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BPA Faces Suit Over Summer Operations

by Associated Press
Lewiston Tribune, November 6, 2001

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Conservation groups and Indian tribes filed lawsuits in federal appeals court Monday claiming the Bonneville Power Administration failed to balance salmon protection with power production last summer during one of the worst droughts on record in the Pacific Northwest.

"We are seeking to ensure that Bonneville meets both its power and its fish and wildlife obligations," said Samuel N. Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe at Lapwai.

"They had choices to make and then ended up making things worse than they had to be," said Bill Arthur, spokesman for the Sierra Club chapter in Seattle.

The lawsuits, filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, said the power emergency that Bonneville declared last April was used to bypass the requirements of a federal salmon recovery plan adopted last December.

The groups and tribes said that biological data released by the federal Fish Passage Center in October show juvenile salmon migration this year has been the worst on record.

Bonneville officials said they had not read the lawsuit, but they defended last summer's management policies.

"This was the worst drought in a long time in the Northwest," said BPA spokesman Ed Mosey, something "that critics of the fish program conveniently ignore."

The federal power marketing agency, based in Portland, is required by the Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Act of 1980 to treat salmon protection with the same level of importance as hydroelectric power production.

The environmental groups and tribes say that fish were sacrificed for energy production.

But Mosey said the BPA carefully conserved water for fish passage and used it to aid peak migration, rather than spilling it continually from April through August, as is typical during years when water levels are normal or high.

Mosey also said the fish passage numbers are for salmon that travel the river on their own and does not include fish that were barged around dams -- more than half the total for the Columbia River Basin. The returns for fish that were barged have been extremely high, breaking records in some areas, Mosey said.

Environmentalists, however, said protection of so-called "in-river" fish that travel the waterways on their own remains a requirement of the power act, which mandates "equitable treatment" for fish despite energy demands.

"Had BPA treated fish equitably, it could have reduced the impact of low flows. Instead, BPA declared a power emergency that balanced power generation on the backs of fish and sacrificed millions of salmon and steelhead," said Bert Bowler, Native Fisheries Director for Idaho Rivers United at Boise.

Bowler's group joined the Sierra Club, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermenís Associations and the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center in Portland to file the lawsuit. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation joined the Nez Perce Tribe in its claim. The lawsuits were filed under a provision of the power act that allows a challenge to BPA salmon conservation efforts to go directly to the federal appeals court.

A three-judge panel is expected to review the lawsuit but no date had been set for a hearing.

Associated Press
BPA Faces Suit Over Summer Operations
Lewiston Tribune, November 6, 2001

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