TU Announces Landmark Settlement Agreement on Cowlitz River Hydro Project
8/10/2000 — — Contact:
Bill Robinson, Washington Council Executive Director, Trout Unlimited, 206-932-6959
Scott Yates, Western Legal and Policy Analyst, Trout Unlimited, 503-827-5700
August 10, 2000. Seattle, WashThe Washington Council of Trout Unlimited (WCTU) announced today a landmark agreement among a broad spectrum of stakeholders on future hydroelectric operation and fisheries management on southwest Washington’s Cowlitz River.
Tacoma Power, state and federal resource agencies, the Yakama Nation, and conservation groups signed a comprehensive settlement agreement for the continued long-term operation of Tacoma Power’s Cowlitz River Hydroelectric Project, which includes Mossyrock, Mayfield, and Barrier dams.
A tributary to the Lower Columbia River, the Cowlitz historically produced large numbers of spring and fall chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, and sea-run cutthroat trout. However, since the 1960s, anadromous – or ocean-going – fish have been limited to the lower 47 river miles, with Tacoma’s Cowlitz River Project blocking passage to the upper river.
Tacoma Power is one of the first large hydroelectric companies in the nation to use Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) “alternative” procedures to relicense dams authorized pursuant to the Federal Power Act.
The WCTU has been involved since the inception of the Cowlitz relicensing negotiations in 1996 and helped develop the technical information necessary to ensure that fish and wildlife concerns were properly taken into account. In 1999, the WCTU and other conservation groups began to negotiate directly with Tacoma Power regarding the specific environmental terms of the settlement agreement, including fish passage at the dams, sufficient flows, habitat, and hatchery production measures.
“Our strategy throughout the relicensing process has been to ensure that aggressive measures were in place to protect and restore fish populations and habitat,” said WCTU Executive Director Bill Robinson.
Restoring fish passage at the dams, making sure there is water in the river for fish, and restoring habitat were all key components of the final agreement. Those improvements will be felt throughout the entire river system, as well as in the success of fish re-introduction efforts.
According to the WCTU, this agreement represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to define a scientifically credible hatchery program that will incorporate new rearing techniques, marking fish to monitor ecological interactions between wild and hatchery fish, and provide certainty and consistency regarding recreational fishing opportunities.
Many of the most important decisions that relate to implementing specific provisions in the settlement agreement will occur sometime in the future, after further scientific study and debate.
“This means WCTU and other partners to the agreement will be able to participate at the technical level for years to come and help reach consensus on important issues from fish passage to fish management,” said Scott Yates, TU’s Western Legal and Policy Analyst.
“We want to make sure that Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed fish are restored and that recreational fishing in the Cowlitz River Basin is maximized to the fullest extent practicable in light of ESA concerns.” Cowlitz River chinook and steelhead are listed under the ESA, with sea-run cutthroat populations proposed for listing in the near future.
If approved and incorporated into Tacoma’s new license by FERC, the terms of the settlement agreement will guide hydroelectric project operation and environmental mitigation efforts for the next 35 to 40 years.
“At times, these negotiations were like pulling teeth,” said Yates. “We didn’t get everything we wanted for fish out of this deal, but make no mistake, Tacoma Power will have to play a significant and long-term role in restoring fishery resources in the Cowlitz River basin.”
Added Robinson, “Without WCTU and other local conservation groups such as Friends of the Cowlitz, and CPR-FISH, this agreement would either not have occurred, or the environmental and dam operation provisions would not have been as good for fish.”
Trout Unlimited is that nation’s leading coldwater fisheries conservation group with over 125,000 members nationwide, including over 4,000 in Washington