Feds Revise Proposal
by Joe Rojas-Burke
To protect salmon, less water would be used to generate electricity,
but various interests object
Federal agencies on Tuesday announced a scaled-down effort to produce more power from dams in the Columbia and Snake rivers this summer, after reconsidering the potential harm to salmon runs from an earlier proposal.
For Northwest utilities and their customers, the changes mean that cost savings could drop to less than half the $44 million suggested as possible in an earlier proposal by the Bonneville Power Administration. The federal wholesaler of electricity provides about 45 percent of the power used in the Northwest, largely from Columbia and Snake river dams.
To save money, BPA plans to cut short the release of water over dams in July and August. Spilling water helps young salmon pass dams unharmed on their migration to sea and costs BPA tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue because the water can't be harnessed to generate electricity.
The original proposal would have reduced spill by 55 percent. The revised plan calls for a 39 percent reduction. At the same time, BPA said it will pay for a series of new or expanded salmon conservation efforts to compensate for fish killed or injured passing through turbines.
"The goal is to provide the most effective operation that we can to meet the objectives of the region," said BPA Administrator Steve Wright.
Wright said that sales of surplus power to California and other regions would enable the agency to lower charges to Northwest electric ratepayers by $20 million to $31 million. That's after subtracting an additional $10 million BPA would spend on salmon conservation.
Brownlee reservoir release
Among the conservation measures, BPA said it will pay Idaho Power Co. $4 million to improve water flow in the Snake River by releasing an additional 100,000 acre-feet of water from Brownlee reservoir in July.
BPA has also arranged to control dam operations to limit river fluctuations that strand and kill thousands of young fall chinook in the Hanford Reach, and to expand a program to control salmon predation by northern pikeminnow.
But the scaled-back proposal has done little to ease the concerns of salmon conservation groups. Nor has it satisfied public and private electric utilities, which have pushed hard for reductions in summer spill after seeing their wholesale power costs climb nearly 50 percent since the 2001 energy market crisis.
"This proposal doesn't go far enough. They've missed an opportunity here," said Shauna McReynolds, spokeswoman for an industry group that includes public and investor-owned utilities, farmers and other businesses.
Conservation and fishing groups doubt the effectiveness of the proposed compensation measures, saying they will not make up for the number of salmon likely to be killed or injured.
Michael Garrity, associate director of American Rivers, said his group will ask BPA and other federal agencies to withdraw the proposal.
The Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission also continues to oppose changes in dam operations, a spokesman said. The group represents four tribes with salmon fishing rights by treaty with the federal government. Among other concerns, the tribes have said the plan makes salmon runs too dependent on large-scale barging and trucking of fish past dams.
Fall chinook on federal list
Bob Lohn, regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said his agency would insist that changes in dam operations have no net effect on threatened Snake River fall chinook, the only federally protected stock likely to be affected. On Tuesday, Lohn said the agency's analysis of the plan suggests that the impact is likely to be small, and that the proposed "offsets" are likely to make up for it.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will issue a final decision near the end of this month. Federal agencies will hold a public meeting on the proposal from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday at the Embassy Suites Portland Airport, 7900 N.E. 82nd Ave., Portland.
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