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Federal Agencies Take Comment
on Reduced Spill Proposal

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 18, 2004

Federal agencies met with tribes, states and others Monday afternoon (June 14) to get feedback about an amended summer spill proposal that would cut spill for fish passage at Columbia and Snake River dams in July and August by about 39 percent.

Utility and large industrial groups called the proposal, released last week, a good start that doesn't go far enough.

Conservation groups criticized the reduced spill plan, contending it erodes the mandate of of NOAA Fisheries' 2000 Biological Opinion of the Columbia River power system, which focuses on hydrosystem improvements and habitat restoration, rather than dam-breaching.

Commercial and sport fishing groups said that the proposal seems to only recognize the the economics of power generation, while ignoring the economics of their communities.

Tribes with treaty-reserved fishing rights, threatening a lawsuit, demanded the proposal be removed from the table.

Jay Minthorn, a member of the Board of Trustees for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said it's important to get federal agencies, states and tribes at the same table, but he noted that in February, 54 Northwest tribes passed a resolution opposing a reduction in summer spill.

"Since then BPA has continued to work to cut summer spill," Minthorn said. "I urge you to withdraw this proposal immediately."

BPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their amended spill proposal June 8 that would curtail less spill than the original proposal that was released March 30.

That was a three-year proposal calling for reducing spill by 55 percent in July and August, and providing $2 million to $5 million in offsets to make up for the loss of juvenile salmon. That plan would have increased BPA revenues by $40 million.

The amended proposal, now a one-year plan that recognizes increased impacts on juvenile salmon, would cut spill by 39 percent and provide up to $10 million in offsets. Revenue gains for BPA would net between $20 and $31 million.

BPA estimates the total cost of spilling water in the summer at $77 million.

"We're very intent on looking for and finding a sustainable solution that will benefit fish and also the power system," Brig. Gen. William T. Grisoli, the Corps' Northwestern Division commander, said at the Monday meeting.

He said the proposal has been scaled back and is much more conservative than the original proposal. He added that it has been important to establish confidence in the impacts analysis as well as the offset analysis, and it also is important to get regional support for the plan, which was the purpose of the public meeting in Portland.

While the amended proposal still provides substantial benefits for the power system in increased revenue, "we want to achieve that in a manner in which salmon are no worse off and we think that is true with this proposal," said Steve Wright, BPA administrator.

However, BPA customers said the proposal doesn't go far enough and some said spilling water during summer months is not justified by the benefits to fish and should end altogether.

"The proposal doesn't go far enough," said Shauna McReynolds of the Coalition for Smart Salmon Recovery, a coalition of farmers, employers, utility customers and public utilities in the Northwest. "The administration and federal agencies missed another opportunity, based on good science, to help salmon and help our economy."

Still, she said the amended proposal is a "step in the right direction" and should mark the beginning of a review of how money is spent for salmon recovery. Others, like Oregon state Rep. Bob Jensen, R-Pendleton, and Glenn Vanselow, director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, lauded the proposal as a first step for the region in a campaign to consider cost-effectiveness in salmon recovery programs.

Greg Miller of the Weyerhaeuser Company said the increased revenue and potential power cost cut of 1 to 2 percent could mean that the company's annual electric bills at Oregon and Washington plants would drop by $800,000 to $2.2 million.

Ken Canon of the Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities, representing 35 industrial customers, said one of his pulp and paper mill customers would save $200,000 a year. One reason, he added, is that when spill is eliminated in August, the federal hydro system can produce cheap power at a time when power costs are the highest. BPA can avoid expensive power purchases on the market that it makes now while it spills water at its dams.

"We think the obligation under the Power Act is to restore the economic value of the Columbia River power system," said Steve Marshall of Snohomish Public Utility District.

As BPA's largest public utility customer, he said that Snohomish pays 10 percent of BPA's $600 million in annual salmon recovery costs. "Our goal should be to achieve the same biological goals at the least possible cost, and we think this proposal does that. There are plenty of fish in the river now to run this test without fear of extinction."

However, others said there is another economy that the proposal does not consider. Oliver Waldman, representing Salmon for All, said proponents of reduced summer spill don't understand the breadth of the benefits the non-listed fish offer for commercial and recreational harvest in the river and up the coast as far as Alaska.

"You risk our economic base," Walton said, pointing to the potential losses for the commercial fishery. "Many times we feel like the benefits of power has no limits, but it's inevitable that you will affect another user group. Have you overreached your allocation? The Columbia River not only produces power, it produces fish."

Spilling water doesn't cost anyone, said Andrew Englander of Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. That's unearned revenue people are talking about, he said, of the water that BPA doesn't own. He also pointed to the $200 million annual revenue BPA doesn't get as a result of irrigation withdrawals from the Columbia River. He said the reduced spill would save less than a penny on residential customers' monthly bills.

"But risking tens of thousands of salmon, salmon-dependent jobs, businesses and communities for less than a dollar a year simply doesn't add up," Englander said. "Salmon means business to the Northwest, and I hope BPA has not lost sight of that point.

"Cutting summer spill must be seen within the scope of a crumbling and lackluster salmon restoration effort that has all but abandoned the prospects of recovery," he continued. "Our single greatest fear may be that irresponsibly cutting summer spill lowers the bar for salmon recovery efforts that already have fallen short."

Phil Donovan, representing the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, said his group, made up of individuals and business that serve recreational fishers, strenuously object to reducing protections for salmon.

"Our businesses are reliant on how summer fish come back each year," he said. "And, flow and spill are the backbone of the aggressive non-breach BiOp. Now these agencies are asking us to turn off the most critical parts of the BiOp."

Washington Gov. Gary Locke continues to support the summer spill change on the condition that there is no net loss for fish and that mitigation is provided for both listed and unlisted fish, said Larry Cassidy, Washington representative on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

However, he said biologists from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are concerned whether the 100,000 acre feet of augmentation water from Idaho Power's Brownlee Dam in July is actually new water.

BPA and the Corps are proposing the water as an offset mitigation measure to make up for losses of threatened Snake River fall chinook, but some biologists, Cassidy said, worry that Idaho Power had already intended to release that water, since it had drafted Brownlee to some extent during July in each of the past three years. He also asked why spill is being cut at The Dalles Dam while there are still outbound migrants from the John Day and Deschutes rivers still present.

"One of the hardest things to do is to describe what would have happened in the absence of an agreement," Wright said of the agreement with Idaho Power for Brownlee water. "Idaho Power provided us with their operations plan and we negotiated the kaf above that level. It is not water that otherwise would have come down."

Bob Lohn, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said the decision to not spill at The Dalles Dam but to spill at other dams had to do with where the greatest benefits could be achieved. He said there was a greater benefit in spilling at John Day Dam, rather than The Dalles Dam.

Michael Bogert, counsel to Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, lauded the proposal largely because BPA abandoned the potential offset of providing flow augmentation in the lower Snake River by drawing extra water from Dworshak Reservoir, a measure strongly opposed by local residents.

Pointing to the $2 million each for hatchery and habitat improvements BPA and the Corps are proposing as offsets, Judi Danielson, chair of the Council and representative from Idaho, urged BPA to use the Council process to select the projects.

"We have a plethora of projects that have not been funded," she said. "You don't need a solicitation or new projects to meet the needs of your proposal. Those are already within what we have."

Wright said that one mechanism proposed by BPA to choose the projects is the Council process, but that BPA was keeping that open so it could look for the best mechanism. He wants the money to focus on needs in subbasins that look like they are suffering.

Tom Byler of Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski's office, said the state endorsed the notion of reduced summer spill, but also wants to ensure that there is no net loss to fish and that the additional revenues would go to customers.

Given the poor April performance under the Hanford Reach Agreement, asked Lindsey Ball, director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, will that work as an offset? He also asked what assurance the U.S. v Oregon process would approve of holding over for one year 200,000 subyearling chinook at Lyons Ferry Hatchery? Finally, he encouraged long-term solutions to spill, such as the use of removable spillway weirs at more dams.

Wright said the Hanford Reach Agreement adds value and that BPA did not claim all the benefits for fish. "We believe we are in compliance with the agreement," he said. "Our performance this year compared to past years is significantly improved."

Montana fully supports the amended proposal, said Ed Bartlett, a Council member representing Gov. Judy Martz, but it's just a start. He called for a multi-year approach and said the action is consistent with the Council's Mainstem Amendments, adopted in 2003.

"This is a balanced and reasonable approach and that's why we support it," Bartlett said. "Montana is still pursuing Libby and Hungry Horse (dams) operations that would be consistent with the Mainstem Amendments. This new approach is not silent on Libby and Hungry Horse, but it's not obvious. We still need your support on that implementation."

The amended proposal calls for testing lower levels of spill at Bonneville and Ice Harbor dams in July, eliminating spill at Bonneville and The Dalles dams in August and to end spill at Ice Harbor and John Day dams August 22, rather than the BiOp required August 31.

It also proposes one mitigation measure to offset losses of listed Snake River fall chinook -- Brownlee flow augmentation in July -- and five other measures to offset losses of unlisted fish. Those include an enhanced pikeminnow predator control program, a portion of the benefits to fish of the Hanford Reach Stranding Agreement, Lyons Ferry Hatchery actions, and habitat and hatchery improvements. Offset would cost about $9.7 million in 2004.

The proposal, which can be found on the federal salmon recovery web site at , said that it -- both the spill reductions and mitigation offsets -- "achieves the same or better survival benefits for salmon as the current operation (BiOp operation)."

Related Sites:
Technical Management Team:
Water Supply Forecast:

Mike O'Bryant
Federal Agencies Take Comment on Reduced Spill Proposal
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 18, 2004

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