Agreements could resolve U.S. litigation over Snake River dams

Proposed agreements between three U.S. agencies and four Columbia River Basin tribes could set aside the idea of breaching four lower Snake River hydropower dams for ten years.

The proposals announced April 7 call for Bonneville Power Administration, the Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Reclamation to make $900 million available over ten years for restoration of fish, particularly Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead. The funds would be used to continue existing programs and to implement new priority fish projects with the tribes.

For their part, the tribes would commit to accomplishing biological objectives with the funds, linked to meeting the agencies’ statutory requirements. The parties also would agree that the federal government’s requirements under the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and Northwest Power Act are satisfied for the next ten years.

The agencies said the proposed agreements should enhance overall fish restoration efforts in the region, making mitigation for the hydropower system significantly more effective through a common approach.

The agreement would resolve, for the parties involved, ESA litigation pending before U.S. District Judge James Redden. The judge has ordered NOAA Fisheries to submit by May 5 a final biological opinion for operating the Columbia River Basin hydropower system in ways that protect and recover threatened salmon stocks. (HNN 2/5/08) The proposed agreements would be submitted with NOAA’s final �biop.�

The environmentalist dam removal lobby opposed a draft biop because, like four ill-fated biops before it, the opinion did not consider removing four Corps dams on the Snake River, all in Washington: 634.6-MW Ice Harbor, 810-MW Little Goose, 810-MW Lower Granite, and 810-MW Lower Monumental.

Redden voided NOAA Fisheries’ previous biop, the 2004 opinion, which found “no jeopardy” to salmon and steelhead listed for protection under the ESA. Should the new biop fail to win his approval, Redden has warned he has the option to order agency actions that might include dam removal.

Environmental groups not party to agreements

The environmental groups, and one Indian tribe, are not parties to the proposed agreements. Parties to the agreements include the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents the three tribes, also is a party to the proposed agreements, as is the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation.

About 40 percent of the $900 million called for by the proposals, or $360 million, would be used to guarantee existing programs that currently are without funding certainty. The remaining 60 percent, or $540 million, would be used for new work in the Columbia River Basin.

BPA said it would provide about $850 million of the total, all from its ratepayers, and the Corps would provide about $50 million for a lamprey program, subject to congressional appropriation. BuRec would help coordinate projects with the tribes, and provide several thousand dollars.

�The cost of these proposed agreements with the tribes translates into BPA wholesale rates being about 2-4 percent higher than they otherwise would be, all other things being equal,� BPA spokesman Scott Simms said. �There are many factors that together make up a utility’s overall rate structure.�

Simms added the costs and estimates are averages over the 10-year period covered by the proposed agreements.

BPA is providing a public comment period through April 23, so customers and stakeholders can review BPA’s proposed commitments. A decision on whether to proceed with the agreements will follow the comment period, BPA said.

The proposed agreements are available on the Internet at

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