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Idaho Flow Augmentation Water Use Murky

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - July 12, 2002

The Bureau of Reclamation said that it can deliver this summer to Snake River dam reservoirs owned by Idaho Power Company only about two-thirds of the water required to augment river flows in the lower Snake River.

However, Idaho Power said it is not obligated to shape that additional water so it can be used to augment flows and meet summer flow targets for endangered salmon and steelhead migrating through federal dams.

Due to lower than average water volumes in the upper Snake River, the BOR has said that it would be able to deliver about 300,000 acre feet of water from upriver reservoirs, not the 427 kaf required by the National Marine Fisheries Service 2000 biological opinion. Tony Norris, of BOR, revised the agency's estimates downwards to 278 kaf at this week's Technical Management Team meeting, but also said BOR would reserve 40 kaf of the water until April 2003 in order to maintain water quality in Cascade Lake, dropping summer flow augmentation totals to 238 kaf.

Although the state of Idaho has an accurate water accounting system that will ensure the flow augmentation water will reach Idaho Power reservoirs, accounting for that water through those reservoirs becomes murky.

In the past, the Bonneville Power Administration had a shaping agreement with Idaho Power that would allow TMT to call on the water when needed to augment flows in the lower Snake River in July and August. The agreement included compensating Idaho Power for passing the water when it was needed for flow augmentation, even if it was not needed by Idaho Power for power production. That agreement expired before last summer and, without the agreement, Idaho Power said it has no responsibility to pass the water at TMT's request. At this point, BPA and Idaho Power both say there are no talks in the works to renew the agreement.

"This program is designed to help fish migrate through downstream (federal) projects and we shouldn't have to incur expenses for those projects," said Idaho Power's Jonathan Bowling.

He added that Brownlee Reservoir, the lake backed up behind one of the company's Hells Canyon Complex of four dams, is full and the company plans to keep it full and pass inflow through July. In August, the utility will begin to use the water to meet power demands of its customers. The operation may pass some of the water provided by BOR, but it doesn't allow for shaping water to increase outflows at Brownlee Dam at the request of TMT.

TMT fisheries managers had asked Idaho Power in a June 25 system operations request to pass the flow augmentation water beginning in July. However, in a strongly-worded response from Idaho Power attorney James Tucker, Idaho Power refused to provide the water on call and said the SOR "goes beyond the scope and mission of the TMT" and also implies Idaho Power is responsible for ESA-listed species at federal facilities.

"This is not only an inappropriate recommendation, but one that implies that the Company bears some responsibility for meeting those flow objectives and assisting with the migration of juvenile salmonids through the lower Snake River federal projects," Tucker wrote. "The Company does not."

He added that the flow augmentation program, which has been included in NMFS BiOps since 1996, and is included in the 2000 BiOp, "was designed to avoid a jeopardy finding for the FCRPS (Federal Columbia River Power System), particularly the four lower Snake River federal dams."

Paul Wagner of NMFS said the idea that Idaho Power has no responsibility for endangered salmon in the Snake River is baffling because the dams have affected salmon. When the Hells Canyon Complex of dams was built, it shifted warmer water temperature to later in the spring and so also shifted the migration timing of salmon. "The response (from Idaho Power) never seems to address this," he said.

However, Idaho Power said the science on the benefits of flow augmentation are inconclusive and that there are competing opinions, which the SOR should have addressed.

"In the Company's view, the TMT should also require that proposed SORs include contrary views and competing science in connection with the biological basis for the recommended action," Tucker wrote. "This would allow the TMT to more effectively guide federal policy choices."

"Without the cooperation of Idaho Power, it makes it difficult for us to make decisions," said Ron Boyce, TMT member from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "There are a lot of shortfalls this year due to the lack of cooperation. I urge your company to work with this group."

"Idaho Power has tried to be cooperative," said Bowling. "If the federal entities want to be cooperative with us, we would," referring to renewing a water shaping agreement with BPA.

Norris said flow augmentation water includes:

40 kaf comes out of the Payette River system to ensure water quality in Cascade Lake.

(bluefish has learned from Bureau of Reclamation's Rich Rigby that acquiring 427,000 acre feet costs about $2-3 million per year)

Related Sites:
Bureau of Reclamation:
Idaho Power Company:
Technical Management Team:

Mike O'Bryant
Idaho Flow Augmentation Water Use Murky
Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 12, 2002

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