Demand for Power Puts Strain
by Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
As the rest of the nation grabs for the Northwest's cheap hydropower, tribal leaders are warning the federal government not to forget its treaty obligation to restore fish runs.
The tribes fear the Bonneville Power Administration isn't prepared to spend enough on salmon and that emergency power sales to utilities outside the region are destroying tens of thousands of young salmon.
"When California has a power emergency, Bonneville kills fish," said Don Sampson, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "This is an unacceptable policy when stocks are plummeting in numbers."
Sampson sent Energy Secretary Bill Richardson a letter last week trying to make sure the BPA sets aside enough money for an expanded fish recovery program. The agency had proposed spending between $438 million and $721 million a year for its fish and wildlife program between 2002 and 2006, according to an energy newsletter.
Now, BPA is reconsidering its financial projections for that period, saying the volatile energy market demands another look.
At the same time, the tribes are pressing for more fish money and questioning the agency's ability to meet federally required fish restoration measures released by the National Marine Fisheries Service this summer.
"The recent power market price swings may jeopardize Bonneville's ability to fulfill its fish and wildlife obligations," Sampson said in a recent letter to the BPA. "Bonneville's position is precarious."
Indeed, the agency is besieged on all sides. California politicians have called for a congressional investigation of BPA power contracts, which they say could leave their constituents paying 10 times more than Northwesterners for power.
"My constituents paid for those dams and generators too," said Rep. George Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Resources.
Others have asked Richardson to delay the signing of BPA power contracts while the "profiteering" situation in California is investigated.
But Sampson said before other states force changes in BPA's rates or try to raid its bank account, Richardson should make sure the agency is meeting its fish obligations. Tribes are calling for "substantially higher rates" in the BPA proposal to ensure fish recovery measures are paid for.
"If Bonneville jeopardizes its ability to fund fish and wildlife measures, it will be seen outside the region as another example of Bonneville's poor stewardship and the exposure of the U.S. taxpayer," Sampson told BPA.
Sampson's other contention is that BPA's sales of electricity to power-hungry California are done at the expense of fish. He told Richardson the agency often curtails spilling water down-river to help salmon reach spawning beds when it needs more water to produce power for California.
"If this is absolutely unavoidable, there should be significant penalties that reflect the true cost of killing endangered and unlisted fish, and the money should go to mitigate those actions," Sampson said.
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