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BPA, Corps Unveil Amended
Reduced Summer Spill Proposal

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 11, 2004

The Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unveiled at a press conference Tuesday (June 8) an amended proposal that will cut spill this summer at lower Snake River and Columbia River dams.

The amended plan, if approved, would curtail spill less in July and August than the agencies' March 30 proposal and would gain the power system an additional 1,000 megawatts of power, but would garner Northwest ratepayers far less in revenues.

BPA and the Corps had laid out their preliminary proposal in March for a three-year program that could save BPA as much as $45 million each year by reducing spill at dams in July and completely eliminating spill in August. That proposal would have reduced spill at the dams by 55 percent from the levels called for in the NOAA Fisheries' 2000 biological opinion of the hydrosystem.

A complete elimination of summer spill would save the agency as much as $70 million annually.

The savings from reduced spill would have been reduced by the $2 million to $5 million in offset costs needed to mitigate for juvenile fish losses, pushing the total benefit to the power system downward to about $40 million.

Originally expected in April, the long-awaited amended proposal would reduce summer spill by 39 percent, but just for 2004. BPA would make separate proposals to curtail summer spill in 2005 and 2006. Also reduced are the benefits to BPA, which drop to as low as $20 million.

"We believe this proposal would result in the survival of at least as many fish as the full summer spill program while reducing costs to Northwest electric ratepayers by approximately $20 million to $31 million," said BPA Administrator Steve Wright. "If implemented, this action would reduce BPA wholesale power rates by 1 to 2 percent below what they would otherwise be."

The proposal, which can be found on the federal salmon recovery web site at said that it -- both the spill reductions and mitigation offsets -- "achieves the same or better survival benefits for salmon as the current operation (BiOp operation)."

Wright said that after 246 comments on its original proposal, the agencies, along with NOAA Fisheries, went back to the drawing board and completely revamped its impact analysis, which resulted in an increase in salmon losses, and consequently also caused the agency to reconsider the offset mitigation measures it had previously proposed. He said the goal of the operation is to cut the cost of summer salmon operations, while achieving similar or better biological benefits for salmon using the offset mitigation actions.

The amended proposal calls for testing lower levels of spill at Bonneville and Ice Harbor dams in July, eliminating spill at Bonneville and The Dalles dams in August and to end spill at Ice Harbor and John Day dams August 22, rather than the BiOp required August 31.

The impact on Snake River fall chinook, a listed species under the Endangered Species Act, ranges from 143 to 943 juveniles lost, depending on whether the migration is early, late or in the middle ranges of migration timing, and depending on low or high water supply. BPA would offset that impact by purchasing in July 100,000 acre foot of flow augmentation from Idaho Power's Brownlee Dam on the Snake River. According to BPA calculations, the net impact with the flow augmentation would change to a positive seven to 594 juveniles, more than offsetting the loss of spill for that species.

However, the new spill plan would also impact 130,000 to 742,000 unlisted salmon. Those losses would be offset by an accelerated pikeminnow control program, increased protections from stranding at Hanford Reach, additional investments at Lyons Ferry Hatchery and habitat projects. The cost for these offset, including the Brownlee flow augmentation, would be about $10 million.

BPA said the accelerated pikeminnow program would increase survival of non-listed species by 39,252 to 84,549 fish and increased Hanford Reach anti-stranding actions would increase survival by 1,094,870 to 1, 287,981 fish. Actions at Lyons Ferry Hatchery would increase the number of surviving juveniles by 200,000.

NOAA had ruled that accelerating the pikeminnow program had already been contemplated by the BiOp and so would not benefit listed species. Despite that, BPA said in the proposal that it had not anticipated paying the $1.5 million for the accelerated program in 2004 and the benefits would not have occurred. BPA did, however, apply the benefits from such a program to the non-listed species in its amended proposal.

In addition, BPA has suggested rearing subyearling fall chinook at the Lyons Ferry hatchery to the larger yearling size at a cost of about $140,000, additional hatchery production at other hatcheries at a cost of $2 million and a habitat improvement fund targeted at naturally spawning fish impacted by summer spill at a cost of $2 million.

"This proposal doesn't go far enough. The administration and federal agencies missed another opportunity, based on good science, to help salmon and help our economy," said Shauna McReynolds, spokeswoman for the Coalition for Smart Salmon Recovery, a partnership of farmers, employers, utility customers, and public power providers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

"While we are disappointed, this is a step in the right direction and should be the start of a complete review of all our spending decisions regarding salmon recovery," said McReynolds. "Our coalition intends to stay focused on cost-effective salmon efforts."

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) called for ending all summer spill and said the new plan didn't go far enough to regain the power revenues lost to the BiOp spill program.

"This is very weak tea," Hastings said. "It provides some relief to our region, but at the end of the day Northwest residents are still left footing the bill of a million dollars or more per fish."

He added that "it's impossible to justify a mandate that, in an average year, costs Northwest families and job-creating businesses $77 million in lost power for the benefit of 24 endangered fish. Clearly, a great deal more needs to be done to stop the costly, wasteful summer spill mandate - and to write a new BiOp that focuses on flexibility, results and the latest science."

Environmental groups and four Basin treaty tribes oppose the amended proposal, saying that spill is considered by scientists to be the safest route through dams for juvenile salmon and steelhead.

"This is a scientifically irresponsible and indefensible decision," said Jim Martin, a member of the National Wildlife Federation board of directors and former chief of fisheries at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "In this year of low water flows and high river temperatures, salmon need spill more than ever. Rather than heed that warning, BPA continues to disregard the hugely positive economic impact spill has on fishing communities and takes the politically expedient route to pad the agencies' bottom line."

In a news release, salmon advocates said there is "no credible evidence that harm caused by reducing spill can be offset," and that the offsets proposed by BPA and the Corps are "speculative at best, and at worst, simply won't pass scientific muster." They went on to say that increased stranding protections at Hanford Reach are double counting what already was required of Grant County Public Utility District and that the accelerated pikeminnow program couldn't make up the difference.

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission believes the amended proposal "is even worse" than the March preliminary proposal, said Charles Hudson, spokesman for CRITFC.

CRITFC represents four Columbia River Basin treaty tribes: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe.

Hudson said tribal leaders believe the offsets in the amended proposal are even more "audacious" than the preliminary proposal, and that in a Monday morning consultation with federal officials the tribes will be asking more questions about the proposed offsets.

BPA and the Corps will meet with other federal executives, state representatives from Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana and tribes at a meeting Monday, June 14, to get feedback on the amended proposal. The agencies will send a final proposal to NOAA Fisheries for approval June 18. They expect a findings letter from the fisheries agency by the end of June.

CBB Staff
BPA, Corps Unveil Amended Reduced Summer Spill Proposal
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 11, 2004

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