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Commentaries and editorials

Environmental Study
of Idaho Power Dams Ordered

by Associated Press
Idaho State Journal - July 6, 2004

BOISE, Idaho -- The Federal Energy Regulation Commission has ordered additional studies of the environmental impacts of Idaho Power Co.'s Hells Canyon dams, thwarting the utility's efforts to avoid the costly studies.

Idaho Power has filed an application with FERC to relicense its dams for an additional 30 years once the current 50-year license expires in 2005.

The commission told Idaho Power in early May that it must complete 14 additional studies to accompany its pending relicensing application. FERC ordered the company to enhance current studies or launch new research related to the relicensing. Issues facing the company include water quality, sediment and water temperatures.While company officials did not object to all requests for more studies, the company filed an objection with FERC, claiming the additional studies were not warranted.

But the commission staff dismissed those objections last week. They said they did not agree with the company's argument that the project has no effect on downstream salmon migration, water temperature and dissolved gas levels in the water. The commission said Idaho Power should consider technology to provide cooler water for the Chinook spawning season during summer and fall and help warm the water in the spring to promote growth. It is believed that water temperature affects salmon's spawning and growth.

"These types of studies are pretty intensive and expensive studies to do," said Craig Jones, Idaho Power's Hells Canyon relicensing manager. "We believe what we've already included provides a basis for a decision on the license. And we don't think this will add to the decision-making process."

Jones said he was unsure if the company would appeal the decision to the full commission. He said water quality problems are caused by the four federally-owned lower Snake River dams, not the ones owned by Idaho Power, so the utility should not be forced to fund the studies. Conservation groups have criticized the four federal Snake River dams for years, arguing they should be removed to improve habitat for native fish. But conservation groups also assert that the Hells Canyon dams affect salmon just as much.

"Obviously we were pleased that FERC held fast on its requests for more information," said Sara Eddie, an attorney representing Idaho Rivers United. "But the additional information requests are a bare minimum of what Idaho Power should be coming up with."

Eddie said the commission is still sitting on a request by Idaho Rivers United, American Rivers and Save Our Wild Salmon. It would require the utility study the ' impact on fish passage.

John O'Connell covers Pocatello city government and environmental issues for the Journal.
Environmental Study of Idaho Power Dams Ordered
Idaho State Journal, July 6, 2004

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