Statement of Scott Corwin

 

Regarding Summer Spill for Columbia and Snake River Salmon

 

Before the Subcommittee on Water

Oregon House of Representatives

 

March 1, 2004

 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee,

 

Good afternoon.  I am Scott Corwin, a Vice President with PNGC Power, a not-for-profit power management firm owned by 15 rural electric cooperatives serving over 300,000 citizens of the Northwest.  Eight of these utilities are located in the State of Oregon.  PNGC Power also is a member of the newly-formed Coalition for Smart Salmon Recovery.  My prior experience includes positions with PGE, with the Oregon House of Representatives office of the Speaker in the 1997 session, and with the U.S. Senate first as Legal Counsel to Senator Mark O. Hatfield then as professional staff to the U.S. Senate Appropriations committee that wrote budgets for a several agencies including the federal judiciary and the Department of Commerce and its fisheries service.

 

Executive Summary

 

I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you today.  These issues are extremely important to the rural electric cooperatives I represent and to the owner/customers they serve.

 

We support alternative measures to assist salmon without the need to spill thousands of megawatt-months of clean hydropower down the river when it is needed in the summer months.

 

Studies by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and federal agencies show that these alternate measures could return 50,000 additional adult fall chinook, more than compensating for the 19,000 fall chinook presumed to be helped by “summer spill.”

 

The 3000 megawatt-months and $77 million cost of lost generation from “summer spill” is not an effective use of resources and is an unnecessary burden on citizens who have seen their rates increase dramatically.

 

Support for accountability and better results (including alternatives to “summer spill”) is consistent with full implementation of the Biological Opinion and with the June 2003 Four Governors Letter.

 

We urge the support of the legislature and the Governor to help put in place alternatives this year that move us toward smarter, more effective use of limited resources for salmon recovery.

 

 

Why focus on better salmon recovery?

 

Ø      First, as individuals who live work and play here of course we have an interest in responsible management of our natural resources.  We recognize the need for certain mitigation, but believe that limited funding demands more accountability.

 

Ø      Second, communities across the state depend upon the river system for navigation, irrigation, power production, and recreation.  They have an enormous interest in seeing salmon restoration efforts succeed because they pay the costs of these efforts and are impacted by associated land and water restrictions.

 

Ø      Third, as ratepayers we should all care about the relative value we are getting out of the significant investments we are making to this effort.  Citizen dollars tied up in power rates are dollars not available for other community purposes.

 

Ø      Finally, in order to continue to broaden support for salmon recovery efforts, both in the region and in Washington, D.C., it is necessary that the federal agencies (with help from the states and tribes) take real action to move towards a results-oriented approach that emphasizes performance rather than checklists of actions that may or may not bring real results for fish.

 

An example of better salmon recovery: alternatives to “summer spill”

 

Ø      Recent studies demonstrate that there are much smarter ways than “summer spill” to achieve desired levels of adult fish returns.  In January, three federal agencies overseeing the river system presented several options to make better use of these resources. See (www.nwd-wc.usace.army.mil/tmt/agendas/2004/0204-mod.ppt).

 

Ø      By using just two measures for the relatively low cost of $1 million to $2 million, they could increase returns of fall Chinook by 50,000 fish.  The proposals include easy-to-implement actions such as controlling river flows to protect rearing grounds and enhanced control of predators like the Northern Pike Minnow.  The per-fish cost of these measures would be about $40.

 

Ø      By contrast, the current measure used to aid fall Chinook is to flush them through the spillways at four dams in July and August (“summer spill”).  This method expends about $77 million worth of lost generation each summer, yet returns only 19,000 additional fish (just 5 percent of the total of 384,000 returning fish.).   Instead of $40, the per-fish cost of this measure is just over $4,000.

 

Ø      Almost none of the fish in question are from runs listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Instead, these fish are subject to a large rate of harvest and sold in the supermarket.  The same federal presentation that presented the options noted above showed that only 24 protected adult fish would benefit from the entire “summer spill” regime.

 

The link to jobs and Oregon’s economy

 

Ø      Last Friday, the Oregonian printed an article about Oregon’s unemployment rate getting worse.  It now stands at 7.7%.  The increases in electricity costs since 2002 exacerbate the situation.  BPA received thousands of letters from angry ratepayers when they made their latest proposal to raise rates.  Those wholesale power rates are currently set to go up again in April and October.

 

Ø      Ratepayers are particularly interested in programs, like “summer spill”, that intentionally disable the capacity of the hydro system; the loss of that $77 million of generation is reflected in their rates so ratepayers need assurances that there is a return for that cost.

 

Ø      The Bonneville Power Administration’s (BPA) fish and wildlife costs have sky-rocketed in the last two decades.  BPA currently spends $600 million a year on fish recovery, up from $150 million in 1991. Over the last 25 years, BPA has spent more than $6 billion on fish recovery.

 

Ø      BPA’s power rates have risen by over 40% and are projected to continue to rise (see chart below).  Fish and wildlife costs are not solely responsible for this increase.  But, at 20% to 25% of BPA’s power costs, fish and wildlife costs are now a big factor.

 


Ø      The cost of the $77 million for summer spill amounts to about $11,000 per average megawatt of power bought from BPA.  A large university, for example, might use twice that much power.  Even small rural school districts are paying several thousand dollars just for some non-endangered fish that could be helped through other means.

 

Ø      Irrigators are particularly dependent upon electricity, and large manufacturing employers also are paying tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars just for “summer spill”.  Some of these businesses, such as Weyerhaeuser, conducted studies of their power rates across the country and found that the Northwest no longer enjoys the business advantage it once had in the area of electricity rates.

 

Ø      The alternatives to summer spill look even better when one thinks about the current State of Oregon budget.  What would millions of dollars back into Oregonians’ pockets mean for the state?

