Idaho Power's Fall Flows
by Rocky Barker
Idaho Power CEO Joe Marshall opened Sen Mark Hatfield's 1990 salmon summit with a move he hoped would set the table for action across the Northwest.
He said the Idaho utility, from that point on, would reduce the flows from Hells Canyon Dam and keep them stable to aid the fall chinook salmon that were spawning there. Chinook numbers were in the low hundreds and it was likely they might be placed on the federal list of threatened and endangered species.
But it 1990, Marshall and Idaho Power acted proactively and voluntarily. In 1991, biologists counted, 47 salmon redds, the nests female salmon dig in the Snake River's gravel, below Hells Canyon Dam.
In 2010, 2,944 redds were counted, the highest number since the dams were build in the 1950s and 1960s and cut off miles of spawning habitat.
Idaho started its annual fall chinook flows, dropping the outflow from Hells Canyon to 14,000 getting ready for the arrival of the salmon. They'll keep the flows stable until Dec. 5 when the fish are done spawning.
Now the utility is required to provide the spawning flows by its license and the Endangered Species Act. But as many Idahoans did in the early 1990s, including ranchers along the Lemhi River and Idaho water users who proposed providing hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water to aid salmon migration, they didn't wait.
Idaho Power still doesn't have new license for its Hells Canyon complex, in part because the Environmental Protection Agency is not satisfied with the utility's plan to increase water temperatures below the dam in the fall. Idaho Power has proposed a series of projects upstream in the Snake River designed to reduce temperatures over time.
But EPA officials say the company can't ensure those measures will assure the temperatures meet federal standards during the early weeks of the fall salmon migration. It wants Idaho Power to install a device on the dam that would lower temperatures but at a high cost.
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