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Commentaries and editorials

Summer Spill Proposal a Worthy Compromise

by Editors
Tri-City Herald, April 4, 2004

Federal agencies' proposal to reduce fish-saving water spills over four Columbia and Snake river dams is a good compromise.

The Bonneville Power Administration and Army Corps of Engineers are responding to studies that put the cost of summer spills at between $3.1 million and $7.6 million for each endangered fish the program spares.

The program costs $77 million in lost power and is estimated to save at most 24 imperiled Snake River fall chinook. The reason so few are helped is that there are few fish left to help. The region already barges about 90 percent of Snake River fall chinook down the river.

Whether saving a few additional fish is worth that much is a good question for the region, but the answer is not as simple as it might seem.

Extraordinary efforts for those fish may not be mandated by the Endangered Species Act, but sacrificing them is not a viable option.

Bonneville and the Corps have acknowledged that reality in their proposal to curtail, not eliminate, summer spills. Their plan essentially goes halfway -- eliminating spills at four dams in August, when the least number of fish benefit from them, and reducing them at Ice Harbor in July.

The agencies estimate that decreasing spills will kill less than 1 percent of the endangered Snake River fall chinook and 1.7 percent of Hanford Reach fall chinook.

Running the August water through the turbines rather than over the dams would generate about $60 million of power. Some of that could be funneled back into other recovery measures to make up for the increased losses at the dams. The rest would help keep power rates down.

The result -- a smaller bottom line for salmon recovery -- is an easy target for critics.

But helping flagging fish runs doesn't come with a set price tag. There is no spending threshold beyond which the region can be satisfied that it's addressing the problem.

If the region can save money and still save the same number of fish, it should do it.

bluefish does the math for your convenience: BPA estimates that eliminating summer spill would provide 1.15 - 1.49 million Megawatt*hours (MWh) of "surplus" electricity to sell (typically to California) at an estimated average price of $32/MWh (yielding $37 - $46 million). Prices of course will vary with time of day and electricity market conditions. BPA estimates that elimination of summer spill could potentially provide a 2% electricity rate reduction.

Summer Spill Proposal a Worthy Compromise
Tri-City Herald, April 4, 2004

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