(PORTLAND) -- Steve Wright was keynote speaker at RiverPartners’ annual membership meeting. The following are thoughts he shared regarding the critical roles of salmon, hydro and dams in the Northwest:
From the beginning we have shared a common goal: to prove that we can mitigate for the damage caused by the federal hydro system to the region’s fish and wildlife, while at the same time, doing so without breaching dams and taking other such actions that fundamentally cause the loss of value of the incredible system from which the whole region benefits.
The value of this river system is both economic and environmental. We know that we have some of the lowest power rates in the country, but we sometimes forget that there is a substantial environmental value as well. We have the only large power system in the country that emits no air emissions. No sulfur dioxide, no nitrous oxide, no mercury and importantly no contribution to global warming. The combination of economic and environmental benefits makes it the envy of the rest of the country, if not the rest of the world.
The 2008 Biological Opinion (addressing the effects of the federal dam operations on protected salmon), as amended by the 2010 Adaptive Management Plan strives to restore threatened and endangered fish populations while preserving both the economic and environmental value of the river system – and it is working.
We have updated data for 49 populations of salmon and steelhead and 47 of them are showing increasing trends in abundance since 1990. There are a number of things that are causing that to happen: we have made substantial investments in the hydro system, and they are paying off. The eight main stem dams on the Columbia and the Snake rivers have all undergone significant refurbishment in the last decade to improve fish passage. And, as a result of this work we are ahead of schedule in terms of our goals for juvenile fish passage survival.
But beyond that, this is a balanced program that recognizes our goals to protect wild fish while also recognizing that there are a lot of people out there in the Northwest who also want to go fishing. Substantial investments in tributaries and estuary restoration provide benefits for endangered fish – but more than that, they improve the ecological health of the river system across the Columbia Basin. Improving aquatic health improves the prospects for all aquatic species.
So I would argue that these are not signs of a broken program that needs radical overhaul. We’re on a path to success, although this is a work in progress and much remains to be done.
Recently, NOAA Fisheries has indicated it is shifting its focus for Columbia Basin salmon by having a conversation that goes beyond the hydro system and pointing toward the post-2018 period. I think this is an appropriate discussion because we have a conclusion date in the Biological Opinion of 2018, and there is uncertainty after that. So, all the factors that impact salmon should be on the table. This is a regional problem and it needs to be managed in a way that recognizes all the human-caused salmon mortality in the system.
The Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations have all said at various times and in various ways that with respect to salmon restoration we should strive for both economic and environmental health in this region. I translate that to mean we can achieve salmon restoration and have the economic and environmental benefits from dams too. My impression is that Northwest RiverPartners has stood for that premise. It has been successful in articulating that mission. And now that mission is going to grow – to create an understanding that this hydro system provides both an economic and environmental value. We’ve spent the last year at BPA telling that story as part of our 75th anniversary. But there’s more to be done and I’m glad to hear that you are seeking to amplify that message.
It’s been a real honor to serve as BPA Administrator for the last 12 years. What have been especially memorable are the stories where collaboration has addressed and solved difficult and controversial issues. I remember many of the great debates that happened here and ways we’ve found to resolve them – these are lasting and fond memories for me. It’s been a great pleasure to work with RiverPartners and I thank you for this opportunity.
(Steve Wright will retire as Administrator in February. Bill Drummond, Bonneville Power Administration’s Assistant Administrator, has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to succeed Wright.)