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Idaho Power: Brownlee Water Unavailable Before August

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - May 10, 2002

The Idaho Power Company says that water from its Brownlee Reservoir on the Snake River will be unavailable before August to augment flows in the river unless the Bonneville Power Administration pays the company for the water.

The utility's Jonathan Bowling told the Technical Management Team this week that IPC intends to keep the reservoir full or near-full in June and July and to use the stored water in August when customers use more electricity for air conditioning and irrigation.

"In the absence of an agreement with BPA, we'll only operate for energy, but those talks are in limbo," Bowling said, who is engineering project leader in the company's Water Management Department. "Last year we negotiated (with BPA) in good faith, but didn't get there. If BPA sends us a reasonable proposal, we would look at it. But for now, there will be no salmon water without the agreement."

Scott Bettin of BPA responded that BPA was waiting for the National Marine Fisheries Service to settle a biological opinion with IPC on its relicensing of Snake River hydroelectric projects. "Then we'd have something to talk about," he said.

Bettin is referring to a federal Endangered Species Act consultation between the utility, National Marine Fisheries Service and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that really never happened. NMFS sought to get FERC to include more salmon protection requirements in IPC's dam licenses. However, while NMFS believes that ESA consultation should be a part of the process, FERC does not.

A May 30, 2001 letter from Brian Brown, NMFS' assistant regional administrator for Hydro Programs, to FERC encouraged the federal regulator to open talks, saying "it should act under its authority to timely require Idaho Power Company (IPC) to operate its Hells Canyon Complex (FERC No. 1971) in coordination with Federal efforts to improve anticipated poor survival conditions for ESA-listed juvenile salmon and steelhead migrants this spring and summer." The letter, which was sent to FERC last year to address poor water conditions, requested that IPC release water earlier than August. "Given IPC's prior refusals to work with us to develop cooperative solutions, we have determined that Commission action is required," the letter concluded.

TMT fisheries managers would like to use Brownlee water before August to augment flows in the lower Snake River when the reservoir's water is cooler. Brownlee Dam is unable to regulate outflow from various depths, a feature that would allow it to release cooler water from deep in the pool to help cool the lower Snake River. However, Dworshak Dam on the North Fork of the Clearwater River can regulate temperature when releasing water and that's why fisheries managers would prefer to reserve Dworshak water for flow augmentation until August while using Brownlee water earlier in the summer.

Bowling said IPC expects to end about May 15 the 9,000 cubic foot per second outflow at the dam designed to protect emerging chinook salmon. May 15 is when IPC biologists expect that 99 percent of emergence would be complete. Then the company will drop outflow to 6,500 cfs, provide some flushing flows to move the emerging salmon downstream and begin filling the reservoir. Lake levels reached its flood control elevation of 2,064 feet May 1 and on Wednesday was at 2,067 feet, 10 feet from full. After May 20, the utility will operate the lake for 30 days for smallmouth bass and crappie spawning, an operation that will limit to 1 foot during the next month the amount of water that can be drafted from the reservoir.

Water for salmon flows is released from Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs upstream from Brownlee Dam, but federal agencies and fisheries managers have no control over how that water is released, or shaped, from Brownlee Dam.

"It is frustrating having water provided by the government," but not getting downstream, said Paul Wagner of NMFS. "There is a disconnect between water provided and water used. It is intended to be used for fisheries, not for electricity."

Bowling said that any water provided would make it through and Tony Norris, of the BOR, said the water would get out in August. The BOR will be able to provide only 300,000-acre feet of water from the upper Snake River this summer for salmon flow augmentation, he added. That is down from the 427 kaf requested in NMFS' BiOp, but more than BOR was able to provide during last year's drought and low flows. BOR is already releasing some of that water out of the Boise River, he said.

"But the temperature in Brownlee increases through August," Wagner said. "It has a higher value for fisheries earlier in the season."

"I don't disagree, but unless we have an agreement to do otherwise, we will operate for energy," Bowling said.

Link information:

Related Sites:
Technical Management Team
Idaho Power Company

Mike O'Bryant
Idaho Power: Brownlee Water Unavailable Before August
Columbia Basin Bulletin, May 10, 2002

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