 

Ø      Ironically, even those in Oregon questioning the need to change “summer spill” could benefit from a financially healthier BPA.  The State of Oregon is one of the largest recipients of direct fish and wildlife program funding from BPA.

 

Many join the call for smarter salmon recovery measures

 

Ø      PNGC Power and other utility groups have been testifying and writing letters for years about the need for effective alternatives to “summer spill”; many other industry and union groups are focusing on this problem because it cries out for change.

 

Ø      Several members of Congress have expressed concern.  We appreciate the state legislature now showing similar leadership to look into this matter.

 

Ø      The Northwest Power and Conservation Council has demonstrated leadership to ask the tough questions about summer spill.  This independent, state appointed panel is instructed by law to balance the needs of power and fish, and to create a plan for fish and wildlife that will “...utilize, where equally effective alternative means of achieving the same sound biological objective exist, the alternative with the minimum economic cost.” Northwest Power Act §4(h)(6)(C).

 

Ø      BPA, NOAA fisheries, and the Army Corps of Engineers also have shown leadership in forwarding the viable options mentioned above.  Paving the way was their determination in an August 26, 2003 statement that summer spill “…appears to be excessively costly relative to the biological benefit provided.”  They concluded they “…have a responsibility to the region to devise an approach that is less costly while maintaining the ability to achieve the biological objectives for salmon and steelhead....”.  We are looking for them to present a strong option with a single voice by early April in order to have alternatives in place for this season.


 

Why would anyone object to alternatives that get more fish back for less money?

 

Change comes slowly to a salmon recovery effort that has suffered from a lack of real accountability for results because of an unfortunate separation between those creating and managing programs and those paying for them.  Arguments against alternatives to summer spill come in a variety of forms:

 

Ø      Isn’t “summer spill required” by the strategy envisioned by the 2000 Biological Opinion and in a letter by the four Northwest Governors?  No.  The ability to change operations such as spill is clearly within full implementation of the Biological Opinion (BiOp).  Sections 9.1 and 9.4 of the BiOp clearly allow the flexibility for reason to prevail where a change is needed.  Second, the “Four Governors Letter” of June 2003 did not advocate blindly following the 199 original BiOp prescriptions at any cost.  Rather, it embraced a comprehensive approach (Habitat, Harvest, Hatcheries, Hydro) to salmon recovery and urged the federal government to take “positive, measurable and cost-effective steps to benefit fish.”  Summer spill does not provide measurable success in a cost-effective manner.

 

Ø      Is it too risky to change spill operations, and don’t we lack the knowledge to know what will happen?  First, reducing risk to ESA-listed fish in this instance is the reason they are barged downriver.  This is the safest route they can take.  With respect to any additional risk to both listed and non-listed fish from a spill reduction, that is why we are supporting alternative measures to more than offset any impacts.  Second, regarding lack of available knowledge...this did not stop the start-up of spill in the mid-1990s.  We keep waiting for studies that show summer spill’s effectiveness.  Meanwhile, millions in waste flow downstream.  Enough is enough.

 

Ø      The dam breaching debate.  Some continue to believe breaching dams is necessary despite evidence to the contrary from NOAA scientists in Seattle and the Army Corps of Engineers massive environmental impact statement on the issue.  The theory is that if breaching is not happening, anything else is fair game regardless of cost and effectiveness.  But, there are 199 measures in the current biological opinion, many untested before their inclusion.  The idea was to adapt these measures as we learn more about these fish. And, remember that only 24 of the Snake River fish in question are helped by “summer spill”.

 

Ø      Why not implement the alternative measures and continue spilling water?  First, more is not necessarily better as we found out at The Dalles dam when testing showed that lower levels of spill afforded better fish survival.  Where does it end?  Are fish measures always a one-way street regardless of what we learn about them?  Second, BPA is already raising its rates.  It does not have more to give without taking away from other projects or raising rates even more: unacceptable options.

 

Ø      Questions about the data models on spill’s effectiveness.  First, this is the same SIMPAS model that NOAA used throughout the BiOp process, and the same one that NOAA ran in 2001 showing small incremental impact to fish from cutting spill for the water and power emergency.  They were right.  This latest run confirms earlier work with the model by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.  No model is perfect, but this is the best the Northwest has right now.  If there was a better one, someone should step forward with it.  Second, what if a major change to the model is made and showed a 100% increase in the fish supposedly helped by “summer spill”?  You would still have a $2000 fish being caught, and you would be acknowledging hydro-system passage and survival at very high rates.

o       As to the theory of “delayed mortality” often raised but never proven (assumes later effects to fish from hydro that we can’t yet measure): why is the theory only raised about passage measures opposed by advocates, such as barging, but not raised about multiple trips over spillways subjecting fish to gas super-saturation?  Speaking of that, why does the State of Oregon continue to grant waivers of its own Clean Water Act rules to allow for gas saturation from spill that goes above the legal limit?

 

Ø      Questions about the effectiveness of offsets.  This has been the most useful part of this debate this year.  We have never seen so many people questioning so many different measures for fish.  This is much improved over the unrealistic practices of everyone wanting to do everything regardless of cost.  We picked two offsets (pikeminnow control and Hanford Reach stranding and rearing protection) that are easy to implement and are estimated to garner 50,000 adult fish.  But, the list of offsets is long (as is the list of requests into BPA for funding).  So, lets get together, agree on something, and get moving before it is too late for this year.

 

If we are going to preserve this beautiful river system for the many uses specifically authorized in federal law we are going to need to earn the trust of the people of the Northwest.  That will mean being smarter about what we do in the name of fish and making each measure and each dollar count. We urge the support of the legislature and the Governor to help put in place alternatives this year that move us toward smarter, more effective use of limited resources for salmon recovery.