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Federal Agencies Put
Modified Summer Spill Plan in Motion

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - July 9, 2004

The modified summer spill program proposed by the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on June 24 received NOAA Fisheries approval last week in a July 1 findings letter.

The letter concluded that the reduced spill program would provide the same or greater benefits to listed Snake River fall chinook salmon as spill outlined in the agency's biological opinion for Columbia River hydroelectric operations.

On Tuesday, July 6, the Corps completed a statement of decision for the one-year change in hydro operations at Snake River and lower Columbia River dams, which immediately pushed the plan into motion.

BPA said the plan will save Northwest ratepayers $18 to $28 million this year by generating more electricity rather than spilling water over dams and they've included offsets or mitigation measures in the plan that the agency said will more than make up for the salmon lost.

"This action is a winner for the economy and environment of the Northwest by implementing an effective and efficient means to help salmon," said Steve Wright, BPA administrator.

The summer spill plan is expected to result in the mortality of 927 juvenile threatened Snake River fall chinook and 130,000 to 742,000 unlisted juvenile salmon, but the offset actions are designed to compensate for those losses.

The offset that specifically mitigates for the loss of threatened Snake River fall chinook is the purchase of an additional 100,000 acre feet of water in July from Idaho Power's Brownlee Dam at a cost of $4 million. That purchase, which already has been made according to BPA's Mike Hansen, provides about 2,300 cubic feet per second in additional flow in the lower Snake River for three weeks in July. The operation shifts augmentation flows from Brownlee from August to July when more juvenile salmon are present and results in the survival of 700 to 1,100 additional juveniles, according to NOAA's findings letter. However, that also means there will be less water available for the fish in August.

While BPA also had proposed that enhancements to its pikeminnow control program would benefit the threatened fish, NOAA Fisheries in its findings letter said it would not credit that offset because BPA had not included a statement about the extent or timing of the offset.

"NOAA Fisheries estimates 100 Kaf of additional flow augmentation volume drafted from IPC's Brownlee Reservoir during the month of July would benefit listed juvenile fall chinook salmon that are present in Lower Granite Reservoir during July to a level sufficient to offset the adverse effect of the reduced spill operation at four FCRPS mainstem dams during August," the findings letter concludes. The letter also says that the reduced summer spill operation would not effect the region's progress towards the 2010 hydro performance standard outlined in the BiOp.

The offsets, which cost $9.6 million overall, also include $4 million for hatchery and habitat projects that have yet to be identified, $1.5 million for the enhanced pikeminnow control program, already in progress, and $100,000 to Grant County Public Utility District for increased protections from stranding at Hanford Reach. The stranding operation ended in early June. All benefit unlisted salmon and steelhead. Hatchery improvements will target runs impacted by the reduction in spill and the habitat projects will target impacted runs and naturally spawning fish.

BPA customers also expressed their disappointment with the plan, while at the same time supporting BPA's efforts. Shauna McReynolds of the Coalition for Smart Salmon Recovery, a coalition of farmers, employers, utility customers and public utilities in the Northwest, has continually said that the proposal doesn't go far enough.

"More fish for less money: what's not to like? It's a step in the right direction," she said. "In an environment where rates have increased dramatically in the last few years, any rate relief makes a difference. Our Coalition intends to stay focused on cost-effective salmon recovery efforts."

Summer spill costs ratepayers as much as $77 million each year by BPA estimates and McReynolds has been disappointed that the three plans proposed by BPA have resulted in increased mitigation costs and reduced benefits to ratepayers with each plan's release.

BPA and the Corps released the original summer spill proposal March 30. That was a three year proposal calling for reducing spill by 55 percent in July and August and providing offsets at a cost of $2 to $5 million to make up for the loss of juvenile salmon. The plan would have increased BPA net revenues by $40 million. The BiOp planning dates for summer spill in the lower Snake River are June 21 to August 31 and in the lower Columbia River the dates are July 1 to August 31.

The agencies released an amended spill proposal June 8 that would curtail spill less than the original proposal. It was a one-year plan that recognized increased impacts on juvenile salmon, cutting spill by 39 percent instead of 55 percent and providing up to $10 million in offsets. BPA estimated the net revenue gain from that plan would have been between $20 and $31 million.

The final summer spill plan extends BiOp spill at Ice Harbor and John Day dams through Aug. 25 and cuts the last week of spill at those dams, a five-day difference from the amended proposal. The final plan completely cuts spill at Bonneville and The Dalles dams in August, which is the same operation proposed by the amended spill proposal.

Although a one-year plan, BPA and the Corps said they would continue to "look for long-term sustainable solutions for fish and power."

"We are interested in finding sustainable fish and wildlife solutions that benefit both fish and ratepayers," said Brig. Gen. William T. Grisoli, the Corps' Northwestern Division commander. "Our overall goal is to maintain fish protection while reducing costs to the region."

The final summer spill plan was included June 24 in the Columbia River hydro operating agencies' amended one- and five-year implementation plan, which they sent to NOAA Fisheries along with the final summer spill proposal for approval. The NOAA July 1 findings letter said that the plan was consistent with its 2000 biological opinion of the Columbia River hydro system.

Related Sites:
The findings letter can be found at
The Corps' Statement of Decision can be found at
The summer spill plan can be found at the federal salmon recovery web site at

Mike O'Bryant
Federal Agencies Put Modified Summer Spill Plan in Motion
Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 9, 2004

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