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EPA Proposes New Water Rules

by Associated Press
Idaho Falls Post Register, October 24, 2003

Environmentalists argue the plan has loopholes for dams

Roughly 395 feet below the crest of the rock- and earth-filled dam, a couple of fishermen troll from their boat. Above them, the Brownlee reservoir stretches to the south 58 miles along the border of Idaho and Oregon. Considered by many to be a fishing and hunting mecca, the waterway provides access to a vast area. BOISE -- Idaho and Oregon are seeking a new water quality plan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would require strict new water standards in the Snake River to protect salmon and bull trout in Oregon's rivers.

The plan, which would follow an Oregon rule requiring water temperatures below Hells Canyon of 55.5 degrees when fall chinook salmon are laying eggs, could force Idaho Power Co. to build costly modifications to the Brownlee Dam.

The proposal was made after a U.S. District judge in March found that Oregon's water quality standards were inadequate for fish protection, and ordered a remedy.

But the rules are being attacked on several fronts.

Environmentalists question possible loopholes that would allow federal dam operations to petition for waivers. And Idaho Power officials are challenging the need for the strict standard in negotiations with Oregon officials.

The EPA was ordered to come up with the new rules, and it is consulting with the state to decide how best to comply. States normally have authority over water quality standards, but that authority can revert to the federal government if the standards are not being met.

Idaho Power has also asked the judge to review the standard, fearing it would miss the legal deadline for an appeal as negotiations continued.

If the EPA's proposal is approved, water temperatures below Hells Canyon will have to remain cooler than 55.5 degrees when fall chinook salmon are laying their eggs.

To meet the standard, Idaho Power could be required to install a temperature control device at the Brownlee Dam. The device would let dam managers release water from different depths of the reservoir, which presumably would help regulate temperatures below the dam.

Idaho Power officials say the concept is expensive and untested.

"It's a big experiment. Nobody knows what ultimate problems it may cause," said Idaho Power Vice President John Prescott.

Associated Press
EPA Proposes New Water Rules
Post Register, October 24, 2003

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