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Electricity is Priority, Panel Says

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, April 27, 2001

But the power council also places greater emphasis on fish protection
after a speech by Gov. Kitzhaber

The day after hearing an impassioned plea for salmon from Gov. John Kitzhaber, the Northwest Power Planning Council on Thursday stuck to its recommendation that electricity generation be first priority at federal dams this summer -- but urged that extra steps be taken to help fish.

Those steps should include the spending of additional money by the Bonneville Power Administration to help salmon hurt by efforts to increase power production, and buying electricity whenever possible to allow water to be conserved for salmon, the council said.

The federal agencies that control Columbia Basin dams -- led by the Bonneville Power Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service -- are scheduled to release their plan in Portland today for how the dams should be operated in a year of water and power shortages.

The power council, an agency of the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, issues nonbinding advice to the federal government on balancing the needs of power and wildlife.

Kitzhaber on Wednesday had delivered a scathing message to the council in Spokane, accusing both it and the federal government of stressing power production at the expense of salmon protections.

Eric Bloch, one of Kitzhaber's two appointees to the council, said Thursday that he thinks the Oregon governor's speech caused the council to increase its emphasis on salmon protection.

The council initially voted, 5-2, against a motion by Bloch that would have asked the federal government to share the risk of a water deficit between power system demands and fish recovery needs. After that motion fell, however, the council unanimously adopted a series of amendments proposed by Bloch.

"I took a major run at it but didn't get the votes," Bloch said after the meeting. "I then took a more piecemeal approach, and I believe we got most of the significant measures we were seeking. We definitely moved in the right direction."

The federal salmon recovery plan normally requires that millions of gallons of water each spring and summer be diverted from electricity-generating turbines to spillways to give salmon a safer way to get past dams. That spill program is on hold now, because Steve Wright, acting administrator of the BPA, has declared power emergencies.

The council Thursday voted to recommend barging and trucking of juvenile salmon and steelhead around dams. The action reduces the harm to fish caused by the decision not to release water over spillways. The council recommended limited spilling at John Day, The Dalles and Bonneville dams. But there is no way to collect fish for transportation at those dams, and higher mortality is expected.

The council also recommended that the BPA establish a mitigation fund for salmon from a portion of the revenues resulting from decreased spilling and that the agency plan power purchases and water purchases from irrigators.

"The message that we gave Bonneville is that we are in support of a very limited spill because of the drought conditions," said Larry Cassidy, chairman of the power council and a Washington appointee. "We also want to make sure that they check continually for the possibility of having water for spill, and that they use that water as wisely as possible."

Council staff said that recent rain and snowfall in the Columbia Basin have improved the water outlook slightly. Predicted runoff at The Dalles is now 57.7 million acre feet, 2 million acre feet more than the prediction in early April but 45 percent below the normal runoff of 105.9 million acre feet.

Jonathan Brinckman
Electricity is Priority, Panel Says
The Oregonian, April 27, 2001

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