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Idaho Power Files Suit Against EPA Over Water Temperature Standards In Snake River
Posted on Friday, June 08, 2018 (PST)

Idaho Power has filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over, says the utility, “failure to act on the State of Idaho’s adoption of a new water-temperature standard for salmon spawning in the Snake River.”


The legal action filed in Idaho District Court is part of the company’s ongoing effort to secure a new federal license to continue operating its three dams in Hells Canyon.


In 2012, the state of Idaho asked the EPA to change its water-temperature standard for salmon spawning below Hells Canyon Dam, but the agency has not taken action. Idaho Power says it is now filing suit “to preserve the company’s legal right to press for the change as part of relicensing its hydroelectric plants.


“The suit is necessary to preserve its legal options regarding specific temperature standards for water flowing out of the company’s most downstream dam,” the utility says.


While the suit proceeds, Idaho Power says it will continue working with the states of Idaho and Oregon to achieve water quality certification as part of the relicensing process.


“This really is driven by the federal statute of limitations,” said Brett Dumas, Director of Environmental Affairs for Idaho Power. “The EPA has failed to act on this proposal, and now we are running up against a deadline imposed by the statute of limitations. The suit does not change the company’s intent to continue working with Oregon and Idaho to determine the appropriate water quality standard and the best ways to address it through our relicensing process.”


The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the state legislature approved the site-specific temperature standard in 2012 and sent that to EPA for approval, as required by the federal Clean Water Act. The Act requires the EPA to respond to the proposal within 60 days if approving or 90 days if denying the standard. It has failed to do either, says Idaho Power.


The temperature of water flowing out of Hells Canyon Dam is a key hurdle remaining between Idaho Power and a new long-term license for its most important power source, the Hells Canyon Complex, which includes Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams. Together, those three dams account for approximately 70 percent of the company’s hydroelectric generation, and about a third of the company’s overall electricity generation.


The stretch of the Snake River below Hells Canyon Dam is an important spawning area for fall chinook salmon. The current temperature standard for water during the salmon’s spawning period currently changes from 19 degrees Celsius (66.2 degrees Fahrenheit) to 13 C (55.4 F) on Oct. 23.


Under the proposed change, the temperature standard would step down from 19C to 14.5C (58.1 F) on Oct. 23 and then to 13C on Nov. 6.


In a press release, Idaho Power said, “Idaho’s site-specific standard cites research from scientists and government agencies responsible for protecting the salmon showing that a temperature standard of 14.5 C continues to protect the fish. The science is supported by 25 years of increasingly successful spawning below Hells Canyon Dam.”


“The company has proposed an extensive program to address water quality in the Snake River as part of its application for a new federal license for the Hells Canyon Complex. The temperature standard impacts Idaho Power’s requirements to address water quality and how much customers may pay for its associated mitigation.”


“We have an obligation to protect these fish, and we have demonstrated our commitment to the fish for more than a quarter century,” Dumas said. “We also have an obligation to protect our customers and our shareholders from unnecessary costs related to relicensing.”


Snake River fall chinook are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.


Idaho Power, headquartered in Boise, Idaho, serves more than 547,000 customers throughout a 24,000-square-mile area in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon.


Also see:


-- CBB, May 5, 2017, “Hells Canyon Fish Passage: Idaho, Oregon Governors' Letter Sets Up Process To Resolve Differences”


-- CBB, Feb. 10, 2017, “Idaho Power Caught Between Idaho, Oregon Laws Regarding Fish Passage At Hells Canyon Complex”


-- CBB, Dec. 16, 2016, “Oregon, Idaho Differ On Clean Water Act Interpretations Regarding Snake River’s Hells Canyon Complex”


-- CBB, Dec. 15, 2017, “NOAA Fisheries Releases Recovery Plans For Snake River Fall Chinook, Spring Chinook/Steelhead”


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