July 13, 2009

Cooling Snake River salmon – $120 mil or $250 mil?

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An Idaho power company proposes to spend $3 million a year to cool the Snake River – up to $120 million over 40 years – in an effort to meet requirements of the Endangered Species Act for Chinook salmon and steelhead that spawn there. But Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman reports the federal EPA doubts the company’s efforts – including planting trees, raising flows and other measures – will cool the water – and keep the fish alive – for the 100-mile journey through the Snake and its reservoirs to get past the Hells Canyon.

“Right now it’s very unclear what these projects are going to be and that they would represent any temperature benefits downstream,” said John Palmer, an EPA senior policy advisor who wrote a letter to Idaho Power expressing the agency’s doubts.

One solution would be to make Idaho Power pay up to $250 million for a structure that chills the Brownlee Reservoir by churning cooler water up from the bottom of the reservoir and pumping it out past the dam. The dispute is the last major issue holding up the company’s effort to obtain a new license to operate Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams. But the federal environmental agency gets involved only if the state of Washington decides the dams will violate standards. Both Idaho and Oregon have indicated they like the company’s approach, although they are awaiting new studies next month to sign off officially.

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