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Originally published Friday, February 19, 2010 at 5:05 PM

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NOAA takes back plan making dams safer for salmon

The Obama administration is following a federal judge's advice and taking three months to once again try to improve the plan for making Columbia Basin hydroelectric dams safer for salmon.

AP Environmental Writer

GRANTS PASS, Ore. —

The Obama administration is following a federal judge's advice and taking three months to once again try to improve the plan for making Columbia Basin hydroelectric dams safer for salmon.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco issued a statement Friday saying the agency was happy to review new science on the issue and work with the parties challenging the legality of the plan to come up with something better, as the judge suggested.

U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland last week strongly urged NOAA Fisheries Service to voluntarily take back their proposed improvements to the Bush administration plan, known as a biological opinion.

Redden warned that as it stood, the plan was likely to fail to meet the demands of the Endangered Species Act. He added that the improvements, known as the Adaptive Management Implementation Plan, had to be withdrawn to be formally included in the biological opinion so he could consider it.

The changes offered a tougher conservation plan for salmon that includes climate-change monitoring and the "last-resort" possibility of removing dams on the lower Snake River in Eastern Washington.

Nicole Cordan of Save Our Wild Salmon noted that a recent Western Division of the American Fisheries Society review of the biological opinion, with the Obama administration changes, had found it remains inadequate to the problems of restoring wild salmon.

"The ball is in their court now to see if they really want to fix the problems and bring people together or simply continue to paper over the issues the court and the scientific experts in the region have identified," she said in an e-mail.

In litigation stretching back 15 years, Redden has twice before found federal plans on how to balance cheap hydroelectric power against the survival of wild salmon violated the Endangered Species Act, forcing the government to devote more water to fish and less to power production.

Redden issued an order granting the request from NOAA Fisheries for a voluntary remand, giving them three months to make changes.

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