the Hells Canyon Complex started long before 2005 when Idaho Power’s license
expired to operate its system of hydroelectric dams on the Snake River between
Idaho and Oregon, but finding common ground regarding fish passage remains at
the two states share a boundary, they are divided on how to interpret the U.S.
Clean Water Act.
Department of Environmental Quality wants lower levels of methylmercury than
Idaho in fish found downstream of the Brownlee Reservoir.
the U.S. Geological Survey continues its study of methylmercury for Idaho
Power, a compound created in oxygen-free environments in the deepest parts of
the reservoir, Oregon is taking the lead to include fish passage in the new
license, a plan hotly contested by Idaho Power and Idaho’s Gov. Butch Otter.
11 years Idaho Power has submitted and withdrawn applications to both states
for certification that would permit them to complete their application process
with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As part of the annual licenses that
FERC has been granting to operate the dams since 2005, Idaho Power is required
to have a pending 401 application in front of the two DEQs.
Bowlin, communications specialist for Idaho Power said, “The repeated filing
and withdrawing of the 401 is part of the collaborative process that we have
been going through with Oregon and Idaho in developing a final certification
and an overall license.”
summer Idaho Power submitted applications to both Idaho and Oregon and this
time they did not withdraw them. On Dec. 13 Oregon released a draft water
quality certification kicking off a 60-day comment period. On Dec. 14 Idaho
released its draft certification and aligned the cut-off for public comment to
match Oregon’s deadline of Feb. 13.
major difference between the two drafts - Oregon asks Idaho Power to consider
fish passage, allowing for a 13-year study period to determine feasibility.
Nigg, East Oregon Water Quality manager for DEQ, said fish passage to the
tributaries is in the state’s biological criteria for protection of designated
the ability to get to those areas is part of beneficial use,” Nigg said.
only is it important for fish to be able to reach the tributaries to spawn, but
anadromous fish, like steelhead and chinook salmon, deliver marine-derived
nutrients to the ecosystem when they die.
fish are an integral part of a healthy environment,” Nigg said. “The ability to
get fish to all parts of water bodies is a component of our state water quality
its draft, Oregon DEQ stipulated a 13-year study on Pine Creek, one of the
upstream tributaries that drains into the Snake from Baker County. Niggs said
FERC is obligated to insert Oregon’s conditions into the new license as part of
the state’s authority to implement certification under the Clean Water Act. (Pine
Creek flows into the Hells Canyon Reservoir above Hells Canyon Dam, right below
Oxbow Dam, and below Brownlee Dam.)
of the requirement is to allow passage into Pine Creek,” Nigg said. “The study
would determine whether or not it is appropriate habitat, how much habitat is
available and what productivity to expect,” Nigg said.
the study proves that Pine Creek can support the reintroduction of anadromous
fish, Nigg said it will be used as a model for other tributaries on the Oregon
side of the Snake.
Power is already planning habitat restoration on the Powder and Burnt rivers as
part of its Snake River Stewardship Program in order to decrease the water
temperature as it enters the Complex. Instream river restoration work is
underway at Walters Ferry in southern Idaho and the program calls for riparian
restoration on the Powder River in collaboration with private landowners.
fish passage is out of the question. Idaho Power maintains its fish hatcheries
and release of steelhead and chinook downriver of the Complex is sufficient.
said, “Idaho Power is actively engaged in anadromous fish production as part of
its mitigation efforts for the Hells Canyon Complex. We survey fall chinook
salmon redds in the mainstem Snake and tributaries below Hells Canyon Dam and
we operate our facilities there to help maintain suitable nesting conditions
until the fry emerge in the spring.”
Power owns four fish hatcheries that are operated by the Idaho Department of
Fish and Game for the spawning and rearing of chinook and steelhead.
said, “We trap the adult fish below Hells Canyon Dam and release the young
either below the dam or in tributaries of the Snake below Hells Canyon Dam.”
said their annual production goals for hatchery-raised fish are 1,000,000 fall
chinook, 3,000,000 spring chinook, 1,000,000 summer chinook and 1,800,000
power company’s unwillingness to include fish passage was echoed in Idaho Gov.
Otter’s July 19 letter to Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown.
wrote, “While I appreciate Oregon’s willingness to limit these reintroductions
to Oregon tributaries, the agreement would result in reintroduced fish entering
Idaho waters. Such occurrence would violate long-standing Idaho law and policy
opposing reintroduction of any species without consent of the Idaho State
Legislature and executive branch.”
Oregon’s draft would still contain language about the Pine Creek experiment and
the eventual reintroduction, on Nov. 23 Idaho Power petitioned FERC to issue a
declaratory order that the Federal Power Act preempts the fish passage
provisions contained in Oregon Revised Statute requiring fish passage because
the law includes an exemption in the event of federal preemption.
petition says, “It is important for the Commission, as the agency charged by
Congress with the administration of the Federal Power Act, to determine whether
the Act preempts the Oregon statute as to the Hells Canyon Complex.”
its 28-page petition, Idaho Power asked FERC to issue the order no later than
Feb. 1, 12 days before the end of Oregon and Idaho’s public comment period on
their draft certifications.
public hearing will be held on Oregon’s draft certification in Portland at 2
p.m. Jan. 9 at the Portland State Office Building, Suite 1A 800 Northeast
Oregon Street, Portland, Oregon 97232. People can also attend and provide
comments at the hearing at Pendleton’s DEQ office, 800 SE Emigrant, #330 and in
Baker City at the Baker County Commission chambers, 1995 Third Street.
written comments by mail, fax or email to Marilyn Fonseca, hydropower program
coordinator, 700 NE Multnomah, Suite 600 Portland, Oregon 97232; fax to
503-229-6037 or email HCC401@deq.state.or.us. All comments are due by 5 p.m.
Pacific Standard Time, Monday, Feb. 13.
comments on Idaho’s draft certification are due February 13 at 5 p.m. Mountain
Standard Time on DEQ's website, www.deq.idaho.gov; by mail to Barry N. Burnell,
DEQ State Office, Water Quality Division, 1410 N. Hilton, Boise, ID 83706 or by
email to firstname.lastname@example.org.