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NW Fishletter #370, June 5, 2017

[6] Spill Controversy Persists, But Litigants Agree to a 2018 Spill Process

Four House members of the Northwest Congressional delegation sent a letter to BPA Administrator/CEO Elliot Mainzer earlier this month, questioning the science and costs of more spill at Columbia and Snake river dams.

They also criticized a proposal by conservation groups to stop capital expenditures at four lower Snake River projects.

The congress members also sent the May 2 correspondence to U.S. Secretary of the Army Robert Speer, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

"We believe that the 2008 BiOp achieved consensus on a plan that has demonstrated for several years that it is working to improve salmon recovery while still allowing operation of the federal dams." Washington Republicans Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse, and Oregon Democrats Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader said in the letter.

The plaintiffs' "continued advocacy for additional spill or preventing needed maintenance of the dams as requested in the injunctions is not only unscientifically based, it is likely to be counterproductive," the letter continued.

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon overturned the 2008-2014 BiOp on May 6, 2016, in National Wildlife Federation et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service et al. [01-640]

On March 27 of this year, Simon partially approved motions by the plaintiff fishing and environmental groups, directing the defendant federal action agencies to provide more spill beginning in 2018 and directing them to inform the plaintiffs when certain capital spending projects at lower Snake River dams were planned.

The federal action agencies are BPA and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers.

The plaintiffs had proposed that the court order federal agencies to provide additional spill starting this year at eight federal hydro projects on the Columbia and Snake rivers and postpone most capital expenditures at lower Snake River dams lest they prejudice an upcoming EIS on the Federal Columbia River Power System.

In a set of eight questions, the congress members asked the officials about BPA costs, including the amount ratepayers are paying in monthly bills, the expenditures covered by federal action agencies and the benefits and adverse effects of spill.

In turn, 31 fishing and conservation groups--many of them plaintiffs in the BiOp case--weighed in with their own missive to Mainzer, the Congressional delegation and federal officials.

The groups' May 17 letter said the elected officials should ask their questions to a broader set of experts and named organizations such as the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, Fish Passage Center, Independent Science Advisory Board and tribal, federal and state fish agencies.

Regarding the cost of spill, the conservation and fish groups said if BPA's initial estimate of $40 million annually were accurate, it would mean about $1 a month for the average household. The letter's authors suggest $40 million is likely inflated.

A statement on McMorris Rodgers' website says that the requirement to spill more water will decrease the electrical output of the dams and increase costs by an estimated 2-3 percent.

The fish and environmental advocates also said in their letter that the adverse impact of spill alleged by spill opponents is misplaced. "Spill levels in 2017 are, for the most part, far above what Judge Simon ordered, and real time smolt monitoring to date has shown minimal adverse effects upon juvenile salmonids."

The groups commented that regional ratepayers and American taxpayers have spent $15 billion under the direction of the federal agencies that manage the major Columbia and Snake river dams, yet the 13 salmon and steelhead populations listed under the Endangered Species Act in the early 1990s are still listed, and "most have shown little or no sign of significant or sustained improvement."

Meanwhile, the NWF v. NMFS plaintiffs and defendants have agreed on several issues.

According to a May 1 court document, they have decided how spill implementation plans are going to be developed for each of eight federal dams.

Technical representatives--identified by regional tribal, federal and state governments with jurisdiction over salmon and dams--will "collaboratively plan and carry out tasks such as modeling and analyses of a range of spill levels and spill patterns as they agree is necessary to afford a basis for identifying 2018 spring fish passage spill levels and spill patterns at each of the eight lower Columbia River and lower Snake River dams," the court document says.

In a separate filing, the federal action agencies proposed to notify the plaintiffs of new capital projects at lower Snake River dams that cost more than a $1 million and provide most information about the capital expenditures within 30 days of the Corps' release of its budget request describing the project. The plaintiffs concurred. -Laura Berg

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NW Fishletter is produced by Energy NewsData.
Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: Laura Berg
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