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Emergency Power Plan may Sacrifice Fish

by Michael Rose
Salem Statesman Journal - August 4, 2000

Pushing water over dams to generate power for California could kill salmon.

The Bonneville Power Administration’s plan to help supply California with electricity during its power emergency — which might send more Northwest fish through dam turbines — has angered environmentalists and worried Oregon’s governor.

The California heat wave eased Thursday, but the threat of power shortages and rolling blackouts in the Golden State isn’t over. Tight energy supplies and air conditioners running full bore have overtaxed the state power grid.

The BPA warned that it might have to sacrifice salmon to generate electricity for California by spilling more water over dams. The agency restricts the water flow through dams this time of year to give migrating juvenile fish a better chance of survival.

So far, the BPA hasn’t needed to suspend its salmon-friendly operations by releasing more water, said Ed Mosey, the agency’s spokesman.

That doesn’t mean it won’t become necessary before the summer is over, he said.

“The governor certainly doesn’t have any disagreement in helping a neighbor during a health and safety situation, but he is concerned if it becomes routine,” said Roy Hemmingway, energy adviser to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The Northwest Energy Coalition, a group promoting salmon restoration, denounced any attempt to divert water reserved for migrating fish.

Sara Patton, the group’s director, said it is unnecessary to force fish through deadly turbines when voluntary power interruptions and aggressive energy conservation measures could offset the temporary electricity shortage.

Sending electricity produced by Columbia River dams to California is nothing new, although the supply usually is enough to avoid conflicts with salmon preservation measures.

Under a cooperative agreement, BPA supplies electricity to California in the summer. In exchange, surplus electricity from California is sent to the Northwest during the winter.

Unlike most of the nation, the peak demand time for electricity in the Northwest usually is in the winter.

BPA and state energy officials say Oregon, in the short term, probably is safe from the crisis California has experienced in recent days.

But they warn the supply of electricity in Oregon is getting close to the limit.

In late June, hot weather here and several power generation plants out of service caused BPA to take emergency steps. For several hours, it sent water set aside for salmon preservation through dams to boost the electricity supply, agency spokesman Moser said.

Michael Rose
Emergency Power Plan may Sacrifice Fish
Salem Statesman Journal, August 4, 2000

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