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Words From Washington

Summer spill doesn't save salmon, but does lead to higher electric bills

As those of us who live in Central Washington know all too well, there are strict policies governing the Columbia River and Snake River waters, many of which are tied to efforts to recover endangered salmon species. While I support common sense, balanced efforts to strengthen salmon runs and restore threatened populations, I do have serious concerns that federal policymakers are ignoring science and basic economics when formulating their summer dam spill plans.

Every year for the past several years, I have expressed strong opposition to the federal policy of spilling water at eight Columbia and Snake River hydropower dams during summer months.

Recent scientific studies have shown that increased summer spill at the dams actually does more harm to fish than do alternative fish transportation methods. If the goal of managing the hydroelectric dams is to protect salmon and increase their survival rates, common sense would mean that spill would not be increased and that other alternatives would be utilized.

In addition to not being the best method to protect salmon, spilling water at the dams results in lost hydropower generation. Increasing spill leads to tens of millions of dollars in lost power generation, meaning higher energy prices for families and small businesses.

That is why I recently reiterated my concerns about the Administration's recently-filed 2010 Summer Fish Operations Plan, and urged that they reconsider their spill policy. Continued spill is particularly troubling in a year when water runoff is the second lowest in a decade, regional unemployment rates are over 9 percent and the Bonneville Power Administration's power revenues are forecast to be $200 million below expenses, signaling the possibility of a rate increase.

Since a federal judge in Portland, who I might note is a lawyer/politician and not a scientist, first ordered summer spill to begin in 2006, it is estimated that this spill has cost our region hundreds of millions of dollars, has aided only a few dozen fish, and has potentially destroyed many more. A far better solution would be to end or reduce summer spill by using safer transport methods, and then invest a portion of the revenues from increased power generation into additional fish protection efforts.

I will continue to advocate a common sense, balanced approach to salmon recovery, grounded in science, that will ensure both abundant salmon runs and that the benefits of our hydropower system are maintained for generations to come.

- Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's Fourth Congressional District.

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