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CNN Today

Environmental Group Names Lower Snake River Country's Most Endangered

Aired March 9, 2000 - 2:29 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: A Washington D.C.-based environmental group is naming the country's most endangered river. And for the second year in a row, it's the Lower Snake River, which winds through Washington State.

Here's CNN's environment correspondent Natalie Pawelski.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NATALIE PAWELSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Salmon and steelhead struggling back to their spawning grounds, an ancient migration now blocked by a series of hydroelectric dams. The fish are dying out and time is running out. That's why American Rivers is naming the Lower Snake River the United States' most endangered waterway for the second year in a row.

REBECCA WODDER, AMERICAN RIVERS: Once, when we had millions of fish going up that river, we now we have just, maybe, a few thousand. We've seen salmon runs come down by 90 percent.

DEMONSTRATORS: Hey, hey, ho, ho, those dams have got to go.

PAWELSKI: In a mini-migration of their own, activists call on the White House to support removing the dams, as part of the recovery plan for endangered Snake River salmon.

The Snake River is the largest tributary of the Columbia, which empties into the Pacific. Activists say punching holes in four dams in Eastern Washington is the only way to save Snake River salmon.

Other efforts to help the fish, including giving young migrants a lift on their journey to the sea, do not seem to be working. Breaching the dams would pull the plug on about five percent of the region's electricity, hiking electric bills an estimated $1 to $5 a month. It would also end barge traffic on the Snake, forcing a lot of farmers to find a different way to get their crops to market.

But leaving the dams in place also carries a hefty price tag in damage to the local sport fishing business and commercial fisheries from Alaska to California.

And since native tribes have treaty rights to the salmon, killing the fish off could trigger an estimated $10 billion in compensation claims.

(on camera): The government was supposed to decide the fate of the dams last year. Now, a decision is expected sometime this summer. That could determine which survives: the dams or the fish.

Natalie Pawelski, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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