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BOISE — U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon has approved an increased-spill plan for eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers to benefit future generations of salmon and steelhead.

“This past year’s salmon returns were the worst we’ve seen in decades,” Idaho Rivers United Executive Director Kevin Lewis said in a statement. “Our salmon need help immediately. We know that the more a river works like a river, the better it is for salmon and steelhead. That’s the basic premise behind spill. Dam removal is the surest way to restore our salmon and steelhead, but letting water pour over spillways better emulates the way a natural river would work. Science has proved that it boosts salmon survival.”

The new spill plan requires as much spill as is allowed under current state water-quality rules for total dissolved gas. Higher spill helps juvenile salmon migrate past the dams more quickly and safely. It’s proven to result in higher adult returns in subsequent years.

“There is no real scientific dispute that voluntary spill to the level required by the court will avoid harm to juvenile salmon,” Earthjustice attorney Todd True — the lead attorney for IRU and allied organizations — said in a statement. “In fact, it is very likely that higher-level spill could afford additional salmon-survival improvements. In addition, this spill order has been carefully crafted to avoid any unintended negative consequences to navigation and other resources.”

The federal government has simultaneously filed an appeal of Simon’s ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal is on an expedited schedule and is expected to be resolved before the official beginning of the 2018 salmon-migration season.

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