PORTLAND, OR - June 8 - Today, the Bonneville Power Administration, an agency of the Bush administration, is expected to release a revised proposal to eliminate large portions of the salmon spill program in August. Spill, a required action of the current federal plan to recover endangered salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers, is widely considered by scientists to be the safest means of getting young ocean-bound salmon past the dams.
"Another week, another administration salmon policy that hurts the Northwest," said Pat Ford, executive director, Save Our Wild Salmon. "Slashing summer spill spurns the unanimous scientific advice of Northwest fishery agencies and Indian Tribes and continues a three year pattern of failure of this administration to implement its own salmon plan."
The damage to salmon caused by stopping spill is well documented. During the 2001 drought, BPA eliminated spill on the Columbia and Snake rivers to maximize hydroelectric generation. This caused the deadliest juvenile salmon migration since the fish were listed under the Endangered Species Act. Now, these salmon are returning as adults, and early figures indicate that the 2001 spill reduction and drought had an impact on adult returns. Low returns of salmon that migrated downriver in 2001 are a major reason spring chinook salmon returns were only 47 percent of what was expected.
"This is a scientifically irresponsible and indefensible decision," said Jim Martin, former chief of fisheries, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and current member, National Wildlife Federation Board of Directors. "In this year of low water flows and high river temperatures, salmon need spill more than ever. Rather than heed that warning, BPA continues to disregard the hugely positive economic impact spill has on fishing communities and takes the politically expedient route to pad the agencies' bottom line."
The amended spill proposal, if implemented would leave young ocean-bound salmon (both listed and unlisted) at greater risk of dying from dam turbines, predators or other factors. Cutting summer spill also means that Snake River fall chinook will continue to be barged and trucked downstream in the summer despite evidence that this practice reduces survival rates.
"Under this proposal, more young salmon would be sucked from the river, loaded onto barges and trucks and moved downstream. The people of the Northwest know that salmon belong in rivers, not barges and trucks," said Rob Masonis, Northwest regional director, American Rivers. "This is a short-sighted move by the administration that ignores the long-term harm it will cause to wild salmon and salmon-dependent communities. Healthy rivers and abundant wild salmon are essential to local economies and our quality of life."
Moreover, the plan is expected to provide minimal, if any, benefits to Northwest ratepayers in the form of lower electricity bills. BPA inappropriately counts as "cost" the loss of projected extra income from the sales of excess hydropower to California.
"For the sake of running air conditioners in California, we would even further imperil a mainstay of the Northwest's culture and economy," said Sara Patton, executive director, NW Energy Coalition. "The alleged savings from curtailing spill to electric ratepayers are grossly overstated. We're talking seven cents to a maximum of 66 cents per month for residential customers."
Salmon advocates expect that the amended spill proposal will suffer from the same fundamental flaw as the earlier version -- no credible evidence that harm caused by reducing spill can be offset. BPA's new proposal is expected to contain a number of so- called "offsets," that are speculative at best, and at worst, simply won't pass scientific muster. State, federal, and tribal salmon biologists have raised numerous concerns about the efficacy of the proposed offsets, stating that for example, some (such as the Hanford Reach Protection Program) are double-counting previous requirements. Others (like the Northern Pikeminnow Removal Program increase) simply won't make up the difference. These concerns do not appear to have been sufficiently addressed.
"The federal salmon plan has already been ruled illegal and by a federal court and yet the agencies are doing even less than what is required by this insufficient plan," said Chase Davis, regional representative, Sierra Club. "The Bush administration's complete ignorance of the scientific data is astounding."
With a combined membership of over six million, Save Our Wild Salmon is a nationwide coalition of businesses, conservation organizations, commercial and sportfishing associations, river groups and taxpayer advocates working collectively to restore healthy and abundant wild salmon to the rivers and streams of the Pacific Northwest.