Energy & Environment

Habitat Key to Feds’ Salmon Plan

By Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer Published: January 23rd, 2014

Utility representatives are sounding a positive note about the latest version of a plan to enhance depleted salmon stocks in the Northwest through habitat improvements and continued hydro system, harvest and hatchery measures.

This view from inside a fish ladder at Bonneville Dam shows some of the record return of salmon helped by a government plan. (Photo By: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

This view from inside a fish ladder at Bonneville Dam shows some of the record return of salmon helped by a government plan. (Photo By: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

“This updated salmon plan continues on the path of progress seen over the past decade,” said Scott Corwin, executive director of the Portland, Ore.-based Public Power Council, which represents electric cooperatives and other consumer-owned utilities.

The federal agencies charged with salmon recovery released the update on Jan. 17 in response to a court order. It follows along the lines of previous plans, known as biological opinion, that are designed to protect threatened salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin.

The issue of salmon protection is a costly one for Northwest ratepayers. About 30 percent of Bonneville Power Administration’s wholesale power costs are wrapped up in fish and wildlife programs—about $700 million a year.

“The region’s electric utility ratepayers are funding most of this massive effort, so it is good to see that it is working effectively to meet the fish survival goals,” Corwin said.

With record numbers of salmon passing up and over Bonneville Dam this fall, federal representatives said there’s no reason to consider extreme measures such as knocking down hydroelectric dams or spilling additional water over dams.

“This supplemental biological opinion confirms we are on the right track when it comes to ensuring the survival of salmon and steelhead species in the Columbia River system now and well into the future,” said Will Stelle, West Coast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “Lots of hard work and collaboration across the region made this progress possible.”

Instead, the plan emphasizes continued habitat improvements as a key factor in boosting stocks of fish. About 10,000 acres of habitat in the Columbia basin have been restored.

“More than one million Fall Chinook salmon returned to spawn last year, the highest numbers since Bonneville Dam opened in 1938,” said Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, an alliance that include co-ops, utilities, farmers, port and businesses. “And the plan has worked to bring sockeye back from the brink of extinction.”

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