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Commentaries and editorials

Dam Spillway Closures Would Harm Oregon

by Ted Kulongoski
The Oregonian, July 22, 2004

Oregon's economy depends on our state's natural resources and the opportunities those resources provide.

Unfortunately, Oregon's economic and environmental health are threatened by the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to stop spilling water this summer over four dams in the Snake River and Lower Columbia River system. These federal agencies are claiming this is a cost-effective action that will benefit ratepayers without causing a negative biological impact.

Oregon has participated in ongoing discussions with the agencies to develop more cost-effective ways to generate hydropower while supporting salmon recovery, but Oregon cannot support the direction these agencies are headed. I propose a better solution that will help create a healthy Oregon for all.

I oppose the federal agencies' plan to stop spilling water over dams for five reasons. The plan undermines recent court rulings and biological opinions about salmon recovery; offers little or no benefit to many residential ratepayers; will harm our state's sport, commercial and tribal fisheries; could eventually increase restrictions on land-based industries and landowners in our watersheds; and potentially could damage the state's long-term economic health.

The BPA/Corps proposal indicates that spillway shutoff will increase revenues by increasing power generation. In theory, the public interest is protected because higher revenues might allow a rate cut for utility customers -- a laudable goal. However, BPA and the utility companies that purchase power from BPA cannot guarantee that any portion of the new revenue will be used to reduce rates. In fact, the Oregon Department of Energy has confirmed estimates by the Northwest Energy Coalition that, if all of the additional revenues generated by the closures are used to reduce utility bills, the average homeowner will save perhaps a dime a month for a year.

In exchange for this possible -- but not guaranteed -- short-term rate reduction, however, Oregon will pay over the long term in several ways.

State and tribal fish biologists estimate that the spillway plan to shut off water spills at four dams during August may kill as many as 500,000 juvenile fish migrating to the ocean. Agency proposals to offset these losses with other actions do not ensure that no net harm will come to Oregon's salmon and steelhead. Instead, the proposals could place additional stress on fish species already listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

If half a million fewer fish reach the ocean this year, fewer fish will return as adults: Oregon can expect up to 20,000 fewer adult fish returning to the Columbia River. The result will be reduced harvest quotas, reduced incomes for commercial fishers, reduced trips by sport fishers, and eventually reduced earnings for retailers, fishing guides, hotels and the many other Oregonians who benefit from outdoor recreation expenditures.

In addition, if currently healthy native fish populations such as those in the Deschutes River drop to a point that triggers Endangered Species Act requirements, we could see an increase in land-use restrictions on land-based industries and landowners within the Columbia River Basin in order to protect and restore fish habitat. These restrictions would likely impose a long-lasting financial burden on rural economies.

We can choose not to fix juvenile fish-passage problems at our hydropower facilities, but we do so at our peril.

However, a much better method is available to balance the dual priorities of hydropower generation and spilling water for salmon -- without pitting these two priorities against each other -- by using emerging technology to address both priorities concurrently.

Removable spillway weirs safely pass fish through spillways while using less water. The corps currently plans to install these weirs at just two Snake River dams. I am calling on BPA and the corps to install these weirs and related devices at all remaining Snake River and Columbia River dams.

As governor, I am doing everything I can to help Oregon's economy grow, including promoting Oregon's natural resources to maintain the quality of life we all enjoy, increase tourism, and bring in additional revenues through efforts such as promoting the sale of Oregon wild-caught salmon. The BPA/corps plan to close dam spillways does not achieve these goals or the goal of cost-effective salmon recovery.

The BPA/corps plan may be good business for BPA, but it is not good business for Oregon. Let's work instead toward implementing long-term solutions that are good business for everybody, and that respect and support our state's bountiful natural resources.

Related Pages:
Oregon Offers Little Support for Summer Spill Proposal by Bill Rudolph, NW Fishletter 3/15/4
Kulongoski Challenges Hydro Dam Spills by Joe Rojas-Burke, The Oregonian 7/20/4

Ted Kulongoski is the governor of Oregon.
Dam Spillway Closures Would Harm Oregon
The Oregonian, July 22, 2004

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