The first formal White House announcement about the future of the Snake river dams on the US’ Columbia river allayed fears of a swift resolution to the dam breaching debate. The Clinton Administration said on 19 July that it would be at least a decade before government agencies would consider asking Congress to authorise dam removal in order to restore salmon runs.

George Frampton, chairman of the Council on Environ-mental Quality, said that dam breaching is one step among many that holds promise for recovering the salmon runs, but that it is also clear that breaching may not be essential to recovery and probably would not be sufficient.

‘Dam breaching will require congressional authorisation, funding, detailed planning and execution over an uncertain period that is not likely to be less than a decade, and perhaps much longer,’ he said.

Frampton explained that the overall recovery strategy for Columbia river salmon stocks ‘will not subscribe to the premise championed by some that the region faces a simple, binary choice between breaching or not breaching the dams, and that salmon recovery hinges on that decision’.

The five-year, US$900M restoration plan will include extensive steps to recover salmon without removing dams on the lower Snake river. Wide ranging efforts such as habitat improvements, harvest restrictions and modifications to the operations of hydroelectric systems will be included. After five years, biological based performance measures in the plan will dictate whether the dams in question (Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite) should be removed.

The national-hydropower-association (NHA) commended the Administration for delaying its decision on dam removal but urged that new turbine technologies must be included in the salmon recovery plan.

NHA advocated incorporating the Advanced Hydropower Turbine Systems (AHTS) programme. A joint Department of the Environment and industry project to improve the performance of hydro power operations, the scheme has been running since 1994. A modified turbine tested earlier this year at Bonneville dam reduced downstream mortality by as much as 50%. However funding for the programme, which includes an array of biological and engineering studies, has been slow in forthcoming and only reached the US$5M level this year.