the film
Commentaries and editorials

Power Council Plan Calls for
Releasing Less Water for Fish

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, October 19, 2002

The Northwest Power Planning Council is recommending that federal dams in the Columbia River Basin increase wintertime electricity generation and that reservoirs in Montana and Idaho release less water each spring to help carry young salmon to the sea.

The council rejected proposals by Oregon and Columbia River tribes to increase releases of water to benefit salmon. The council plan is not binding on the federal government but is important because it represents the consensus of Northwest states.

Under the draft plan, less water would be held in inland reservoirs each winter. It calls for a new assessment of the benefits to salmon of sending water over spillways at federal dams instead of through electricity-generating turbines. Young salmon can be killed or injured in the spinning turbines.

One of Oregon's two council representatives, Eric Bloch, voted against the plan; the other, John Brogoitti, voted for it, along with all the representatives from Idaho, Montana and Washington. Congress set up the council in 1980 to balance power production with fish and wildlife protection in the four states.

The federal government's salmon-recovery guidelines, released in December 2000, call for water to be released from federal reservoirs each spring and summer to increase flows in the Columbia and Snake rivers. The guidelines require that millions of gallons of water be sent over spillways to help young salmon avoid the turbines

On Friday, conservationists reacted angrily to the power council's proposal, saying it erred by putting electricity generation above the needs of salmon.

But Tom Karier, one of Washington state's two representatives on the council, said it made sense to study the costs and benefits of spilling water for salmon. "This is an example of looking for ways to utilize scarce resources for fish at significantly lower costs. I think there is a lot of concern that if we were to change things it will be worse for fish. I don't share that view."

Some research indicates that spill can be decreased without hurting migrating salmon, Karier said, allowing more electricity to be generated. But it's also possible the council would recommend that more water be spilled over the dams if studies show that increasing spill would help salmon, he said.

The plan calls for holding water in Montana reservoirs until later in the year, which representatives of that state said would benefit bull trout and other fish that live in those reservoirs -- without hurting salmon

The council will accept written comments about the plan until Jan. 10 and will hold hearings in Idaho, Montana and Oregon, with a final public hearing Jan. 14 in Vancouver.

Related Pages:
ID & MT Seek Reduced Water Spills for Columbia Salmon by Jonathan Brinckman, The Oregonian, 10/16/2
Power Council Votes on Proposals for Changing Mainstem Operations by Bill Rudolph, NW Fishletter, 10/22/2
Council Proposes Changes to Mainstem Operations by Barry Espenson, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 10/18/2
BPA Mid-Columbia Customers Favor Montana/Idaho Plan by Mike O'Bryant, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 10/18/2
Dam Operators Propose Changes in Fish Spill by Mike O'Bryant, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 10/25/2

Jonathan Brinckman
Power Council Plan Calls for Releasing Less Water for Fish
The Oregonian, October 19, 2002

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