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BPA Wants to Produce More Power

by Staff
Lewiston Tribune, February 28, 2004

BPA's proposal would send more water
through turbines at four dams on Snake, Columbia rivers

Federal officials are considering deviating from the Columbia River Salmon Recovery plan in order to produce more power.

The Bonneville Power Administration wants to reduce the amount of water spilled through flood gates at four dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers and instead run the water through turbines.

The proposal is being challenged by state and tribal fish agencies, as well as environmental groups that say it will harm both listed and unlisted runs of salmon.

Each year, water is spilled in the spring and summer to help juvenile salmon migrate to the ocean. But the spill is costly, especially in the summer time when there is high demand for electricity.

"What we are doing is investigating alternatives to the current spill operations that would achieve similar biological objectives with less cost," said Suzanne Cooper, manager of a policy and planning group at BPA.

She said eliminating summer spill would allow the agency to sell $77 million worth of power.

However, eliminating or reducing spill would also lead to fewer fall chinook returning to the Columbia and Snake rivers and go against the federal plan to recover threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. The 4-year-old salmon recovery plan calls for spill as a critical component of its anything-but-breach strategy.

Cooper said the agency is not asking for summer spill to be totally eliminated, but for it to be reduced in July and August at Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River, and John Day, The Dalles and Bonneville dams on the Columbia River.

Depending on one of several scenarios under consideration, the agency could save enough water to produce $8 million to $51 million worth of power, according to Cooper.

But those flow reduction scenarios would result in a loss of up to 16,000 adult salmon, according to analysis by the agency. It would affect both unlisted runs like fall chinook, which return to the Hanford Reach, and threatened runs like fall chinook returning to the Snake River.

BPA officials believe they can take other actions, known as offsets, which would make up for any harm experienced by salmon runs from spill reductions.

"It's critical that we are implementing actions that are the most cost effective way of achieving the biological objectives," said Cooper.

Some of the proposed offsets include increasing the bounty paid by anglers to catch and keep northern pike minnow, a native fish that preys on young salmon.

Another proposal calls for reducing smallmouth bass populations in Lower Granite Reservoir and near the Dalles Dam. Smallmouth bass fishing is a popular angling activity in the Snake River from Hells Canyon Dam on the Snake River to Lower Granite Dam. But the bass also prey on juvenile salmon.

Suggested ways of reducing bass populations include holding a bass tournament in which the fish would be kept when caught instead of released and altering the reservoir level to reduce smallmouth bass spawning success.

State wildlife agencies are skeptical of BPA's analysis of the harm caused to salmon by reducing spill and how far the offset actions will go to mitigate that harm.

"We believe their analysis will underestimate the true impact to the population and they will overestimate the benefit of the offsets," said Russ Kiefer of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise.

The Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission estimates that reduced spill would result in 35,000 to 70,000 fewer adult salmon returning to both rivers. The tribal commission also believes reducing summer spill will harm white sturgeon, pacific lamprey and water quality.

"The numbers have ranged from the hilarious to the barely credible," said Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission spokesman Charles Hudson of the estimates produced by BPA.

Hudson argues the fish that will be lost are critical to sustaining the genetic diversity of salmon runs.

"You can't talk about this as a fish for fish mitigation matter. You are talking about loosing irreplaceable genetic material."

Anthony Johnson, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee sent a letter to BPA officials saying the tribe is appalled by the proposal to reduce summer spill.

"These proposals directly impair the United States' ability to comply with the Endangered Species Act," he wrote.

Salmon groups also are objecting to the proposal and say it violates the spirit of the government's salmon recovery plan.

"The spill regime is a major part of the do-everything-but-dam-removal plan," said Pat Ford of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition at Boise. "Starting to back away from that is not only bad science in our view, it is illegal and would be a stupid thing for the feds to do."

But industries that rely on the river for irrigation and power production formed a new coalition this month to lobby in favor of spill reduction. The coalition for Smart Salmon Recovery supports spending more money on the program to reduce pike minnow populations and a program to provide favorable flows in the Hanford Reach. Doing that, it argues, would make up for the fish lost because of reduced spill.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council is urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, BPA and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries to decide soon if spill will be reduced so tests can be set up to measure the impacts.

"Depending on what kind of testing they do, of course, they need some preparation time," said Judi Danielson, chairwoman of the power and conservation council from Boise.

The council has endorsed reducing spill so long as testing is performed. The agencies are scheduled to make the decision in April, but Danielson would like it to be made sooner.

BPA Wants to Produce More Power
Lewiston Tribune, February 28, 2004

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