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Idaho Power's Deal Places Stockholders before Salmon

by Robert Pearson
Reader's View, Idaho Statesman - August 22, 2001

Idaho Power CEO says problems lie in supplying users

Once again, what the politically powerful Idaho Power Co. wants, the politically powerful Idaho Power Co. gets.

Robert Pearson The recent behind- the-scenes deal between the National Marine Fisheries Service and Idaho Power cheated migrating fall chinook salmon juveniles out of badly needed water flows. Salmon juveniles migrate downstream to the ocean on water velocities, and contrary to what many industries and their pawn politicians want you to believe, fish do need water.

Political intimidation brought against NMFS by Sens. Mike Crapo and Larry Craig -- on behalf of Idaho Power -- obstructed the timely release of water stored behind Brownlee Dam needed for salmon migration. NMFS had ordered Idaho Power to release 350,000 acre-feet of water from Brownlee before July 31. This water was the right temperature to aid development of fall chinook smolts and help speed their migration through their four lower Snake River dams. Idaho Power complained this action would be costly, and immediately lined up its political pawns to once again shift the burden of the four lower Snake River dams onto the backs of the salmon.

Crapo instantly impaled himself on Idaho Power's hook. Craig in his anxiousness to get a piece of the Idaho Power bait was easy to hook. Instead of standing up on behalf of the salmon and Idaho Power ratepayers, these two political pawns were quick to threaten to go all the way to the secretary of commerce to politically withdraw NMFS's request and abandon our salmon.

Purchasing water by the federal government from willing sellers for just such an occasion is one of the new measures in the federal government's 2000 salmon recovery plan. But then, requiring compliance with any plan to protect salmon has never been a concern of these two politicians. They also could have defended the salmon and Idaho electrical ratepayers by seeking a federal appropriation to ensure that the costs to Idaho Power of saving salmon is borne by everyone. Finally, Idaho Power could begin doing the right thing and begin sharing some of its wealth with the salmon. To date, Idaho Power has gotten off quite cheaply -- with a couple of hatcheries -- for blocking more than 4,000 miles of salmon habitat.

Idaho Power tried to claim a place in the salmon spotlight by saying it will voluntarily release 400,000 acre-feet of water if it can do it in July and August. Crapo and Craig called this a win-win for salmon and Idaho Power. Salmon biologists called for the 350,000 to be released before July 31 because salmon in the Snake River are developing and migrating during this period. Idaho Power's offered 400,000 acre-feet of water in July and August was probably going to be released with or without salmon simply because of summertime temperatures and power demands. I understand that hot water released from Brownlee in August is of little to no benefit to salmon. In fact, it is possible that Idaho Power's water releases in August might be more harmful than helpful. Cool water releases are required in August to help break down hot water thermal blocks in the lower Snake River and help adult fish migrate back upstream. Because of the configuration of Dworshak Reservoir near Orofino, cooler water is available from Dworshak. Dworshak provides the majority of salmon water flows in August.

Idaho Power's obstruction to aid salmon when they biologically need it, coupled with its ability to politically muscle water flows to fit its stockholders' needs rather than those of the salmon, may actually be a loss to salmon protection.

Let's just call this what it is -- another successful endeavor by the big corporations to shift the burden the four lower Snake River dams have on salmon onto the backs of the fish and fishermen and fishing-related economies.

Robert Pearson lives in Boise.
Idaho Power's Deal Places Stockholders before Salmon
Idaho Statesman, August 22, 2001

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