Judge's Ruling will Hurt Salmon,
James Hubenthal, John Kostick, Charles TenPas and Dave Muller
The Northwest salmon story is a complicated political, economic and social debate that involves scores of competing interests. Recent court decisions related to recovery of endangered salmon have brought these issues to the forefront.
The most recent decision on June 10 by the U.S. District Court in Oregon (Judge James Redden) mandates the Bonneville Power Administration and other federal agencies (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Corps of Engineers), which control operation of the hydroelectric projects on the Snake and Columbia rivers, allegedly to help fish by spilling more water this summer.
This decision will raise your electric rates, damage salmon runs and increase our reliance on fossil fuel generation.
There are diverse opinions on the reasons for the decline in salmon, the results of current salmon recovery efforts and what steps should be taken in the future. For many years, environmental groups have blamed hydroelectric systems for declining salmon runs and have advocated removal of dams on the Snake River. Unfortunately, those arguments are based on emotions, not scientific data. The disparity on what is best for salmon costs public utilities, and their customers, millions of dollars every year through wholesale power purchases from BPA.
Since 1978, Northwest ratepayers have spent more than $6.5 billion on fish and wildlife programs. BPA's current spending on salmon recovery is nearly $600 million per year, and 20 percent of BPA power costs, a figure that could go up by $67 million or more because of Judge Redden's recent decision.
To put this in perspective, the customers of Lewis County Public Utility District paid $4.8 million in 2004 for fish, and Redden's ruling could increase that amount to $5.3 million. Approximately 12 percent of your Lewis PUD electric bill is for fish and the judge's ruling would increase it to 14 percent.
The judge's decision requiring increased spill is especially disappointing as many scientists believe it will do the fish more harm than good. The scientists from NOAA, the agency charged with salmon protection under the Endangered Species Act, and the Corps of Engineers state that the fish would survive better in barges, particularly in this low-water year.
With spilling, the fish will be exposed to lethally warm temperatures and predators. Experience has proven that in low water years, fish are better off if they are transported around some of the dams.
During the 2001 low water conditions, despite doomsday warnings that reducing spill would be disastrous to fish runs, fish were transported around some of the dams and returned as adults in 2003 and 2004 in record numbers.
Fisheries Service spokesman Brian Gorman, said "We really firmly believe that spilling fish in a low water year puts them at risk. The river moves more slowly; the reservoirs get warmer. Our science shows us that in low water year the safe thing to do is to move them past the dams and past the turbines."
In his ruling for more spill, Redden ignored the recommendations of the federal agencies, NOAA, BPA Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. Scientists, not judges, know what's best for salmon. NOAA scientists say that survival will be 25 to 50 percent lower under the judge's spill order. Despite disappointing returns in one run this year, endangered salmon are still doing much better than in the past.
It is interesting to note that, following the commencement of the judge's spill program began on June 20, adult fish counts (adult salmon moving upstream to spawn) at Little Goose Dam plummeted drastically from 400 fish per day to 65 fish per day. Biologists think the adult fish passage problems at Little Goose Dam are caused by a large back eddy in front of the dam created by the spill, which keeps the adult fish away from the fish ladders.
The judge's summer spill order will decrease power production by 656 megawatts, an amount equal to one half the power output of the Centralia steam plant. BPA estimates it will cost $67 million, or about $1 million per day, during July and August to replace the lost energy.
We support efforts to recover endangered fish. The upper Cowlitz River was cut off from salmon and steelhead in the 1960s with the construction of the Mayfield and Mossyrock dams. Lewis County PUD completed the Cowlitz Falls Hydroelectric Project in 1994, and in 1996, with the completion of BPA's fish collection facility at Cowlitz Falls, salmon and steelhead have been reintroduced into the upper Cowlitz River Basin.
Lewis County PUD, along with other public utilities throughout the Northwest, want to see accountable fish spending and balance between generating power at the hydroelectric projects and protecting salmon with scientific results-based programs. In short, we want our ratepayers' money used wisely.
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