Guest Opinion: Increasing spills will hurt fish, power users, environment


February 21, 2014 

Using the logic expressed in a recent Guest Opinion ("Idaho and its chinook deserve an expansion of water spills," Jan. 27), you can never have too much of a good thing. Unfortunately, the opposite is true when it comes to ice cream, liquor - and the water that is spilled through the federal dams to help Idaho's cherished salmon get downstream to the ocean more quickly. The fact is, too much spill can kill.

The reality is, the proposal to expand spill that is being pushed by litigious environmental groups is both scientifically flawed and illegal. It violates federal and state water quality protections for salmon and other aquatic species by adding gas to the rivers in lethal amounts. NOAA Fisheries, the agency responsible for protecting salmon, rejected the proposal because it could kill salmon outright and causes other harm: It diverts salmon away from higher-survival passage routes through the dams, makes it difficult for returning adults to find fish ladders, and causes them to "fall back" at the dams so they can't reach their spawning grounds.

NOAA also points out that 2011, a year with high levels of spill and flow, produced below average adult returns, illustrating that other factors such as ocean conditions play a much larger role in salmon returns.

Nor is the proposal "small and affordable," as supporters claim. An analysis by the Bonneville Power Administration shows it would cost $1 billion over 10 years, to be passed along to Northwest families and businesses through their power bills, and would add 2 million tons of polluting carbon to our skies - the environmental cost of forgoing clean renewable hydropower generated by the dams to rely instead on natural gas and coal.

Given all the facts, this radical spill proposal makes no sense for salmon, electricity customers or the environment. That's because its true purpose is to drive down the cost-effectiveness of the federal hydropower system in order to make the case for dam removal, which these groups will readily admit is the ultimate goal. The call for more spill over dams is a clear case of the "ends justifying the means," with so-called fish conservation groups so focused on getting rid of the dams that they are willing to harm and even kill salmon in the process.

The smarter and safer strategy for salmon is to stick with what we know is working: A federal salmon plan that is using safe levels of spill, extensive habitat improvements, new technologies at the dams and other proven tools to restore our region's iconic fish. This dangerous spill proposal deserves to be killed - not the salmon.

Hart is the executive director of the Idaho Consumer-Owned Utilities Association.

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