by The Associated Press
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reviews proposals for operating 4 dams
Conservationists want Idaho Power Co. to let the Middle Snake River flow naturally through its hydropower generators all year long, and federal regulators say that might create more power, but at an increased cost.
"The best way to maintain the health of all the critters that live in the river is to let the stream flow naturally," Tom Stuart of Idaho Rivers United said.
The so-called "year-round run-of-river" plan is one of three options to the way the utility has historically operated the four dams from Shoshone Falls to Bliss in south-central Idaho.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is reviewing operational plans as part of Idaho Power´s application to relicense those dams. The last license was granted 50 years ago.
Federal and state regulators also want river improvement plans to be part of the alternatives considered during relicensing.
The options are generalized, but include proposals for improving the health of the 57-mile stretch of river.
Idaho Power spokesman Dennis Lopez said the company hasn´t taken a position on the options being considered. The utility company has spent more than $35 million to study the impact of its dams and has included two options of its own to improve the health of the river.
One of Idaho Power´s options calls for continuing current operations, but preserving habitat that includes Bancroft Springs and Thousand Springs. The utility already has purchased the land.
The other option, called a "seasonal run-of-river," calls for natural stream flows from mid-March through mid-June before water again is dammed up for controlled release through the generators.
Experts think that would improve conditions for five endangered snails and limpets and enhance spawning of the white sturgeon by up to 60 percent. The Fish and Game Department has listed that fish as a "species of concern."
Stuart agrees that Idaho Power is not primarily responsible for the river´s declining water quality and aquatic health. Agriculture has had a far greater impact, he said, pointing out that most of the stream flow from Milner Dam to the Thousand Springs area comes from groundwater filtering into the canyon.
That residual water is necessary to maintain native aquatic life and wildlife, as well as a respectable quality of life for surrounding communities.
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