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Economic and dam related articles

Proposed Changes to Hydro Operations
Could Save Millions

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, September 13, 2002

Recommended changes to the Power Planning Council's mainstem fish and wildlife program could save BPA millions of dollars every year, according to a preliminary analysis by the council staff. That's because Montana calls for jettisoning the BiOp flow targets now in place and reducing spill at dams to just above legal limits of gas supersaturation levels, staffer John Fazio told council members at their Sept. 11 meeting in Spokane. The proposed reduction would cut spill volume at federal dams from about 84 million acre feet to 49 MAF, he said.

According to the analysis, Montana's recommendations, which call for no spring flow augmentation at all for fish, could produce almost 4000 MW-months more power every year. At $27/MWh, that would add up to $56 million annually, said the council power analyst.

Idaho's proposed changes would have far less impact, with a projected energy gain of 70 MW-months, or about $2.5 million annually. The Idaho amendment would stick to most flow objectives in the BiOp, though the state said it "questions" them, and calls for releasing water out of its Dworshak reservoir through the end of September, a month longer than now practiced.

As for fish benefits, that analysis is still up in the air. Council staff will be collecting information from other agencies and doing some modeling of spill benefits through the mainstem reaches, but staffer Bruce Suzumoto cautioned that there isn't much data to collect on resident fish. That's a main reason for Montana's amendment, which would reduce river fluctuations below Hungry Horse and Libby reservoirs. Important information is also lacking in the mid-Columbia region and Hanford Reach.

Neither of the two states support current NMFS mandates for operation in their parts of the hydro system. Washington's Tom Karier was more cautious. His comments seemed to favor more testing of mainstem spill scenarios in conjunction with NMFS "to develop the most optimum set of operations at the lowest costs."

But Montana member John Hines said the new science questions the benefits of spring flow, and "good science" has documented the detrimental effects of spring water releases on Montana's resident fish populations, including bull trout. Hines said a balance has to be struck between upstream and downstream benefits.

Idaho member Jim Kempton pointed out that NMFS' call for more water from Dworshak comes without any demonstrated benefits to fish. He said the Idaho amendment would allow more flexibility for resident fish needs--with little change in BiOp flows at Lower Granite, according to the Council's own analysis.

"Let's not be the blind following the blind when it comes to the National Marine Fisheries Service," Kempton said. He supported more testing, but added that it should be planned beforehand, and not called a "test" as the fisheries service is proposing in asking for more water from Dworshak right now.

Washington's Spokane Tribe had recommended a change in target elevations at Grand Coulee, with no flow augmentation at all between June and December, to allow resident fish in Lake Roosevelt the unquantified benefit of more nutrient retention time. Flows downstream at McNary Dam would be about 8 percent less than the 50-year average during the first two weeks in August, and 4 percent less during the last two weeks of the month, Fazio said, while the strategy would add about 13 days' of nutrient retention time at Coulee.

Oregon's recommendations were going to be re-appraised for effects on the power side, Fazio said. The state has called for generally increasing flows and spill in mainstem operations, a policy that Oregon council member John Brogoitti has refused to support.

Though fired by Gov. Kitzhaber, Brogoitti remains in his position because the Oregon senate has refused to confirm Kitzhaber's new appointee, and it looks more likely that he will be serving for some time to come. Brogoitti told NW Fishletter he just hopes to stick around long enough to vote for the Idaho and Montana amendments. His vote could prove crucial if Washington's two members do not support them.

Other council members seemed ready to put the draft amendments out for public comment without more analysis. Brogoitti said he wanted to get the amendments out--with differences noted--"to make sure the public is aware of everything that's going on here." Idaho member Judi Danielson said a lot of valuable time has been lost during the process and pressed to get the amendments out for comment by October, so the Council could vote on them at its next meeting later that month.

If the council does vote for changes in hydro operations, NMFS would have to be convinced to make changes to its BiOp before dam operations could legally be modified for ESA fish considerations. Montana council member John Hines said the amendments are supported by the "best available science," and that's what the BiOp says it is based on--with the ability to adapt as new information is gained about fish survivals from various operations.

Bill Rudolph
Proposed Changes to Hydro Operations Could Save Millions
NW Fishletter, September 13, 2002

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