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California's Heat Wave Threatens Salmon Here

by Robert McClure
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 2, 2000

Power switch could pose peril from dams for fish

Californians once again are affecting the lifestyle of the Pacific Northwest -- only this time without moving here.

Authorities yesterday urged Northwesterners to cut back on electricity use, leaving more power to be shipped south to fuel air conditioners cranking at a near-record pace across California.

High temperatures and soaring power demands hit California yesterday for the fifth consecutive day. Authorities stopped short of imposing rolling blackouts.

"This emergency is very real. . . . The elderly, sick and infants are particularly vulnerable in extreme temperatures when there are power failures," said Judi Johansen, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets power produced by federal dams in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

Providing relief for sweltering Californians, though, could spell trouble for the proverbial icon of the Northwest: its dwindling stocks of salmon.

If power needs in California surge even higher today and the transmission capability exists, Johansen's agency plans to suspend salmon-friendly operations of federal dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers to make more electricity for Californians.

That would mean running more water through turbines at dams on Northwest rivers to produce additional power, and running less water over the dam's spillways. That would force more young salmon through the turbines, where they risk bruises, cuts and the chance of infection.

The salmon that use spillways to go over the top of the dams are less vulnerable to injury.

The procedures the BPA is considering would be imposed for perhaps four to six hours at a time. During that period, an estimated 2 percent more of the juvenile fish migrating downstream would be killed in the dams, said BPA spokesman Perry Gruber.

This is not a peak migration period for the salmon.

BPA power shipped south yesterday helped California prevent blackouts. Come winter, when the Northwest needs to stay warm, the favor will likely be repaid.

The BPA serves Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana and parts of four other states. It provides nearly half the electricity consumed in the region, largely with power from Columbia, Snake and other federal dams.

The cause of the California heat was a high-pressure system stretching from Mexico to Canada. But the long-term cause of the power crunch is the state's booming economic growth recently, coupled with a lack of newly built power generators and deregulation of the state's electricity markets.

California's power grid operator, the Independent System Operator, was considering the rolling blackouts yesterday as its board of governors lowered electricity rates that increased last year. The changing rate structure has led to charges by watchdog groups and critics that electricity deregulation there has failed.

Robert McClure
California's Heat Wave Threatens Salmon Here
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 2, 2000

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