Summer Spill Decision Delayedby CBB Staff
An anticipated amendment to a preliminary summer spill proposal at Columbia River dams was delayed this week by the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The amended proposal, which had been expected by Wednesday of this week, is not likely to be ready for public review for at least one week.
This is the second delay. Last week the two federal agencies put off until this week the release of the amended proposal after being overwhelmed by over 200 comments on its preliminary proposal, released March 30.
While BPA is still pushing to approve a summer spill plan by April 30, it is becoming increasingly unlikely the decision will be made by that deadline, the agency said.
"We are making progress and are working on some good solid offsets that make sense," said BPA Administrator Steve Wright. "We're not there yet. It will require more work on our part, and continuing collaboration with a number of parties."
Getting an agreement about the impacts of the proposed summer spill operation has also slowed the process, said BPA's Mike Hansen. He said that once the amended proposal is released, a public meeting with federal agency executives, along with state and tribal executives, would follow a couple of days later.
Once the final spill decision is made, the plan would go to NOAA Fisheries -- which is now consulting on the proposal with BPA and the Corps -- for a final signoff
Suzanne Cooper of BPA said that discussions with parties about offset proposals are now scheduled for the middle of next week and she was hesitant to predict when the agencies would release an amended proposal. "I wish I could say for certain when it all will come together," Cooper said. "A coordinated discussion like this takes time."
The proposed plan was for a three-year program that could save BPA as much as $45 million each year by reducing spill at dams in July and completely eliminating spill in August. The plan would cut the return of endangered Snake River fall chinook salmon by 2 to 20 fish as well as 1,575 to 12,600 other non-listed fall chinook salmon species.
However, Hansen said the goal of the reduced spill operation proposed by BPA and the Corps is to achieve similar or better biological benefits for salmon using offset mitigation measures at the lowest possible cost. Offsets included in the preliminary proposal are an accelerated pikeminnow predator program and one-half of the benefit of Grant County Public Utility District's additional anti-stranding actions.
That list of offsets is likely to expand since BPA had previously said that the two measures recommended in its preliminary proposal offset roughly one-half of the impacts and so additional mitigation would be needed.
Cooper said the agencies are still discussing other alternatives submitted by states and tribes.
She said the agencies have made progress on "aligning the impact analyses" with other analyses by NOAA Fisheries and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
"We've concluded that we are all in the same ballpark as far as impacts to listed fish," Cooper said. She added that they also are getting close to agreement regarding the predicted impacts to non-listed fish.
The proposal to reduce summer spill already has drawn the threat of a lawsuit from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. This week the Umatilla Tribes said if the summer spill operation is acted on, they would sue to protect all fish, not just the Snake River fall chinook salmon listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
However, Hansen said the proposal is not about reducing BPA's commitment to fish or about generating more electricity to sell elsewhere. "If it means saving tens of millions of dollars for the ratepayers while meeting our biological goals, then we would like to do that," he said.
Information about the preliminary proposal and comments on the proposal are available at the Salmon recovery website at www.salmonrecovery.gov/implementation.shtml.
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