VANCOUVER, Wash. - The ride over the Columbia and Snake rivers' dam system could be a bit smoother this year - if you're a salmon.
The agencies responsible for operating the dams say this week that they will allow the same amount of water to flow over the dams as they have for the last five years. It's one way to help migrating fish get safely past the dams. The higher spill level, which was court-ordered in recent years, is being cited as one reason salmon numbers have increased.
Rock Peters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Fisheries Program manager, says the spill action covers April through June, when fish are heading to the ocean.
"I think our focus this year is, this operation is consistent with 2010 and previous years, and we do anticipate that we're going to get very high survival through the system, especially in a good water year."
Spill levels have been controversial because if more water goes over the dams, less is used to generate power. Peters says tribes, states and federal agencies had input into the decision.
An even bigger decision is on the horizon: a court ruling on the future of the federal salmon plan. Advocates for native salmon say it doesn't do enough to bring some species back from endangered status. But Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations
, says he's encouraged by this week's spill announcement.
"I'm hopeful that this does mean that the agencies see that the science is pretty clear - that spill helps fish. The reality is, when the fish are in the river and the river is run like a river, the fish swimming through it do much better than if they go through the turbines."
Spain's group, and others advocating for salmon recovery, say it's about more than the fish; the health of the fishing industry and coastal communities is also at stake.
"All the way up into southeast Alaska and all the way down to middle California is influenced by the numbers and the health of the salmon runs in the Columbia-Snake River."
The federal court decision is expected early this summer.