GRANTS PASS - Salmon advocates and the state of Oregon are asking a federal judge to order more water spilled over Columbia and Snake River dams to help young salmon migrate downriver to the ocean.

The motion for an injunction was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

It is part of the litigation over how to balance hydroelectric needs against threatened and endangered salmon in the Columbia Basin. Water spilled over the dams doesn't go through turbines to generate power, costing the Bonneville Power Administration millions of dollars.

Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association said evidence shows that increased spill is responsible for improved salmon returns this year, and the dam operators should do even more.

U.S. District Judge James Redden is scheduled to hear arguments on the merits of the latest challenge to the Bush administration's plan for balancing salmon and dams - known as a biological opinion - on Jan. 16, and rule on the motion seeking more water over the dams sometime afterward.

The federal agencies that operate the dams said in a joint statement that they are happy with the latest operation plan, their breakthrough cooperation agreements with Indian tribes along the river, and work on improving juvenile fish passage over and through the dams as well as river habitat.

"After two years of regional collaboration on a plan for Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead, it is clear we have found common ground," said the statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration. "This is no longer just a federal plan, it is now more of a regional plan explicitly supported by three states and six tribes."

Columbia Basin salmon returns have historically been the West Coast's largest, and once numbered 10 million to 30 million, but overfishing, habitat loss, pollution and dam construction over the past century have caused their numbers to dwindle precipitously.

Dozens of populations have gone extinct, and 13 are listed as threatened or endangered species, making it necessary for federal projects such as the hydroelectric system to show they can be operated without harming them. The last three plans for balancing salmon and dams, known as biological opinions, failed to pass legal muster.

Each of the dams kills only a small percentage of the millions of young salmon headed downstream during their spring and summer migrations to the ocean, but that adds up to a major death toll.

Those problems are compounded by climatic conditions that promise to make salmon restoration even tougher in the future.

Feds come through with $70 million for salmon

GRANTS PASS - The Bush administration has come through with the remaining $70 million of the disaster relief that Congress appropriated to help salmon fishermen and related business after the West Coast fishery collapsed last summer.

Congress appropriated $170 million, but last September the administration started handing out only $100 million. It said it wanted to use the rest to help cover costs of the census, but would supply the aid to the salmon industry once the fiscal year changed.

NOAA Fisheries Regional Director Bob Lohn said the money was released after Congress refused to go along with a request from the Office of Management and Budget to redirect it.

So far, the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission has distributed about $75 million, primarily to commercial fishermen and processors, said Executive Director Randy Fisher. About 12 percent is going to Washington, 16 percent to Oregon and 72 percent to California.

This year's disaster relief is going much further than aid distributed in 2006, when only commercial fishermen and processors got money.

The fishery failure stemmed from the sudden collapse of the chinook salmon run from California's Sacramento River and of coho from coastal rivers in Oregon. NOAA Fisheries has said that a flip-flop in atmospheric conditions is producing a bumper crop of food for the young salmon entering the ocean this year, so the numbers of adults are expected to be plentiful starting in 2010.

"Oregon fishermen need these funds to be able to make house and boat payments, put food on the table and support their families in a struggling economy," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

"The salmon fishing industry is vital to the economy of Southwest Washington, and to the Northwest as a whole," said Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash. "Getting this aid to these commercial fishermen will not only help them survive during these tough economic times, but will help us all in the long run."

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