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Economic and dam related articles

Ongoing Drought Lowering State Rivers

by Shannon Dininny, Associated Press
Everett Herald, Wash., May 14, 2004

Managers of the state's dams will have to carefully balance
the needs of electricity users and salmon as river flows remain low.

WALLA WALLA - Water supply forecasts for the entire Columbia River Basin have been below normal this spring, pointing to a difficult summer ahead for electricity management and protection of threatened fish, energy planners were told Thursday.

Runoff at six hydroelectric dams in the basin have bottomed out at 63 percent of normal since January, the National Weather Service's River Forecast Center told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

The regional energy planning agency is responsible for coordinating power and conservation policy in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

The forecasts ranged from 83 percent of normal at Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River to 63 percent of normal at the Snake River's Lower Granite Dam.

At The Dalles Dam on the Columbia, the volume forecast was 74 percent of normal, an improvement from the 55 percent of normal at this time in 2001, a severe drought year.

But in terms of a string of droughts, 2001 through 2004 pose the worst drought at The Dalles since the 1930s, according to Greg Delwiche, vice president of environment, fish and wildlife for the Bonneville Power Administration.

BPA operates 31 dams in the Pacific Northwest and sells electricity to utility companies.

"It means tight supplies. It doesn't mean impending blackouts," Delwiche said. "In terms of what it means for people who manage power, it will be a difficult and challenging summer."

Drought conditions and tight power supplies likely will make it hard to help California with power shortages this summer, Delwiche said.

In the past, BPA has sold surplus power to California when that state experiences peak loads. The key this summer, Delwiche said, is to ensure problems aren't created for Northwest states in the process.

"It will be a dicey summer unless things change dramatically," he said.

Low flows in the region's rivers could tax fish and habitat restoration efforts. Surveys in the Northwest show mountain snowpacks are well below average.

"We're in a serious water shortage, and this is the fourth year in a row. There's a lot less water, and in previous drought years we've seen that's bad for fish," said Tom Karier, council member representing Washington state. "Four years in a row makes things four times harder."

BPA is required to release a certain amount of water past dams to help fish if the water flow is low. The idea, which dates back a decade, is to keep young salmon out of hydroelectric turbines. The turbines kill about 10 percent of the fish that go through them.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries department incorporated the plan into its 2000 biological opinion on operating Columbia Basin dams without undue harm to salmon protected by the Endangered Species Act.

BPA already has proposed reducing the amount of water it spills past dams to earn more money from electricity generation, but officials have said they are counting on other measures, such as a predator control program and better flow management to offset the loss of fish.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council was created by Congress with the Northwest Power Act of 1980 to balance regional energy needs with fish and wildlife conservation. It has two members each from Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Washington.

Both the council and BPA are based in Portland, Ore.

Shannon Dininny, Associated Press
Ongoing Drought Lowering State Rivers
The Herald of Everett, Wash., May 14, 2004

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