BPA celebrates 'light at the end of the tunnel,' but imperiled fall chinook migration still faces devastation due to lack of spill at dams this summer
6/29/2001 -- --
PORTLAND, ORE. (JUNE 29, 2001) Despite a more promising Northwest power forecast, larger-than-projected BPA cash reserves, lower-than-expected rate increases and the specter of wiping out an entire year class of salmon, the Bonneville Power Administration announced today it will continue managing the Columbia and Snake rivers to maximize revenue at the cost of legally mandated fish protections.
In news reports this week, BPA Acting Administrator Steven Wright reported seeing "lights at the end of a very dark tunnel," speaking of this year's regional energy crunch, but the news does not appear to be improving for salmon. At a press conference today announcing rate increases, Wright also said the BPA would recommend no spill at its Columbia and Snake river dams this summer, despite a federal mandate to do so. The BPA has invoked a vague provision in the Federal Salmon Plan which allows it to forgo salmon protections- such as spilling water at dams - in light of self-declared power "emergencies."
Fisheries scientists, officials from Columbia River tribes, scores of conservation groups and others have urged the BPA to enact a summer spill program at BPA-run dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers to aid migrating juvenile fall Chinook salmon this summer. That migration is currently underway, and should peak in a matter of weeks. Spill is recognized as the superior method of passing juvenile fish past hydroelectric dams while reducing mortality. Failure to spill leaves young migrating fish vulnerable to the dams' turbines as well as predation and high water temperatures. With BPA abandoning spill, water that would have been spilled for migrating fall chinook salmon instead will be used to generate electricity and revenue for BPA.
"Salmon can't swim in revenue streams," said Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited. "Unfortunately, the flow of cash - not water - seems to be governing the way the dams and rivers are being managed this year."
A key element in A's declaration of "emergency" was its reported lack of financial reserves which could cause the agency to miss its treasury payments and put its ratepayers at the mercy of skyrocketing wholesale energy costs. But, new estimates have BPA cash reserves at nearly double earlier projections, and prices on the energy market have stabilized and dropped.
"We'd just like to know at what point BPA's financial emergency ceases to be an emergency," said Curtis. "Today's announcement felt like a victory celebration, a signal that the emergency is behind us. But if that's the case, why will they continue to pad their revenues on the backs of dead fish under the guise of emergency provisions?"
Contact: Jeff Curtis, Trout Unlimited: 503.827.5700 x. 11, c. 503.351.2492