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Economic and dam related articles

Feds Release Draft License
for Hell's Canyon

by Associated Press
KGW, July 30, 2006

Environmental groups criticized proposed conditions in a draft federal license for the Idaho Power Co. to continue operating its three-dam Hells Canyon complex, saying they do little to help restore endangered Snake River salmon runs or improve on-the-water recreation.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday released the preliminary license to allow the 455,000-customer utility to operate its half-century-old Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams for another 30 years.

According to the draft license, the utility must release 237,000 acre feet of water from the dam from late June through July, at least until 2009, to help flush the juvenile salmon downstream.

Idaho Power hadn't included that provision in its proposal, but environmental groups and federal fisheries agencies had wanted it.

In addition, the license would require the Boise company to start a pilot program to help bolster spawning gravel for juvenile fall chinook salmon, as well as undertake several measures to monitor and improve water quality above and below the dams.

A public comment period on the draft license runs until Oct. 3.

Conservation groups such as Idaho Rivers United have been critical of the re-licensing process for the 50-year-old dams that generate enough power to light 875,000 homes.

They say the federal regulator hasn't done enough to help restore salmon in this tributary of the Columbia River. The license wouldn't require the utility to install fish ladders, something the groups demanded.

"We end up with another 30 to 50 years of the status quo, which is not good enough," Bill Sedivy of Idaho Rivers United at Boise told the Lewiston Tribune. "They run that river like it's their own private power source and it's not. That water doesn't belong to them it belongs to all of us."

The dams block traditional runs of salmon and steelhead, and many blame the massive river barriers, as well as poor water quality in the resulting slackwater, for decimating the prized sport fish. Idaho Power officials didn't immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

According to the draft license, the company also must maintain stable flows during periods when fall chinook are spawning below the dam and their eggs remain in river gravel.

The draft license doesn't include setting minimum navigation flows for the upper stretch of the canyon. That had been requested by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and commercial jet boat operators, but FERC concluded such provisions would only benefit jet boat operators who run large boats that have trouble at lower flows and it would cost the company an estimated $12.5 million each year in lost electricity.

According to the draft license, the utility, whose original permit to operate the dams expired a year ago, also won't be required to restore beaches that disappeared when the dams were built in the 1950s.

Several state and federal agencies and the Nez Perce Indian Tribe, whose traditional lands border the Snake River, had wanted the company to pay for efforts to restore salmon habitat above Brownlee Reservoir, and to plan and study the addition of fish passage at the dams.

FERC opted against that, at least for now, saying water quality above the dams is too degraded to support a viable salmon run.

Related Sites:
FERC Report

Excerpts from FERC report:
A review of trends in adult fall Chinook returns lends further support to the ISAB conclusion that there is a generally positive relationship between flow and survival for outmigrating fall Chinook salmon. There has been a substantial increase in adult fall Chinook returns past lower Granite dam, closely tracking with both the total flow augmentation provided from the Snake River Basin (figure 57) and flow augmentation provided from Brownlee reservoir (figure 58) during the year of outmigration.

The thermal regime in the historical production area upstream of the (Hells Canyon) project, which was primarily between Auger Falls (RM 607) and Huntington (RM 328), was influenced by substantial spring inflows and promoted early emergence, rapid growth and early emigration. Current spawning locations are generally cooler compared to the historical production area, because they are farther removed from the Thousand Springs reach near Upper Salmon Falls, where spring-inflows provided a warmer incubation and early rearing environment. Loss of access to these spring-influenced production areas resulted resulting in reduced growth potential and delayed emigration of juvenile fall Chinook salmon, which is associated with reduced survival (Connor et al., 1998; Smith et al., 2003). These adverse effects have been compounded by the construction of additional dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers, through increased water temperatures, increased predation, and slower migration.

Associated Press
Feds Release Draft License for Hell's Canyon
KGW, July 30, 2006

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