Saving Salmon Means Uptick in Power Ratesby Editors
The News Tribune, June 15, 2005
Three federal agencies want to appeal a court order requiring summer spills to aid migrating salmon on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
Their argument -- that the costly spills would do more harm than good for the fish -- demonstrates the complexity of the arguments facing U.S. District Judge James Redden.
Last week, Redden, who sits in Portland, ordered the government to spill water this summer at four big federally-managed dams on the two rivers.
The order stemmed from his decision last month rejecting as inadequate and "cynical" the administration's latest salmon-recovery proposal for endangered chinook salmon.
Federal officials contend that in a low-water year such as this, barging salmon smolts around the dams is more effective than increasing river flow to ease fish migration.
But Redden concluded that a summer-long spill starting Monday is necessary to bolster survival rates. He didn't go as far as environmentalists and the fishing industry wanted, however, refusing to drain upstream reservoirs.
Redden is in a tough position, having to balance protection of an iconic and endangered species with the economic impacts of salmon recovery efforts. But he's in this spot because the federal government and all the other regional players on this issue can't reach any consensus on a recovery strategy.
We don't favor breaching big hydro dams, as environmental and fishing groups advocate. But keeping the dams means that regional energy users will have to accept increased power rates as part of the price for saving salmon.
Regional power officials say the spills Redden ordered will cost $67 million in lost power revenues. But that cost is spread across the region. Tacoma Power officials say the likely 5 percent increase in wholesale rates would raise residential rates in Tacoma 2 to 3 percent. Industrial rates might rise 3.3 percent.
Will the summer spills work? Who knows? Warmer ocean conditions may also be affecting salmon survival. Like it or not, Judge Redden is conducting a massive biology experiment. It would be best for the region, not to mention the fish, if it actually works.
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