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Economic and dam related articles

BPA Spilling Again

by Mark Engler, Freelance Writer
Capital Press, June 24, 2005

Court rejects request to halt spills for fish

A federal appeals court panel this week rejected a request by the U.S. Department of Justice to allow operators of the Columbia River Power System to temporarily halt the practice of spilling water over dams to flush juvenile salmon downstream.

The June 21 decision mirrors a ruling last summer by the appeals court that prevented dam operators from directing stream flow through the dams' power-generating turbines to produce electricity, rather having to spill the water to protect fish.

Dams began spilling water on June 20. Hydroelectric system operators and NOAA Fisheries officials say their motivation for wanting to halt the program is not economic.

While the Bonneville Power Administration estimates the costs of lost power-generating potential could run upwards of $67 million and raise wholesale electric rates 4 to 5 percent this fall, power officials and federal fish management specialists say that during summers when high-country snowpack is limited, barging fish downstream ensures higher survival rates than spilling river water.

Allowing fish to flow through with spill "significantly reduces the number of fish transported in barges, leaving a large proportion to migrate under the adverse in-river conditions in this low water year," NOAA Fisheries Northwest regional administrator Bob Lohn said in a statement issued following the June 21 ruling.

"We are concerned about the prudence of wagering salmon recovery on an experiment instead of relying on proven measures," said Lohn.

Earlier this month Oregon U.S. District Judge James Redden ordered full spills at four lower Snake River dams from June 20 to Aug. 31 and ordered spills of all flows above 50,000 cubic feet per second at McNary Dam on the Columbia from July 1 through Aug. 31.

The refusal of the appeals court to issue a stay pending the outcome of an appeal was praised by environmentalists, but drew scorn from others.

"We are very disappointed, for all the obvious reasons," said Sandra Flicker, executive director for the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association. "We're in a position now where a judge is running river operations from a courtroom, and we don't believe that's the best place for making determinations for salmon survival, for hydropower production, for flood control, or for any of the other things that go into determining river operations."

Flicker said that while a rate increase may not seem significant to some, for people in rural Oregon, especially seniors and low-income households, any increase in an electric bill can cause financial anxiety.

"I've heard environmentalists say, 'Gee, it's only one latte a day.' Well, I'd like them to go out and tell that to a widow in Monument, Ore., living on Social Security who needs heat and shelter and needs her medicine that's also just went up five dollars, and who certainly doesn't drink a latte a day," said Flicker. "When 25 percent of an electricity bill is already going to fish survival, how much more can we expect these people to pay?"

She added that the spill decision is made even more frustrating because "it's the belief on our side that how the courts are saying the river ought to be run is actually detrimental to the fish."

"Down the road we're going to be asked to pay even more because of the reduced fish survival," she said. "We're feeling like a gerbil on a wheel."

We can never get ahead of this fish issue because we just keep going round and round."

Flicker noted that one of her organization's members, the Umatilla Electric Co-op, has the largest number of irrigators of any power cooperative in the country.

"A huge percentage of our east side (customers) are involved in agriculture," she said.

Mark Engler, Freelance Writer
BPA Spilling Again
Capital Press, June 24, 2005

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