The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built and operates four federal dams on the lower Snake River, and four more on the Columbia River. Fishery agencies estimate these dams and reservoirs account for about 95 percent of all human-caused mortality to Snake River salmon.
The Bonneville Power Administration
markets electricity produced by the dams. Of the three federal
hydro agencies, BPA is the most active
The Bureau of Reclamation built and
operates Grand Coulee Dam on the upper Columbia, and several dams
on the upper Snake River in Idaho. These projects are located above
current salmon habitat, but can provide water to boost flow levels
downstream through the Army Corps projects.
National Marine Fisheries Service implements the Endangered Species
Act for marine species, which include Pacific salmon and steelhead.
NMFS has authority under the act to approve or order changes in
federal hydrosystem operations. Since Snake River salmon were
listed in 1992, NMFS has focused its authority almost exclusively
on increasing upstream water releases for salmon flows. It has not
ordered structural changes at the dams themselves, and has allowed
the Army Corps to intensify barging of juvenile salmon rather than
promote in-river migration.
NMFS must also
develop a recovery plan for Snake River salmon; the first draft
from its recovery team emphasized salmon barging, while
de-emphasizing "major overhaul" of the hydrosystem for explicitly
economic reasons. Judge Marsh's call for just such an overhaul now
casts doubt on the lawfulness of that draft. A final recovery plan
is perhaps a year away.
The U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service has various authorities for salmon, but not
Endangered Species Act authority. To the extent the "federal
family" concept has allowed, FWS has been the primary scientific
critic of juvenile salmon barging - a position in accord with the
state and tribal position but at variance with its fellow federal
fishery agency, NMFS.
The White House's overt
involvement in Columbia Basin salmon has so far been restricted to
observation of events from within the Office on Environmental
Policy. There has been no attempt, at least visibly, to guide or
ensure united policy by bringing all the above agencies
The Fish Passage Center is operated by
three state fishery agencies and the Columbia River's four treaty
Indian tribes. It monitors how well or badly juvenile and adult
salmon are faring as they navigate the hydrosystem, and it requests
specific operations at the dams (water releases, spill, etc.) to
aid salmon migration. The center can only request, not order, such
operations from the Army