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Spill Reduction Plan Draws Fire

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, July 10, 2004

Nez Perce Tribe joins other groups in asking judge
to step in against BPA, Corps of Engineers

The Nez Perce Tribe joined other Indian tribes in the Columbia River Basin, as well as salmon advocates and fishing groups, in asking a federal judge in Oregon to prevent the reduction of salmon-friendly flows this summer.

Lawyers for the tribes and groups asked Judge James Redden at Portland, Ore., Friday to prevent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration from implementing their plan to curb flows at Snake and Columbia river dams.

"We felt we had no choice, given how lousy we think the decision is and how harmful it is to salmon, but to try to stop it," said Pat Ford of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition at Boise.

Nez Perce tribal officials were not prepared to comment Friday.

Officials from the BPA plan to reduce flows at the dams as a way to save up to $30 million. But salmon advocates say the water is needed to protect juvenile fall chinook, some of which are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Instead of spilling water to help the young fish to the ocean, the corps will try to collect as many as they can and use barges to ship them to the Columbia River estuary.

To make up for the number of salmon expected to die from reduced spills, the BPA has increased the bounty on northern pike minnows and is limiting flow fluctuations in the Hanford Reach that can strand young salmon. The BPA is also purchasing water from Idaho Power Co. Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have approved the spill reduction plan.

The salmon groups want Redden, who is overseeing the rewriting of the federal government's salmon recovery plan, to keep the spill reductions from taking effect Aug. 1. Redden will hear oral arguments from the salmon advocates and the government July 28.

Redden found the government's salmon recovery plan insufficient last year. But he allowed the plan to stay in place while the government works on a new plan.

Spilling water at dams, known as flow augmentation, is one of the central strategies of the plan. But it's costly. Water spilled in the heat of summer, a time of high power demand, can't be used to produce electricity. According to BPA estimates, the agency could save $77 million if summer spilling was eliminated all together.

Salmon advocates contend the water is critical to salmon. they also say the BPA may save money if spill is reduced, but the savings won't amount to much when they are factored into ratepayers' bills.

"The people of the Northwest are not going to see any great benefit economically from this," said Ford. "A dime or month or so is potentially the most a Bonneville customer might save."

Eric Barker
Spill Reduction Plan Draws Fire
Lewiston Tribune, July 10, 2004

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