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Commentaries and editorials

Hells Canyon Relicensing

by Michael Garrity, American Rivers
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 27, 2006

I agree with Fred Mensik (Feedback, 10/20/06) that the existence and operation of the Hells Canyon dam complex has significant negative effects on Snake River salmon and steelhead, and that if those dams were proposed today they never would have been built. The same is true of the four lower Snake River dams. By that definition, both the Hells Canyon Complex and the lower Snake dams are outdated, and American Rivers is using the available policy and legal avenues to address the impacts of both sets of dams.

In the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's relicensing process for the Hells Canyon Complex, American Rivers is pushing for fish passage and improvements to flow and water quality. A key player in any relicensing affecting anadromous fish is the National Marine Fisheries Service, which in the case of the HCC should be demanding - but isn't - that Idaho Power Company, the dam owner, provide fish passage and other operational improvements for salmon. American Rivers, Idaho Rivers United, the Nez Perce, and the State of Oregon are calling for the immediate development of a comprehensive fish passage plan, but it will be an uphill battle without the support of NMFS. Should mitigation measures cost too much relative to the revenue generated by the dams or if FERC otherwise determines it is the best alternative, the relicensing process has the potential to result in dam removal.

The role of NMFS is equally important when it comes to ensuring that the federal dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers allow for a comprehensive salmon and steelhead recovery plan to succeed. So far, only a plan that includes restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River has been demonstrated capable of restoring healthy, fishable populations of all four remaining Snake River salmon and steelhead species. At the same time, federal and independent studies show that the power, transportation, and irrigation benefits of the lower Snake dams can be replaced in a manner that that would cost no more than current, ineffective federal salmon recovery efforts, and hold current river users harmless. That's what I meant when I described the lower Snake dams as "high cost, low value."

Related Pages:
Defining High Cost, Low Value Dams by Fred Mensik, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 7/28/6
Sources Of Mortality for Snake River Fall Chinook by Fred Mensik, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 7/28/6
Hells Canyon Complex Hydropower Federal Energy Regulatory Commision, compiled by Fred Mensik, Summer 2006

Michael Garrity American Rivers
Hells Canyon Relicensing
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 27, 2006

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