the film
Commentaries and editorials

Spill Isn't Best Way
to Save Oregon's Salmon Runs

by Glenn Vanselow
Guest Opinion, Portland Business Journal, April 2, 2004

With Oregon's economy still struggling, Gov. Ted Kulongoski should support the federal proposal to reduce so-called "summer spill." The proposal would suspend spill during the month of August, saving about $40 million a year. As part of that proposal, federal river managers would implement alternatives to August spill that could produce equal or better salmon restoration results.

The proposal is a step in the right direction, but only a step. If we eliminated summer spill in both July and August and enacted proven recovery alternatives, we could save $75 million a year and add another 50,000 adult salmon to the river system. As a dedicated proponent of Oregon's environment and economy, the governor should continue working toward eliminating summer spill entirely.

The Bonneville Power Administration expects to spend $77 million this year on summer spill to protect threatened Fall Chinook salmon, even though recent studies show that it saves only about 24 adult Chinook each year. That's more than $3 million per fish! Under the "halfway" compromise currently proposed, we'll still be spending almost $3 million each to save 12 such fish. That's not a balanced policy.

Spill was started 20 years ago to get fish past dams without going through the turbines. Operators open an underwater "gate" in the dam, pulling fish 30 to 50 feet deeper and propelling them through the dam into the turbulent water on the other side. Some of them die, and many emerge injured and disoriented, vulnerable to predators. In fact, the survival rate for spilled salmon is only slightly better than for the fish that go through the turbines.

Spill doesn't change the amount of water in the river, it just sends it through a different part of the dam. But because spill redirects water that could have been used to produce electricity, it is the most expensive fish passage method used today -- and the least effective. It turns out that, by the time summer spill is implemented, most of the fish it's intended to protect are already past the dams and far down river.

Everybody agrees we should save salmon. In fact, BPA has spent more than $6 billion over the years on fish programs. But this region cannot afford to needlessly waste money when there are better alternatives available. Oregon has the nation's second-highest unemployment rate, and state voters recently made it clear they want to be sure their money is being used wisely.

Adopting alternatives to summer spill will help more fish and allow dams to produce more power, resulting in lower electricity costs for Oregon ratepayers.

The current federal proposal is a good first step, and we're confident the results will support further spill reductions in the future. Eliminating summer spill entirely is the answer. It's better for the salmon and for us.

bluefish does the math for your convenience: BPA estimates that eliminating summer spill would provide 1.15 - 1.49 million Megawatt*hours (MWh) of "surplus" electricity to sell (typically to California) at an estimated average price of $32/MWh (yielding $37 - $46 million). Prices of course will vary with time of day and electricity market conditions. BPA estimates that elimination of summer spill could potentially provide a 2% electricity rate reduction.

Glenn Vanselow is executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association in Portland. PNWA represents a wide range of river interests in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
Spill Isn't Best Way to Save Oregon's Salmon Runs
Portland Business Journal, April 2, 2004

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation