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Dworshak Drawdown Worries Kempthorne

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, January 27, 2001

Gov tells VP and energy chief of his concerns about reservoir

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has spoken to Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham about his concerns with the federal government's reliance on drafting Dworshak Reservoir to meet regional power demands.

Kempthorne met with Cheney and Abraham Friday in Washington, D.C., and told them this might not be the year to use Dworshak water because of the dismal snowpack in the Clearwater River Basin.

"The governor has been making the new administration very well aware of these concerns of draining our water supply when we are going to need that water for recreation, for power and for fish this summer and fall," said Kempthorne's press secretary, Mark Snider.

According to Snider, drafting Dworshak and the consequences of that action will be discussed Friday during the Western Governors Association's energy policy roundtable at Portland

Abraham and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Curt Hebert Jr. will attend the meeting with at least nine western governors, the heads of several federal agencies and tribal leaders.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to draft Dworshak at roughly 6,000 cubic feet per second for the second straight week to meet power demands in the region. The Bonneville Power Administration has declared a power emergency because of low snowpack and reservoir levels in the Northwest and high demand.

Dworshak Reservoir is now 90 feet below full pool and will likely approach 100 feet below full pool in about one week. State, tribal and federal fisheries biologists are concerned drafting the reservoir when the snowpack is so low will leave little water for spring and summer flow augmentation. The snow/water equivalent of the snowpack in the Clearwater River Basin is just 48 percent of average.

For years, the federal government has relied on Dworshak to provide water in the spring and summer to help flush young salmon to the ocean and to cool the Snake River. The practice was incorporated into the National Marine Fisheries Service's recent biological opinion that allows the federal hydropower system on the Snake and Columbia rivers to operate despite its impact on threatened and endangered fish.

But the opinion and the accompanying salmon recovery strategy allow the water to be used for power generation in times of power emergencies. According to Robyn MacKay, BPA manager for operations and planning at Portland, running the system according to the biological opinion would not meet the present demand for power in the Northwest.

But biologists are wondering how low the federal agencies are willing to go.

"Our opinion is Dworshak is the last place they should be getting water from to generate power because it is the sole source of water to cool the Snake River," said Greg Haller of the Nez Perce Tribe's water resources department at Lapwai.

Idaho Fish and Game anadromous fish manager Sharon Kiefer said the lower the reservoir goes the fewer tools fish managers have to assist the migration of young salmon and the return of adults and the more recreation at the reservoir will suffer.

"The bottom line is that several state management objectives will probably be negatively affected by this," she said.

The ability of the corps, BPA and the Bureau of Reclamation to override recovery measures in times of power emergencies is the biggest flaw of the biological opinion, according to salmon advocate Scott Bosse, whose group Idaho Rivers United endorses breaching four dams on the Snake River.

"When Mother Nature doesn't cooperate, this bi-op can deliver very little for fish," he said. Bosse believes long-term solutions to the energy crisis would eliminate the need for the power generated by the four dams.

Eric Barker
Dworshak Drawdown Worries Kempthorne
Lewiston Tribune, January 27, 2001

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