Controversial Plan to Dredge Clearwater/Snake Rivers Heading to Court

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The  U.S. government's $6.7 million plan for massive dredging of the lower Snake and Clearwater rivers could ultimately hinge on the fate of a fish: the Pacific lamprey. Long used as a ceremonial food for Native American tribes, the fish's numbers have greatly declined.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to remove nearly 400,000 cubic yards of sediment from the riverbed in order to clear the navigation channel for commercial traffic. The plan was the begin dredging by mid December, but the Corps has since pushed back its schedule to Jan. 12.

This morning's Lewiston Tribune reports that the Nez Perce tribe and a coalition of environmental groups are set to face-off with feds in a Seattle courtroom beginning Jan. 5. The tribe argues that dredging threatens the future of the Pacifc lamprey, which returns to the Lower Snake to spawn. But the Corps insists that it found no lamprey in its survey of the river. The tribe countered that the Corps conducted a brief study that didn't fully cover the region.  Plus, opponents say the Corps hasn't seriously considered any alternatives to dredging.

The navigation channel is approximately 14 feet deep, but can be as shallow as 7 feet deep in some spots.