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Sides Divided on River Water Spills

by Staff
Salem Statesman Journal - July 19, 2004

Some want more electricity, others want to save fish

A hearing is set July 28 on a lawsuit by environmental and angling groups to block a plan to cut summer spills over Columbia and Snake river dams, including the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia. The battle lines are pretty clearly drawn over a plan to cut fish-enhancing water spills over Columbia and Snake River dams this summmer.

The next salvo will be fired July 28 in U.S. District Court in Portland.

That’s when Judge James Redden has scheduled a hearing on a lawsuit by environmental and angling groups and Native American tribes to block a plan to cut the so-called “summer spill” over the dams.

And on Friday, Gov. Ted Kulongoski joined the voices who oppose reducing the water releases, with Oregon joining the lawsuit to block the plan from going into action.

Previously, the governors of Idaho, Montana and Washington had endorsed the plan.

The spills are designed to speed young salmon listed under the federal Endangered Species Act on their way down the river to the ocean.

“We need to implement a long-term solution that can achieve the dual goals of power generation and fish recovery,” Kulongoski said. “Simply shutting off water spills is not the best way to meet all the competing economic needs.”

Officials for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a plan supported by the Bonneville Power Administration and a biological opinion from the federal NOAA Fisheries to cut those spills during late summer.

Running the water through power turbines instead of over the dams could save Pacific Northwest ratepayers $28 million, according to estimates.

But running the water through the turbines is estimated to kill thousands of juvenile salmon.

The main booster for the cut in summer spill is the Coalition for Smart Salmon Recovery, a group of power agencies, agricultural interests and large industrial power-users.

Officials for the coalition say the costs in lost power generation are not worth the negligible gain in salmon.

“In an environment where rates have increased dramatically in the last few years, any rate relief makes a difference,” said Shauna McReynolds, a spokeswoman for the coalition said in a press release.

Those speaking for the groups said the costs to fish are not worth the estimated 8 cents to 36 cents a month decrease on electric bills that the average homeowner would see.

“To kill listed and non-listed fish in order to save the average ratepayer a maximum of 33 cents per month is ridiculous,” said John Kober, the northwest conservation director for the National Wildlife Federation.

And the changes in other programs from hatchery operations and habitat programs to boosting the northern pike-minnow bounty program don’t cover the predicted losses, Kober added.

“Not only are the proposed offsets inadequate, these are things that (Bonneville Power Administration) should be doing in addition to meeting spill and flow requirements, not in lieu of them,” he said.

Matt Rabe, a Corps of Engineers spokesman, said that legal action to keep the reduced spills from going into effect were expected.

Brig. Gen. William Grisoli, regional commander for the Corps, on July 6 signed the “statement of decision” that would allow Bonneville Power to go ahead with the plan that affects summer spills at four Columbia and Snake river dams.

Grisoli noted the plan meets the requirements of the Northwest Power Act and had been endorsed by the governors of Idaho, Montana and Washington state.

“We are interested in finding sustainable fish and wildlife solutions that benefit both fish and ratepayers,” Grisoli said in a prepared statement. “Our overall goal is to maintain fish protection while reducing costs to the region.”

Pacific Northwest Native American tribes have threatened to sue Bonneville to force the federal power-marketing agency to boost spills for salmon.

The Corps’ plan provides for spilling water at Bonneville, John Day and The Dalles dams on the Columbia and Ice Harbor dam on the Snake River through the end of this month.

Spills at Ice Harbor and John Day dams would end in late August, and spills would be eliminated entirely in August at Bonneville and The Dalles dams.

The reduced summer spill statement of decision would be in effect for this summer only.

Sides Divided on River Water Spills
Salem Statesman Journal, July 19, 2004

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