the film
Commentaries and editorials

More Studies Urged on Hells Canyon Relicensing

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - September 19, 2003

In their last opportunity to force Idaho Power to put more work into its licensing application for the three Hells Canyon Complex of dams (Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams), state and federal agencies and environmental groups delivered comments this week to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The comments said that the utility needs to complete more studies before the application to relicense the dams could be considered complete.

Although the agencies and environmental groups had commented on Idaho Power's draft application released in September 2002, Connie Kelleher of American Rivers said that agencies and tribes felt that much of what they suggested, particularly the studies they say still need attention, failed to find their way into the final application that Idaho Power delivered to FERC in July.

Today is the last day that groups can appeal to FERC that the application needs more studies and to list those studies needed to complete the application. If FERC decides the application needs no further studies, it will proceed with a NEPA analysis of the application, resulting in an Environmental Impact Statement. However, as the agencies and groups are hoping, it could also tell Idaho Power it needs to do further studies before FERC can proceed with an EIS.

Idaho Power said it believes it has done sufficient studies and that it submitted to FERC a good application based on sound science.

"We believe we have adequately studied the area where our dams are situated," said Dennis Lopez, a spokesman for Idaho Power. "The application is based on sound science and now it's up to FERC."

Idaho Power began work on its application for three dams in Hells Canyon in the early 1990s with some initial studies, Lopez said. The utility is seeking a 30-year license for the dams (although Lopez said the length of the license term is up to FERC, which could grant a license for as many as 50 years). The current license expires in 2005.

However, conservation groups said there are "extensive holes" in the studies.

"Idaho Power gets an 'incomplete' grade on its application. The company has a lot more work to do if it's going to meet its obligation to protect public resources," Kelleher said. "Idaho Power hasn't done the studies that will tell us what needs to be done to make up for the dams' impacts on the river and salmon."

She added that the information on how to protect fish and wildlife needs to be available before FERC issues a 30-year license for the project.

The conservation groups had participated in Idaho Power's relicensing process until 2001, when they broke away because, as they said, the utility was not responding to their ideas.

"We wanted to be a part of their process, but found they refused to conduct studies we requested and also refused to disclose the results of studies they did do," Kelleher said. The groups then looked to the FERC proceedings for input.

Among the studies that American Rivers and Idaho Rivers United asked for were ones on reintroducing anadromous fish to their historic habitat above the dam, as well as more studies on the dams' impacts on water quality and on sediment supply downstream.

Lopez said that Idaho Power has spent $45 million so far on more than 100 studies that touch on all these issues and that the information is included in the more than 25,000 page application, including 3,400 pages describing studies on water quality and habitat upstream of the dams.

"We believe there is not adequate water quality and habitat to support the fish upstream," he said. "There is no use introducing fish to spawn unless there is adequate habitat, so we decided to pay attention to what's happening downstream."

Four studies and 700 pages are given to water quality, he said, including studies on pollutant sources, pollutant transport, total dissolved gas and dissolved oxygen. And, four studies and 1,900 pages were dedicated to sediment "covering a number of areas."

However, fisheries agencies, in addition to the conservation groups, also said studies for the licensing application were incomplete and petitioned FERC to require Idaho Power to perform more studies.

Among the studies Idaho Fish and Game proposed are:

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife suggested similar studies are needed before Idaho Power's application would be adequate for FERC to do an environmental review. In its comments to FERC it said, "the final license application fails to provide information requested by ODFW [in its previous comments on the draft license application], and listed 10 studies, many the same as other agencies who commented to FERC.

The U.S. Forest Service said that Idaho Power had addressed some impacts to federal lands, but the job wasn't quite done and that Idaho Power had come to some conclusions not supported by the agency. Among the issues brought forward by the Forest Service are:

Related Sites:
Idaho Power:
American Rivers:
Idaho Rivers United:
Idaho Department of Fish and Game:
U.S. Forest Service comments to FERC:
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife:

Mike O'Bryant
More Studies Urged on Hells Canyon Relicensing
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 19, 2003

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation