Judge orders dam spills in Northwest; critics may call on higher power

Just two weeks after ruling that the Bush administration plan to protect Northwest salmon was inadequate, on Friday U.S. District Judge James Redden issued an order for large-scale spilling of water at a number of dams that are hindering the ability of juvenile salmon to navigate downstream to sea. Critics — including power companies, some businesses, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), and other politicians — say the summer spills could lead to trouble for farmers who need the water for irrigation, a drop in energy produced by the hydropower dams, and a cost of some $67 million passed on to electricity consumers. Some federal officials say coming up with a protection plan that meets all the court’s technical and legal requirements may be impossible. The government, they say, may be forced to call on the so-called “God Squad” (!), a rarely used governing body, composed of seven cabinet secretaries, that has the power to decide if federal projects are more important than endangered-species protections.