FERC Won't Make Utility
by Ken Dey
Warm spring weather translates to bad water year
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission turned a deaf ear on requests that Idaho Power Co. provide additional study of the feasibility of fish passage at its three Hells Canyon dams.
Despite receiving seven requests from various parties asking for further study on fish passage, the commission said no further study was needed.
"We believe the information provided by Idaho Power in its license application is sufficient for us to determine the need for, and evaluate reasonable passage alternatives and restoration strategies that could be employed to make progress towards restoring anadromous fish to areas upstream of the project," the commission said.
The decision doesn't guarantee that Idaho Power won't have to do more to help salmon get past the dams, but it does mean the company won't have to spend any more money on studies of the question.
Idaho Power is trying to obtain a new 30-year license for the three dams it operates in Hells Canyon. Several parties with a stake in relicensing criticized the commission's decision.
"For 50 years, the Hells Canyon dams have blocked fish from hundreds of miles of their historic habitat, so restoring fish passage at the dams is a huge issue in this relicensing," Connie Kelleher, with American Rivers, said in a statement.
"Given that the agency biologists have said that they need more scientific information to determine how best to restore fish passage at the dams, it is baffling that FERC has decided to brush off these study requests," she said.
"We're understandably disappointed especially in regard to fish passage," said Rick Eichstaedt, attorney for the Nez Perce Tribe. "That's a big issue, especially since the federal power act says they need to address fish passage."
The commission said fish passage remains an important issue and one that FERC will evaluate in an environmental impact statement now due in September 2005.
Although the commissioners didn't require additional fish passage studies, they are requiring the company to provide 14 additional studies related to the three dams' impact on the environment.
The commission is giving the company up to nine months to complete the majority of those studies.
Those requests include additional studies on water quality, sediment and water temperature, including the feasibility of installing a device on Brownlee Dam to control the temperature of water that is discharged from the reservoir.
The commission said nearly all parties requested additional studies to evaluate the potential benefits of installing such a structure.
There's a widespread belief that the temperature of the water leaving Brownlee Reservoir affects the spawning and growth of salmon. The commission said Idaho Power should consider technology that would provide cooler water in the summer and fall for the chinook spawning season and accelerate the warming of water in the spring to promote growth.
Idaho Power officials, however, have argued that such a system is untested and could prove too costly. The company also doesn't believe it is solely responsible for high temperatures in Brownlee. It says other upstream factors like irrigation diversions and industrial and municipal discharges all impact the water temperature.
John Prescott, Idaho Power's vice president for power supply, said Wednesday that the commission has raised some "significant issues" in its request, but he said it's too early to determine the impact of the additional studies and whether they can be accomplished within the commission time schedule
"We're working on it right now," Prescott said. "In the next couple weeks we'll determine the feasibility of the additional studies and whether we intend to challenge anything."
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