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BPA Backs Away from Dworshak

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, May 22, 2004

Official says company will try to get water from Brownlee Reservoir

Officials at the Bonneville Power Administration are no longer interested in taking an extra 20 feet of water from Dworshak Reservoir, at least for now.

Greg Delwiche, BPA vice president of environment, fish and wildlife, said the company is now trying to get the water from Idaho Power Co.'s Brownlee Reservoir. But he said if those plans fail, the agency could revive its efforts to get the water from Dworshak.

"I wouldn't say it's entirely off the table, we are just pursuing other options instead."

The Bonneville Power Administration markets power produced at federal dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Officials from the agency are trying to reduce the amount of water spilled at the dams during hot summer months.

The federal salmon recovery plan calls for the water to be spilled instead of run through turbines. Doing so helps push young fall chinook salmon to the ocean. But it means the water can't be used to produce power at a time of high demand. The agency has estimated that reducing summer spill would allow it to generate an extra $45 million worth of power.

The government's salmon recovery plan allows for reduced spills, according to officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries division. But spills can be reduced only as long as other measures are taken that help the threatened fish just as much as spill would.

To that end BPA officials were seeking an extra 250,000 acre feet of water from Dworshak Reservoir. The water would be taken from the reservoir during the late summer and lower its elevation an additional 20 feet. The reservoir is already lowered 80 feet each year as 1.2 million acre feet is used between July and August to cool the lower Snake River and flush juvenile fall chinook to the ocean.

BPA officials asked the Nez Perce Tribe and community leaders from Orofino and Clearwater County to bless the plan while also offering to spend nearly $2 million to improve recreation at the reservoir and survey archeological sites.

The tribe and community declined the offer last week. Tribal officials said they oppose reducing summer spill as well as lowering Dworshak Reservoir more than the 80 feet it is already lowered each year. Orofino leaders said the recreational improvements offered by BPA would be meaningless since most people stop visiting the reservoir once the drawdowns begin.

Rich Eichstaedt, an attorney for the tribe, welcomed the idea of BPA securing water from Idaho Power. But he said that water should be used to compensate for harm to fish caused by the company's dams and not to reduce spilling water downstream.

"We don't think that is adequate mitigation for cutting off summer spill," he said. "The tribe would remain opposed to cutting off summer spill even with that in place."

Officials from Orofino declined to comment on news BPA is now seeking water from Brownlee Reservoir.

Delwiche has said a rate hike is coming from the agency. That price hike will be higher, he said, if summer spill can not be reduced at the Snake and Columbia river dams.

Eric Barker
BPA Backs Away from Dworshak
Lewiston Tribune, May 22, 2004

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