Environmental, FERC News, North America

Idaho tribes, utility at odds over Snake River fish passage

Court filings from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes could force utility Idaho Power to add fish passage to the three dams that make up its Hells Canyon cascade.

The documents, filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last week, ask the court to support a January 2017 decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee that rejected Idaho Power’s previous request for exemption from adding fish passage.

Idaho Power had asked FERC to dismiss an Oregon statute that requires fish passage for all hydropower projects located on the Snake River, which forms part of the border between the two northwestern states.

FERC’s ruling found no reason Oregon could not require fish passage as part of the stipulations for Idaho Power’s relicensing, which has been awarded on an annual basis since Hells Canyon’s 50-year license expired in 2005.

Idaho Power petitioned the Court of Appeals to review FERC’s decision last month, prompting the Shoshone-Bannock filing. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, whose reservation is located in southwestern Idaho near Pocatello, said terms of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Bridger guarantee fishing rights in the Snake River and its four tributaries.

The issue has been stewing for years, with FERC issuing a final environmental impact statement for the project’s relicensing in 2007 that recommended augmenting flows from Hells Canyon’s dams.

Hells Canyon provides about 40% of Idaho Power’s total electricity, according to company data, with power generated by the complex distributed through southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. Its three powerhouses include the 585.4-MW Brownlee, 190-MW Oxbow and 391-MW Hells Canyon.