Bishops whose dioceses cover the Columbia River watershed are writing a pastoral letter urging people to be better caretakers of the river.
    This is the first time they have weighed in on such a specific issue. In the past, they've been written on issues like war, peace, homosexuality and poverty in America.
    ``The time has come for us to do this,'' said Bishop Carlos Sevilla of Yakima. ``They're talking about breaching dams and commercializing the Hanford Reach... .''
    The letter, to be released this month, emphasizes the river's position as the spiritual lifeblood of the region, not as the economic workhorse it has become. It is earning praise simply for putting a fresh perspective into the lengthy debate over water quality and salmon health.
    John Harrison, information officer for the Northwest Planning Power Council, welcomes it.
    ``There's a lot in the Bible about protecting what's good and what God gave us,'' he said. ``If the church really has something to say here, about the cultural conflicts as well as the environmental crisis, it puts a different spin on it... .''

9:45am 7/5/99 / AP


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