by Paul Hill
Last week at the salmon forum in Boise, Rep. Mike Simpson demonstrated the kind of leadership largely absent in Congress today. By publicly stating his commitment to play a leadership role in dealing with both Bonneville Power Administration’s impending financial crisis and the threat of extinction to Idaho’s iconic salmon, Mike has provided a launch pad for meaningful progress on these intertwined issues.
The BPA, based on its own numbers, has exhausted most of its reserves and faces nearly a billion dollars in required but unfunded retrofits/replacements to its four lower Snake River dams’ turbines. It’s also incurring total power production costs on the dams well above what it can sell energy for in a Northwest market experiencing a major and growing power excess. Without relief from current burdens like the lower Snake River dams (which generate less than 5 percent of total Pacific Northwest power production), BPA’s only alternatives are substantial customer rate increases or a governmental bailout.
Concurrently, numbers of Idaho’s wild returning Chinook and sockeye salmon have plummeted to levels that may be unsustainable and point to total extinction absent more dramatic solutions than those tried to date. Most knowledgeable fish biologists agree that the best (and maybe only) long- term solution is breaching the dams.
Thus, as Simpson said, breaching these dams must be considered along with a way to meet the needs of those farmers and others currently using lower Snake dam-dependent barges to get to market. Solutions are available, and through the commitment, collaboration and creativity that Simpson urges, they can be found. But the need is now and we must all do whatever possible to support Simpson’s efforts!
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