Despite tremendous pressure to delay a decision, the Northwest Power Planning Council approved a plan Dec. 14 to save Columbia River salmon. It relies on drawing down reservoirs - rather than on barges - to speed migrating salmon to sea.
"After 14 years of studying the problem, the
council finally concluded that fish float," says Wendy Wilson,
executive director of Idaho Rivers United. "For the first time
barging would be the experiment - not leaving fish in the water."
The plan calls for a phased-in drawdown of Snake
River reservoirs downstream from Lewiston, Idaho, beginning with a
28-foot drawdown of Lower Granite Reservoir in 1995.
Environmentalists endorsed the plan because a drawdown would speed
currents in the reservoirs during the two-month salmon migration
The Bonneville Power Administration,
which sells power from the eight federal dams in the Columbia River
Basin, and other industry interests immediately labeled the plan an
overly expensive experiment that might not work. The Columbia River
Alliance, an industry-backed coalition, vowed it would call on the
new Congress to invalidate the plan.
council, created by Congress in 1980 to balance power and fish
interests in the Columbia River Basin, estimates that its plan will
cause residential electricity rates to rise about $2 per month by
1997. Bonneville's customers, including the aluminum industry,
would see their wholesale rates increase by about 6 percent by
Northwestern lawmakers had urged the
council to put off making changes to its plan until next year. That
is when several new appointments are likely, including at least one
from Idaho governor-elect Phil Batt. He opposes
But the council, under a court order
to produce a biologically defensible plan, apparently felt the
urgency of the moment. At a recent round of hearings, salmon
advocates and biologists told council members they individually
needed to immediately change the way dams are operated to prevent
the extinction of the salmon.
Just over 1,000
wild adult salmon returned to spawn in the Snake River in 1994;
scientists say maybe half that many will return in
"We are facing the last chance legally to
craft a recovery plan in this region before the federal courts take
the initiative away from us," council chairman Angus Duncan of
Oregon said after the vote.
hope the power council's plan will give the National Marine
Fisheries Service the courage to adopt an even more aggressive
drawdown policy. On Jan. 29, the federal agency is scheduled to
produce its version of a final recovery plan for the three
endangered species of Columbia River salmon. Once again, however,
the issue will probably end up in court.
information, contact the Northwest Power Planning Council,