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Power Play? Energy Group Could Benefit from Dam Breaching

N.S. Nokkentved, The Times-News - September 9, 1999

TWIN FALLS -- A large energy conglomerate may be behind part of the support for a proposal to breach four federal dams on the lower Snake River, says one opponent of the plan.

If the dams are breached, the electricity the dams produce -- less than 5 percent of the hydro power generated in the Pacific Northwest -- would have to be replaced by power from gas-fired turbines that Houston-based Enron Corp. wants to build, Pat Barclay, executive director for Idaho Commission on Industry and the Environment, told the Twin Falls Rotary Club Wednesday.

That company gives a lot of money to American Rivers, a Northwest group that supports breaching the dams as a part of the efforts to restore endangered salmon runs in the Snake River, Barclay said.

"We don't need gas-fired turbines if the dams aren't taken out," she said.

Environmentalists say energy conservation measures could replace power generated by those dams -- most of which is generated during times of surplus and low demand in the Northwest.

Barclay also said she was speaking for Idaho United for Fish and Water, a nonprofit group funded by wheat growers, electric cooperatives and Potlatch Corp.

Both groups oppose breaching the four dams, she said. In part because people wouldn't know whether it worked until 2060.

"We're not doing anything to recover salmon in the meantime," she said.

Breaching is the only idea being discussed, she said.

But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying a series of options to improve passage for salmon in the lower Snake River, including better fish bypass systems at dams, better collection and barging of juvenile fish past the dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers, and increased flows using more stored irrigation water from the upper Snake River Basin.

The results of the Corps' study, which also is examining removing the earthen portion of the four dams on the lower Snake, is expected to be completed in December.

Barclay said other proposals should be considered. She noted an improved way of hatching salmon eggs, better ways to keep fish out of turbine intakes, a system of underwater strobe lights that turn salmon away from hazards, and an artificial stream along the existing Snake River that would bypass the hazards of the reservoirs and dams.

"We can start helping the fish now," she said.

Not all scientists agree breaching the dams is necessary, but most Northwest fisheries scientists say breaching the dams would give salmon their best chance at recovery.

Other efforts to improve salmon conditions already are under way.

Those efforts include capturing juvenile salmon and barging them past the dams on the river; increasing river flows at critical migration times; restrictions on commercial and sport fishing; and habitat improvements in spawning streams.

N.S. Nokkentved
Power Play? Energy Group Could Benefit from Dam Breaching
The Times-News - August 9, 1999

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