PORTLAND, Ore. - What part of 'no' doesn't the Bonneville Power
Administration (BPA) understand? Maybe the same part of the answer that
every other interest group contending for the American West's scarce supply
of water hears. 'No' for the other guy, but surely not for us. No for the
Columbia River tribes and the salmon, for not for the BPA. The for-profit
federal agency as more money at stake. And more power.
Power is what drives the BPA - the lowest possible rates for the power it
markets to the region's public utilities. That's why BPA wanted to
significantly reduce the amount of Columbia River water it spills over its
dams this August. Water critical for getting young salmon out to sea. Water
critical for supporting the recovery of the basin's salmon runs. Water the
BPA wanted to use to generate power. Water that would purportedly allow the
agency to reduce users rates by 10 cents day.
The state of Oregon joined the Columbia River tribes and environmental
groups in opposing the BPA's proposal, and in late July, District Court
Judge James Redden of Portland ruled against the BPA.
Among other irregularities in the case, Redden noted that the BPA paid
Idaho Power $4 million so they could release water from one their dams to
compensate for water lost to spill. The reality was that Idaho Power was
already releasing two-thirds of the called-for water - 77,000-acre-feet,
reducing what the BPA touted as a 100,000-acre-foot difference to only
According to Hydro Program coordinator at Columbia Inter-Tribal Fish
Commission (CRIFC), Bob Heinith, even the BPA's legal team in the
Department of Justice didn't like the case in the beginning. That's why the
tribes were surprised when, after having lost so unequivocally in the
District Court, the BPA decided to appeal the Redden decision.
"Even the regional administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration Fisheries (NOAA Fisheries), Bob Lohn, said that as far as he
was concerned, the spill issue was settled after Judge Redden delivered his
decision," said Heinith.
Heinith said the same thing applied to the Army Corps of Engineers, the
agency that operates the dams for the BPA and who joined with the BPA and
NOAA Fisheries in the initial court battle.
"So basically it was BPA dragging NOAA Fisheries and the Corps into an
appeal - and the Department of Justice as well," Heinith said. "It's a
public interest question as far as we're concerned. Millions of public
dollars wasted and rate payer dollars. The very dollars the BPA says it's
trying to save by curtailing the spill."
CRITFC analyzed the situation correctly. On Aug. 13, the 9th Circuit Court
upheld the Redden decision. Water to flush juvenile salmon out to sea
continues to spill over the dams. But the BPA hasn't given up. Head of the
BPA Steve Wright told local papers that that he hadn't really expected a
resolution this year given what he terms the controversy on both sides.
But the salmon vs. hydropower scenario on the Columbia River is more than
simple controversy that any school girl could explain. It's true that
salmon and hydropower interests want to see Columbia River water put to
different uses. But the problem goes beyond the Northwest and the
allocation of its resources.
The problem goes right into the world of economics. Right into the world of
capitalism, and socialism, too.
It's economics - or, more accurately, poor economics. The General
Accounting Office (GAO) in Washington, D.C. says so.