Columbia Water Levels
by Jonathan Brinckman
Although the latest water flow forecast for the Columbia River calls for less than normal runoff this year, federal officials said Friday they do not anticipate a repeat of last year, when drought and soaring electricity prices led the federal government to sharply reduce salmon-protection measures at Columbia dams.
The Northwest River Forecast Center, an arm of the National Weather Service, released its final March forecast predicting that 97.3 million acre-feet of water will flow through The Dalles Dam this year from January to July. That's 91 percent of normal, and less than the Feb. 1 forecast of 100.1 million acre-feet, but still far more than the 58.2 million acre-feet that passed The Dalles from January to July last year.
The Bonneville Power Administration twice declared a power emergency last year. In response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dams, sent only one-fifth of the water it normally diverts over the dams' spillways to help migrating young salmon. Instead, the corps sent the water through the dams' electricity-generating turbines, which can kill or injure young salmon in the spinning blades.
"We're not anticipating any reduction in the spill program this year," said Mike Hansen, a spokesman for the BPA, which markets the electricity the dams generate.
But Bob Heinith, hydrosystem manager for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said he worries that the BPA might still declare a power emergency and spill less water than required by the federal salmon-recovery plan.
"There's no water buffer, and BPA doesn't have a financial buffer," Heinith said. "The federal government always hurts fish first when it gets in trouble, and we're afraid it's going to do it again."
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