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BPA Wants to Reduce Summer Spill

by Staff
Lewiston Tribune, June 9, 2004

Environmentalists, fisherman criticize plan, saying it places profits over salmon

PORTLAND, Ore. -- In an effort to save money, the Bonneville Power Administration proposed a plan to reduce spill at Snake and Columbia river dams this summer.

The agency said running water through turbines instead of allowing it to fall over spillways will save between $20 to $31 million. Indian tribes, environmental groups and fishermen criticized the plan, saying it puts profits ahead of endangered salmon.

"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 at Boise.

Reducing the amount of water that runs over spillways is expected to harm juvenile fall chinook and lead to smaller returns of adult salmon. Summer spill is a central part of the federal government's plan to recover salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. The water is used to push young fish to the ocean and keep them away from turbines.

But the practice is also costly. 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. Summer spill costs as much as $77 million per year in lost revenue, according to the agency and reducing it during August could save a significant portion of that.

The agency proposed a series of so-called offset measures it says will more than make up for the young fish killed. The measures include raising the bounty on northern pike minnows that prey on young salmon, limiting flow fluctuations in the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River that strand young salmon and paying Idaho Power Co. to pass 100,000 acre feet of water through its Hells Canyon complex of dams in July. The offsets would cost about $10 million

"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 approximately $20 million to $31 million," said BPA Administrator Steve Wright.

A proposal to take additional water from Dworshak Reservoir in August was not part of the plan.

The summer spill proposal released Tuesday by the federal power marketing agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will reduce the amount of water available for juvenile salmon migration by about 39 percent. An earlier proposal would have reduced spill by as much as 55 percent and save about $45 million in lost energy production.

Under the proposal, summer spill would end at The Dalles and Bonneville dams on the Columbia River at the end of July and end at Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River and John Day Dam on the Columbia River Aug. 22. Ending spill would generate about 1,000 megawatts, or enough electricity to light a city the size of Seattle for a month, Wright said.

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.

Related Pages: Flow Augmentation on Lower Snake River Power from River Flow

BPA Wants to Reduce Summer Spill
Lewiston Tribune, June 9, 2004

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