PORTLAND, Ore. A federal judge who presided over the Columbia River Basin salmon case for years told a public television station that the Snake River's four hydroelectric dams should be breached to help wild salmon.
U.S. District Judge James Redden's comments to Idaho Public Television were recorded for an upcoming Outdoor Idaho documentary and brief video and audio clips were released Wednesday, The Oregonian reported ( http://is.gd/lTVhp8).
"I think we need to take those dams down," Redden said in the interview.
"Trying to take out a dam is not, not very difficult," Redden added. "It's a lot easier than it is putting them up. You don't just take the whole thing down, you just let the water go around it. You just dig out the ditch and let it go around."
The 83-year-old Portland, Ore., judge took himself off the case last fall after earlier rejecting a third federal government plan to balance hydropower operations with the needs of salmon and steelhead listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
U.S. District Judge Michael Simon now oversees the matter. Redden is still practicing, though with a reduced caseload.
Defenders of the Snake River dams say they are needed for reliable power production. Opponents say the harm they do to imperiled fish runs outweighs their benefits.
Redden rejected salmon restoration plans, known as biological opinions, from three presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama.
Last August, he ruled that the Obama administration's update of the last Bush plan was too vague to meet the demands of the Endangered Species Act. Redden added that he didn't think habitat improvements alone would do the job and said it was time to consider new options, including removing some of the dams. He left the plan in force through 2013, when a more specific plan is due.
Redden's 2006 order that water be diverted from turbines to spill over dams and help young salmon migrating to the ocean is his top contribution, Pat Ford, executive director of the conservation coalition Save Our Wild Salmon, said last fall. That order has resulted in increased returns of wild and hatchery salmon alike, Ford said.