Conservation and Fishing Groups Ask Energy Bill Conferees to Reject Hydro Measures
7/15/2002 -- Arlington, VA -- The nation’s leading conservation and fishing organizations have asked Congressional conference committee members working on the federal energy bill to reject two provisions of that bill that would be harmful to fish, wildlife and local economies.
In a letter sent today to the conference committee members, the organizations wrote that the hydro measures would have a devastating impact on fish and wildlife if approved in their current form.
“In the two versions of the energy bill (H.R. 4 as passed by the House and Senate) now pending in Conference, little-noticed hydropower provisions could have enormous impacts on fish and wildlife, as well as the health of rivers and lakes…We urge you to reject in Conference energy bill provisions that sacrifice fish and wildlife protection for little gain in energy,” the letter said.
The letter was signed by: the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, American Sportfishing Association, ESPN/BASS, Izaak Walton League of America, National Wildlife Federation, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Pure Fishing, Trout Unlimited and Wildlife Forever.
The provisions, one in the House of Representatives version of their energy bill and the other in the Senate’s version, would, if fully implemented, cause wild fluctuations in water levels below dams and create roadblocks to the current requirement that when dams are relicensed, they modernize their facilities to consider a river’s fish, wildlife and recreational needs.
Under the provision in the House of Representatives energy bill, major western federal dams would be operated to maximize the hydropower they produce at times of peak demand. Maximizing peak power requires flooding rivers at certain times of the day and drying rivers to a trickle at night when electricity demand is low. Doing so would produce no new power, only more profitable power, and because fish and aquatic life need water all day long, this provision could devastate fisheries below Bureau of Reclamation dams.
The House provision could also harm the largely rural communities that now depend the economic benefit of those fisheries. Further, it may create safety problems for recreational users of the rivers, as river levels unexpectedly and suddenly rise or fall in response to power needs. Most large Reclamation hydropower plants are currently operated to balance water supply, flood control, power generation, recreation, and fish and wildlife.
Some of the West’s premier trout fisheries could be devastated by the House hydro provision including: Utah’s Green River; Montana’s Bighorn River, South Fork of the Flathead and the Missouri Rivers; California’s Lower Sacramento River; Colorado’s Gunnison River; Idaho’s South Fork of the Snake River; and Wyoming’s North Platte River.
The Senate’s version of the energy bill would weaken current requirements that, when non-federal hydropower facilities go through the relicensing process every 30 to 50 years, the facilities are required to meet modern standards, including improving fisheries, wildlife habitat, water quality and recreation.
The Senate provision changes procedures in relicensing to make it easier for a dam owner to challenge environmental requirements set by agencies entrusted with responsibility for fish and wildlife or protection of federal lands. Furthermore, the Senate version changes the time schedule for relicensing in a way that squeezes the time available for natural resources and environmental studies, upon which the final decisions rest.
The organizations said that while they support the production of electricity through hydro-facilities, there are ways that can be done without sacrificing fish and wildlife and local, rural economies that have come to rely on those resources.
“We support existing well-operated hydropower plants located in appropriate sites as a key element of our non-fossil fuel energy supply – they can provide needed electricity with acceptable environmental impact and can sometimes improve recreational fisheries. Simple, proven, and affordable measures can dramatically reduce hydropower dams’ environmental impacts, while still providing for the economical generation of power… We urge the Conferees to reject the House Section 6403 and Senate Section 301,” the letter noted.
For a copy of the letter, contact Steve Malloch of Trout Unlimited at 703.284.9415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information: Steve Moyer (703) 284-9406