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Reid's Letter on Fish is 'Good News'

by Rocky Barker
Idaho Statesman, September 16, 2007

The Wild Salmon Coalition says senator's request for Idaho Power to provide fish passage at Hells Canyon dams could help salmon get to Idaho.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has asked federal regulators to require Idaho Power Co. to provide passage to salmon and steelhead above its Hells Canyon dams complex on the Snake River as part of its new license.

Reid wrote to Joseph T. Kelliher, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Aug. 27, urging the commission to do what it can to restore salmon runs to Nevada.

Commission officials said in 2005 that Idaho Power would not be required to include fish passage in its application for a new 50-year license for the three dams because water quality above the dams was too poor to support salmon and steelhead. But a final decision is not expected until next year.

Adding fish passage would dramatically increase the costs of operating the dams, adding to the price of light bills for the Treasure Valley and most of southern Idaho.

Idaho Power officials previously suggested the costs of fish passage could be so high they might have to walk away from the dams.

Reid's letter became public Saturday at a forum on salmon recovery organized for the Trout Unlimited national meeting at the Grove Hotel in Boise.

Historically, thousands of salmon migrated annually up the Columbia and Snake rivers and into northeast Nevada through the Owyhee and Bruneau rivers, and Salmon Falls Creek, Reid said.

"Some of our state's proud ranchers still recall a time when salmon would spawn in the streams that crisscross their meadows and fields," he wrote.

Idaho Power spokesman Dennis Lopez said Saturday the company was waiting to see how FERC would respond to the letter.

"We believe all the issues in Senator Reid's letter have been addressed in years of research," Lopez said.

The company showed that water quality and high river temperatures would not support salmon and steelhead in viable numbers, even if the fish could get up the high dams as adults and find a way back down as juveniles.

The National Marine Fisheries Service could have required fish passage but decided to keep the issue open after the company got a license.

When the dams were completed in the 1950s and 1960s, the required fish passage system failed, killing tens of thousands of salmon.

Idaho Power convinced federal regulators to allow it to offset the blockage with hatcheries, which have provided fisheries throughout the state.

But the deal ended what few salmon runs had survived into Nevada.

"Old-time anglers tell stories about these huge Snake River salmon coming into the northern part of Nevada, all the way down into northern Elko County," said Larry Johnson, president of the Coalition for Nevada's Wildlife and an avid fisherman.

The regulatory commission issued its final environmental impact statement on Idaho Power's license application Aug 31. It could issue a decision in 2008.

Pat Ford, executive director of the Save our Wild Salmon Coalition, which includes sportsmen, commercial fishermen, environmentalists, American Indian tribes and businesses who advocate breaching dams to save Snake River salmon, told Trout Unlimited that Reid's letter was good news.

"Anything Reid does to get salmon back in Nevada helps us get salmon in Idaho and Oregon, too," Ford said.

Reid was one of five senators who wrote to President Bill Clinton in 2000 urging him to keep the option of breaching four federal dams in Washington alive in his salmon plan.

Clinton did keep the option open, but President Bush's two plans have ruled out breaching.

Idaho Lt. Gov. Jim Risch was scheduled to talk to Trout Unlimited Saturday but pulled out that morning.

Jim Riley, executive vice president of the Intermountain Forest Association, warned Trout Unlimited members not to depend on leadership from government officials.

"I think it must come from ourselves," he said.

Rocky Barker
Reid's Letter on Fish is 'Good News'
Idaho Statesman, September 16, 2007

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