FERC Orders Hells Canyon Impact Studiesby Ken Dey
Idaho Statesman, July 3, 2004
Idaho Power 'disappointed' with final ruling
Idaho Power Co.'s efforts to avoid costly additional studies of the environmental impacts of its Hells Canyon dams were thwarted this week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Environmentalist cheered the ruling by the FERC staff, while Idaho Power officials considered an appeal to the full commission.
In early May, FERC told Idaho Power that it must complete 14 new studies to be included in the company's relicensing application now pending before FERC. The relicensing would give Idaho Power the right to use the three Hells Canyon dams for hydropower generation for another 30 years.
The company had filed an objection to several of additional studies, claiming they weren't needed.
But the FERC staff dismissed those objections, saying they didn't agree with the company's argument that the project is not affecting downstream salmon migration or having any effects on temperature and dissolved gas levels.
"Our review of your license application indicates operation of the Hells Canyon Complex has the potential to affect downstream aquatic and terrestrial resources, including salmon, along with other environmental resources, primarily as a result of the project's regulation of approximately one million acre-feet of water annually," said J. Mark Robinson, the director for the Office of Energy Projects at FERC, in a June 29 letter to the company.
Idaho Power has filed an application with FERC to relicense its dams for an additional 30 years once the current 50 year license expires in 2005.
"Obviously we're disappointed (with the staff's response)," said Craig Jones, Idaho Power's Hells Canyon relicensing manager."We think we made some very good arguments, and right now what we're doing is evaluating that and seeing what our next steps are going to be."
Jones said he wasn't sure if the company would appeal the staff's decision to the full commission.
In early May FERC had ordered the company to enhance current studies or launch new studies related to the relicensing. The major issues FERC said needed more attention involved areas related to water quality, sediment and water temperature.
Idaho Power officials didn't object to all the additional requests, but they did object to requests for additional studies on flow restrictions and a request to study the feasibility of installing a device on Brownlee Dam to control the temperature of water discharged from the reservoir.
There's a widespread belief that the temperature of water leaving Brownlee Reservoir affects salmon spawning and growth. 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.
"These types of studies are pretty intensive and expensive studies to do," Jones said. "We're all for providing the relative information, but we believe what we've already included (in the license application) provides a basis for a decision on the license. And we don't think this (additional information) will add to the decision-making process."
Jones said Idaho Power continues to believe that the additional studies aren't warranted because they're asking the company to explore scenarios to mitigate for problems that are being caused by the four federally owned lower Snake River dams and not by the Hells Canyon dams.
The four federal Snake River dams have been the subject of criticism from some conservation groups who for years have advocated their removal to improve habitat for native fish.
Most conservation groups, however, still contend that the Hells Canyon dams do have a major impact on salmon.
"Obviously we were pleased that FERC held fast on its requests for more information," said Sara Eddie, an attorney representing Idaho Rivers United. "But the additional information requests are a bare minimum of what Idaho Power should be coming up with."
Eddie said FERC still hasn't responded to a request by Idaho Rivers United, American Rivers and Save Our Wild Salmon to require Idaho Power Co. to do additional studies on fish passage.
FERC didn't require additional fish passage studies, saying they believed the company had already provided "sufficient" information in its application to evaluate reasonable fish passage alternatives and restoration strategies.
On Thursday, the Nez Perce Tribe joined the conservation groups in calling for additional fish passage studies.
In a letter sent to FERC, the tribe said if salmon are to be restored to harvestable levels, a range of fish passage options must be evaluated.
BPA will pay Idaho Power $4 million to release 100,000 acre feet of water from Brownlee Reservoir in July instead of August.
Agencies Deliver Final Summer Spill Plan to NOAA by Mike O'Bryant, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 6/25/4
FERC Must Respond to Hells Canyon Dam Petition by Ken Dey, Idaho Statesman, 6/23/4 ID Power Execs Reassigned Due to Resignation by Ken Dey, Idaho Statesman, 6/22/4
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