it was too early to say whether the decision would be appealed.
"We are disappointed with the decision," she said, but added environmentalists agreed with many of the points made in "a strong dissent."
The issue of water temperatures will come up repeatedly in the future as efforts to save endangered salmon and steelhead runs continue, Boyles said.
The corps was pleased that the appeals court concluded it was doing all it could to keep water temperatures low, said Witt Anderson, chief of fish management for the agency in Portland.
"We're doing all the operational things we can do to address those concerns," Anderson said.
Actions taken by the corps to benefit salmon include releasing cold water from the depths of reservoirs behind Libby and Dworshak dams to cool the river in summer, storing more water behind dams for later release to benefit fish and lowering reservoirs during the spring migration so river currents are faster.
The corps operates the Columbia River Power System, which provides much of the electric power of the Pacific Northwest. Four of the dams -- Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite -- are on the Snake River in Eastern Washington.
Those dams are blamed by environmental groups for destroying wild salmon runs in the region, and a bitterly fought campaign has been under way for years to remove them.
Federal law requires the dams to comply with Washington state water quality standards, and the state of Washington has set a water temperature standard of 20 degrees Celsius that must not be exceeded by human activities.
Higher temperatures harm the fish.
The state since 1994 has argued that the dams have violated its temperature standards.
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