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Council's Ready to Make Power Play with Dams

by Bert Sahlberg
Opinion, Lewiston Tribune, December 18, 2002

With salmon and steelhead runs reaching or approaching records for the second straight year, the Northwest Power Planning Council seems bound and determined not to see it repeated in the future.

Council members are making a strong push to ease the rules designed to help salmon and steelhead survive a gantlet of dams on the Columbia River so more water is available for power, industrial and agricultural users.

Members of the council, who are supposed to balance the needs of fish and wildlife against power production, want to reduce the springtime river flows in the Columbia Basin that help push migrating salmon to the ocean. The reduction of the springtime release would allow more water to be used for power generation in the winter. The council is also suggesting drawing summertime flows out so they last into September.

If the council's recommendation on how the federal Columbia-Snake River hydrosystem should run has as much weight to it as in the past, it would turn back the progress made in salmon and steelhead recovery.

Unfortunately, too much money has been spent with too little results in the study of dams and fish. The release of water in the spring may not be the answer, but with good fish runs in the past two years, something is going right.

Still, it's way too early to declare victory. That's why easing the spring flows is a step in the wrong direction, especially if salmon and steelhead are ever to be taken off the Endangered Species List.

Council members, however, feel the fish have had their turn; now it's time for the other side. By not releasing the extra water in the spring, the dams would generate enough power to supply 700,000 homes. That would help the Bonneville Power Administration, which is facing a possible $1.2 billion deficit over the next four years. The BPA has proposed reducing the spring spill at some dams to generate about $20 million more electricity each year.

Council members should realize it's easier to replace power than fish and it doesn't make sense to negate the gains made in fish population over the past couple of years. Although the council won't issue its final decision until March, it's a little too early for the council to start swimming upstream against the current.

Bert Sahlberg
Council's Ready to Make Power Play with Dams
Lewiston Tribune, December 18, 2002

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