Accurate Data Needed in Salmon Debateby Editors
Tri-City Herald, July 14, 2006
Trying to balance the cost of power with the needs of salmon is a struggle, and competing groups are having a tough time agreeing on solutions.
But one thing is certain -- the more accurate the information, the better the decisions will be in the end.
At the congressional hearing on the salmon and dams held recently in the Tri-Cities, some participants suggested the Bonneville Power Administration shouldn't include lost electrical production as part of the cost of saving endangered fish.
"No agency should be allowed to convert potential revenue to a loss," said Rebecca Miles, commissioner with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland. She said people should start looking at salmon recovery "as an investment and not as a loss."
Actually, no matter how people try to spin it, diverting water from turbines on hydroelectric dams to help speed juvenile salmon to the ocean is a direct cost that can be easily calculated.
By raising objections to including lost power revenue as part of the picture, tribes and environmentalists give the impression that they're worried people won't think salmon are worth it.
Honest differences over the best ways to save our salmon are inevitable, but facts are facts. Let's use them as a basis for decisions.
The loss of potential revenues affects the rates consumers pay for power and should be included in the cost of the salmon recovery effort.
For those of us footing the bill, there's no meaningful difference between a dollar spent on improving a fish ladder, for example, and a dollar increase in our electric bills to make up for lost revenue at the dams.
The Endangered Species Compliance and Transparency Cost Act is a proposal sponsored by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris and co-sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings, both Eastern Washington Republicans and members of the House Water and Power Subcommittee.
The bill would direct power marketing groups such as the BPA to include how much it costs for them to comply with the Endangered Species Act and how much they lose from water that isn't used for power generation.
Stephen Wright, BPA administrator and chief executive officer, said a judicial order to spill more water for Columbia River salmon last summer cost Northwest ratepayers $75 million in lost hydropower revenue.
Wright also said if the water being spilled over dams to assist in fish passage was used instead to generate power, it would be enough to meet Seattle's annual electric energy needs.
Those are big effects and should be considered along with the other numbers used in the power-salmon debate.
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