A Salmon Recovery Plan
by John J. Williams
Salmon recovery, water and electricity are fundamental to the Northwest's environment and economy. Recent court decisions related to recovery of endangered salmon have brought these issues to the forefront. It's natural to ask: Why is it so hard to fix the problem?
The Bonneville Power Administration has a wide range of responsibilities to the Northwest, ranging from obligations to provide a reliable and economical power supply to the obligation to protect and mitigate fish and wildlife affected by hydropower development. These responsibilities include facilitating development of conservation and renewable energy and delivering monetary benefits to investor-owned utilities (Idaho Power Co., for example) to ensure their residential and small-farm customers share the benefits of Northwest resources.
For BPA, the bottom line is providing value to the region. This is a complex and challenging goal given the multiple needs and wants of our citizenry. People want low-cost power. They want reliable power. And they want the region's great natural resources -- its rivers and its fish -- protected. All are valid goals.
Delivering on these multiple responsibilities requires a delicate balancing act. Currently, BPA funds the largest program in the nation to recover an endangered species. At the same time, BPA is funding a major infrastructure program as new transmission lines are being built or old ones upgraded to ensure that nothing like the East Coast blackout will occur in this region. Against this background is a slowly recovering economy, which translates to huge pressure to keep wholesale power rates down. Throw into the mix the sixth year in a row of below-average water.
We believe any Northwest salmon recovery plan must take these challenges into account and preserve the regional benefits of the federal hydro system through a coordinated effort. This entails a plan that is biologically sound and cost-effective, and that delivers positive results. By cost-effective, we mean a plan that fully achieves its biological objectives but does so in the least-cost way. We have an obligation to invest ratepayer dollars wisely.
We advocate a four-H approach that includes hatchery, habitat and harvest improvements, as well as improvements in hydro operations. There should be performance targets and standards for each H, with progress toward salmon recovery measured against these targets, not in dollars spent.
Because so many uncertainties remain about salmon, it's essential that a recovery plan include monitoring and evaluation programs to provide and share data. The information gained will be a cornerstone to identifying alternative or new actions necessary to recovery. And we believe a long-term -- say 10 years -- plan for hydro-system operations would provide both better certainty and stability for the region's fish and for its economy.
To this end, we are working with the four Northwest states, including Idaho, on a long-term agreement. And we will continue to work with the tribes, public-interest and fisher groups, our customers and other interested parties. For all our differences, we all share a commitment to enhancing and preserving the Northwest's resources -- its people and its natural resources.
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