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Commentaries and editorials

Council Unveils Plan for Columbia

by Mitch Lies
Capital Press - November 1, 2002

PORTLAND -- The Northwest Power Planning Council's proposal to reduce flow augmentation in the Columbia river has been met with criticism from environmental groups.

"We're quite disappointed the council is going in this direction," said rob Masonis, Northwest Regional director of American Rivers, a river conservation group in Seattle. "The scientific information the council appears to be relying on is quite suspect, and it does not reflect the viewpoints of fish and wildlife officials in the region."

The council has proposed to reduce spring flow augmentation by 10 percent in amendments that will be brought before the public in several hearings over the next 10 weeks. It also proposed to change the rate of release over the summer.

Final authority for the hydropower operations of the Columbia River falls under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The council's proposal will help utilities to meet hydropower needs in the winter, said the council's information officer John Harrison.

"We know our draft amendments will be controversial because we propose to change the status-quo dam operations," council Chairman Larry Cassidy said. "But we acknowledge that there are significant questions about the fish benefits of spring flow augmentation."

"We don't think the slight reduction in flow augmentation is going to have a biological impact on the fish," Harrison said.

Masonis, however, said that maintaining existing levels of flow augmentation is vital for the survival of endangered salmon. "There should be a full public debate on this," he said. "The power council's proposal runs counter to findings from NMFS, Fish and Wildlife and the independent scientific advisory board convened by the council to review salmon recovery measures."

The proposed changes are expected to facilitate survival of resident fish by keeping more water in upper river reservoirs in the summer. And, Harrison said, the proposal is expected to aid the survival rate of fall migrating adult and juvenile salmon by extending the discontinuation date of water releases from upper Snake River reservoirs from the end of August to the end of September.

"It will be the same amount of water released, but it will add one more month of flow augmentation," Harrison said of the new plan for summer releases. "We think it is a more natural flow augmentation and we think we will provide greater habitat protection for those fish living upriver."

The Power Planning Council was formed to balance the needs of hydropower and fish in the Snake and Columbia rivers. It is made up of two representatives of each of the four Northwest states.

The council voted 7 to 1 to approve its first proposed changes in eight years to the biological opinion that drives hydropower operations in the mainstem of the Columbia River.

More information about the hearings can be accessed through the council's web site

The council will take public comment through January 10.

Mitch Lies
Council Unveils Plan for Columbia
Capital Press - November 1, 2002

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