Study on Salmon Misjudged Amount Spent, Analyst Claimsby Associated Press
Everett Herald, Wash., September 13, 2002
SPOKANE -- A recent report underestimated by billions of dollars the amount that Americans have spent to save Columbia River salmon and steelhead, an analyst told the Northwest Power Planning Council.
The General Accounting Office reported in July that 11 federal agencies spent $3.3 billion between 1982 and 2001 to help fish in the Columbia and its tributaries.
The actual cost may be twice as much, Bonneville Power Administration analyst Roger Schiewe told members of the planning council during a meeting Wednesday in Spokane.
The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, considered money actually spent on fish, for such things as hatcheries and habitat improvement.
The agency did not take into account the value of additional electricity that could have been produced at federal dams if they weren't required to send water through spillways. That's done to help young fish during migrations.
Water that goes through spillways doesn't spin turbines that generate electricity. Ultimately, that means higher bills for Northwest electricity customers.
The BPA, which markets electricity from Northwest federal dams, puts those costs at $3.44 billion since 1978. The cost has risen steadily in recent years, from $83 million in 1996 to $337 million in 2000, Schiewe said.
The one-year cost took a huge jump to an estimated $1.5 billion during the drought and energy crisis of 2001, Schiewe said.
"The shortage of energy is a huge factor in this supply-and-demand market," Schiewe said.
Schiewe cautioned that the costs are only estimates, based on computer models of what would have happened if the agency wasn't required to protect fish and wildlife. And the models use average energy prices for the year, not actual prices at the time of a specific energy purchase.
Members of the council were ready to challenge BPA's math, saying they doubted $1.4 billion of the $2.3 billion of electricity BPA purchased last year could really be attributed to fish.
The federal government declared a drought emergency last year. As a result, little water was spilled to help fish, a factor that biologists say may cause poor runs of adult salmon starting in 2003.
After hearing Schiewe's presentation, the council voted not to question the math in an annual report about fish and wildlife spending.
That report, compiled under the direction of Tom Karier, a council member from Spokane, shows that in addition to the power costs, BPA spent about $2.6 billion on fish and wildlife between 1978 and 2001.
About 70 percent of BPA's annual wildlife spending goes toward salmon and steelhead. Fifteen percent goes toward other fish. Another 15 percent goes toward wildlife on land.
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