by Dean Ferguson
Commissioners are positive barge traffic will continue
Wake boarding and barging won't be endangered activities on the Snake and Clearwater confluence this summer. But a small number of Idahoans may see power rates climb after a federal judge's salmon decision Friday.
U.S. District Judge James Redden ordered four Lower Snake River dams to spill more water for ocean-going fish.
The judge rejected a call to draw down the Lower Snake river from late June to August.
"He (Redden) expressed concern that that would put him too much in the position of running the river," said Daniel J. Rohlf, an environmental attorney in the courtroom when Redden ruled on a request from fishing groups to change dam operations.
However, Redden ordered the spill.
"The spill is very good for fall chinook," said Bert Bowler, a fisheries biologist with Idaho Rivers United, a group that advocates for salmon recovery.
Water that otherwise would run through power-generating turbines will instead flow over dam spillways, carrying migrating fish.
Area leaders greeted the decision with mixed emotions.
"I think that that's the best alternative considering his (Redden's) attitude," said state Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston. "And, at least on one level, I'm glad to see he's not becoming too radical in his approach and he's recognizing some realities."
U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, issued two statements: one condemning the decision for raising power rates and a second praising the decision for rejecting draw downs.
The spill program will affect the four Lower Snake River dams from June 20 through August 31. Only fall chinook will benefit.
Bonneville Power Administration blasted the ruling and predicts a loss of $67 million. That may mean a rate increase of 5 percent this fall for 8 million customers in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana.
"It's not too much unless you're a person on fixed income," said Ed Mosey, BPA spokesman. "It affects mainly industrial customers and your small consumers."
BPA is considering an appeal of the ruling.
In this area, Clearwater Power Co. customers would be affected by a BPA increase. Clearwater Power has 7,400 customers from St. Maries to Troy, Ore.
However, the majority of Idahoans do not buy power from BPA.
The judge's decision will not require more water from Dworshak than what it already contributes, said Bowler.
Port of Lewiston Manager Dave Doeringsfeld greeted the decision with dismay. Although barging will not be affected by spills, he said, more salmon survive when barged around the dams.
Unlike spring chinook that race to the ocean with spring runoff, fall chinook take their time, feeding and growing as they travel downriver, said Bowler.
To "Fed-ex" fall chinook in barges runs contrary to natural habits, he said. Increased spills, "spread the risk," putting half the salmon on barges and leaving the other half to swim.
Despite the attention to fall chinook, Idaho fishermen do not get to catch them. Washington fisherman can catch them on the Columbia River.
If the species were restored, fishermen could catch them during the steelhead season from September to late October, said Bowler.
Stegner said the whole federal case is a step backward.
"The tragedy of the Portland judge's attitude is that it revitalizes the people that are interested in dam breaching into thinking it is now politically viable again, when in fact it is not."
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs