Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Statement from NW RiverPartners: Power and Fish Agreement to Pause Litigation, Questions Remain (News Release, NW RiverPartners)

(PORTLAND, OR) – Northwest RiverPartners appreciates the spirit of collaboration between states, tribes and federal agencies that has led to this short-term agreement around operations of the federal hydropower system. We are encouraged that this agreement intends to put a temporary halt to the ongoing litigation that for so long has ill-served our region. 

At the same time, we are concerned about the unprecedented and scientifically unproven levels of new spill being contemplated by the agreement – particularly in 2020 and 2021. Further, many details remain unclear, making it difficult to determine whether goals of the agreement will materialize. We are also concerned with the potential adverse effects on carbon emission reduction goals that appear to have not been adequately analyzed. 

In 2020 and 2021 the agreement considers levels of spill that are not supported by current science or allowed under existing state water quality standards.  The agreement proposes operating the federal dams during some spring hours of each day at higher levels of spill while also providing lower levels of spill during other periods of the day when power is more valuable. Spill can be a useful tool to aid salmon in migrating downstream; however, too much spill can cause gas bubble trauma in fish, which can harm or even kill them.

This is why NWRP has called on the Washington Department of Ecology to conduct a rigorous science review before granting any waiver to the existing water quality standards.  The Department established these standards explicitly to protect salmon and other aquatic species. Given this, the possible adverse effects of increased spill on endangered salmon and other aquatic species should not be ignored simply to avoid future litigation. There also needs to be rigorous monitoring and accountability for this new proposed operation with mechanisms in place to reduce spill levels if they begin to negatively affect fish survival. 

Public utilities are responsible for providing reliable, affordable carbon free energy to their customers and have been supportive of the federal agencies’ management plans for the federal hydropower system. The public power community understands and can appreciate the goals of the agreement but needs more information to ensure those goals can be realized and to better understand the costs, benefits and risks of the agreement to customers, salmon and the Northwest’s environment.

BPA states it will continue to work collaboratively with the parties to the agreement to refine the analysis and determine final spring spill operations, particularly in 2020 and 2021 when higher levels of spill may be pursued.

Given the significance of this complex agreement, in the coming days and months, we look forward to gaining a better understanding of it – including an understanding of the full suite of benefits and risks to Northwest ratepayers and the multi-purpose users of the river system. We look forward to working closely with the federal agencies, the states, and regional stakeholders to ensure that this agreement is implemented in a manner that maximizes the value of our region’s carbon free hydropower resource, protects ratepayers, and protects ESA listed salmon species.