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Oregon Joins Lawsuit
Against BPA Dam-spill Halt

by News Sources, July 16, 2004

Gov says state doesn't agree that more power won't harm fish

Gov. Ted Kulongoski announced Friday that Oregon is joining the lawsuit filed by Earth Justice and other plaintiffs to oppose the plan by Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop spilling water during August at four dams in the Snake River and Lower Columbia River system. Instead, he is urging BPA and the Corps to upgrade the dams' fish passage systems.

"We need to implement a long-term solution that can achieve the dual goals of power generation and fish recovery," said Kulongoski. "Simply shutting off water spills is not the best way to meet all the competing economic needs."

The spillway closures are expected to result in the destruction of approximately 500,000 migrating juvenile salmon, according to state and tribal fish biologists. This translates to as many as 20,000 fewer adult salmon returning to the Columbia River in four to five years.

Without the ability to pass the dams using spill water, this year's juvenile fish populations will attempt to reach the ocean by swimming through the powerhouses, where many will die in the turbulent environment.

BPA has indicated that closing the spillways will increase revenues by increasing hydropower generation and sales, and could result in a rate reduction. There is not a guarantee of a rate reduction - which has been estimated at approximately a dime per month for homeowners.

Additionally, the state of Oregon does not agree that this proposal fully mitigates for the loss of the additional fish. A review of anticipated power demands in the Pacific Northwest shows that BPA can meet all of the region's demands for hydropower without shutting off spills.

The loss of a high number of fish could have negative long-term impacts on the many small businesses and rural communities that depend on commercial and sport fishing for their livelihoods.

"No one has been able to guarantee that they will lower rates for consumers as a result of shutting off spills to generate and sell more power," said Governor Kulongoski. "What is guaranteed, however, is that shutting off the spills will kill more fish."

Governor Kulongoski noted that a recent federal district court ruling by Senior Judge James Redden stated that federal agencies need to do more to help Oregon's endangered salmon species recover.

"The federal spill reduction plan, while well-intentioned, does not help us resolve this issue in the long-term," said Governor Kulongoski. "There's a better solution than simply shutting down the spillways, and that is to install newer, more effective spillway systems."

The improved fish passage technology, which uses removable spillway weirs to pass more fish with less water, is scheduled to be installed at two Snake River dams. Governor Kulongoski wants the Corps to install the same technology at all Snake River and Columbia River dams.

"We need to focus on a solution that's best for everyone in Oregon, and that means not accepting a short-term fix at the expense of our state's long-term health," said Kulongoski. "Sport anglers spent more than $700 million in Oregon last year, and angling is just one of the many segments of Oregon's economy that will be negatively impacted by this action. We need to ensure that BPA and the Corps consider the long-term economic harm that is likely to result from this short-term plan."

But the governor's action was criticized by supporters of the federal summer spill plan, who say it would save the state’s electricity ratepayers millions of dollars this year and would bring more fish in the Columbia River basin.

“We are very frustrated”, said Shauna McReynolds, spokesperson for the Coalition for Smart Salmon Recovery. “This is an opportunity for more fish and for rate relief. We don’t understand how the governor cannot support this proposal.”

The group noted that the federal spill plan was developed after months of collaboration between federal and regional agencies, and has the support of the governors of Washington, Idaho and Montana.

The plan would save between $18 million and $28 million for the federal hydro system, which translates to up to a 2 percent drop in rates from what they would otherwise be. The plan also includes actions to offset potential adverse effects to listed and non-listed fish. NOAA Fisheries’ findings letter of July 1 states that the Summer Spill Plan provides “the same or greater biological benefits” as current hydro operations.

“The governor’s decision to join the lawsuit is a real step backward for the Oregon economy and for common sense salmon recovery”, said McReynolds.

“This decision is just flat wrong,” said Pat Reiten, a coalition member and president and CEO of PNGC Power, a cooperative of rural electric utility cooperatives located throughout the Northwest. “The governor has chosen politics over an opportunity to save both dollars and fish.”

But a group called Salmon For All, representing the lower Columbia River’s commercial fishing industry, applauded the governor’s move toward a higher standard for hydro technology and salmon recovery.

“Without spill, the heavy losses of juvenile and adult salmon to the power system represent a threat to living-wage jobs in the Lower Columbia River Region,” the group said in a statement.

Board member Bruce Buckmaster said, “Governor Kulongoski has served notice that the universal desire for more affordable energy must be met through responsible technology. … We hope that neighboring Northwest governors will follow his principled example.”

bluefish does the math for your convenience: BPA initially estimated that eliminating summer spill would provide 1.15 - 1.49 million Megawatt*hours (MWh) of "surplus" electricity to sell (typically to California) at an estimated average price of $32/MWh (yielding $37 - $46 million). The latest plan has reduced the amount of spill reduction and the estimated savings. BPA estimated that elimination of summer spill could potentially provide a 2% electricity rate reduction. Prices of course will vary with time of day and electricity market conditions.

News Sources
Oregon Joins Lawsuit Against BPA Dam-spill Halt, July 16, 2004

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