BPA Will Boost Spill at 4 Damsby William McCall, Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 9, 2004
But tribes and fishermen say move to help salmon migrate isn't enough
PORTLAND -- The Bonneville Power Administration said yesterday that it will spill more water than planned over four Columbia and Snake river dams this summer to help young salmon migrate.
But the agency will still hold back enough to save ratepayers up to $31 million in electricity costs, officials said.
The amended summer spill proposal released by the federal power marketing agency and the Army Corps of Engineers will reduce the amount of water available for salmon migration by about 39 percent, against an earlier proposal that would have reduced the spill by 55 percent.
Under the amended proposal, summer spill would be reduced after most of the downstream salmon migration has occurred and few juvenile salmon are passing the dams.
"We believe this proposal would result in the survival of at least as many fish as the full summer spill program while reducing costs to Northwest electric ratepayers by $20 million to $31 million," said BPA Administrator Steve Wright.
The difference between the original spill plan and the amended proposal amounts to about 1,000 megawatts, or enough electricity to light a city the size of Seattle for a month, Wright said.
Northwest Indian tribes and fishermen immediately criticized the plan, calling it a setback for salmon recovery in a region trying to balance conservation and energy demands across the West. The 29 hydroelectric dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers generate about half the electricity in the Northwest and supplement the rest of the West during summer, when air conditioning demand peaks in Arizona and Southern California.
But tribes and fishermen say too many juvenile fish are sacrificed each year to boost energy production. The amended proposal, they say, shows that salmon conservation still has only weak support from the Bush administration.
"Slashing summer spill spurns the unanimous scientific advice of Northwest fishery agencies and Indian tribes and continues a three-year pattern of failure of this administration to implement its own salmon plan," said Pat Ford, executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon.
The resulting economic benefit is minor, according to Sara Patton, executive director of the NW Energy Coalition in Seattle.
"We're talking 7 cents to a maximum of 66 cents per month for residential customers," Patton said, "for the sake of running air conditioners in California."
Utilities and industry customers support the plan, saying the boost to the regional economy would be huge.
Bonneville has been struggling with huge cost increases caused by the Western energy crisis of 2001, when the agency had to buy high-priced power on the wholesale market to meet demand that soared because of drought, failed deregulation in California and Enron Corp. market manipulation.
Wright said the 1,000 megawatts of additional hydropower generation under the amended plan will cut the need for energy from coal or gas-fired power plants, reducing summer air pollution across the West.
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