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Hells Canyon Agreement: No Salmonid Reintroduction Above Dams For Now, Stresses Habitat, Research
Posted on Friday, December 21, 2018 (PST)

After almost two years of negotiations, Oregon conceded salmonid reintroduction above the Hells Canyon Complex in a settlement agreement reached last week.


Idaho Power’s ability to relicense the Complex with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has long been hampered by a disagreement between bordering states -- Oregon law requires fish passage above dams and Idaho law prohibits reintroduction of endangered species, such as Snake River chinook and steelhead, into blocked areas.


The stipulation and agreement released Dec. 14 for a 60-day public comment period includes no fish passage requirements.


Eric Nigg, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality water quality manager said, “We are not able to instruct Idaho Power to reintroduce any salmonids because of the settlement.”


However, the agreement directs Idaho Power to develop, along with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, an anadromous fish placement, monitoring and evaluation plan for Pine Creek in Baker County with 90 days of receiving its license from the Commission. Pike Creek flows into Brownlee Reservoir above the Hells Canyon dams.


The agreement said Idaho Power will annually trap juvenile spring chinook salmon and summer steelhead to collect data on population estimates, age, out-migrating time and to insert passive integrated transponder tags into 5,000 fish of each species.


Idaho Power formally started its relicensing request for Hells Canyon Complex in 2006. Each year the company has submitted and withdrawn its applications to Idaho and Oregon for clean water certification, because of a variety of issues, but fish passage was the final hurdle.


Donnie Oliveira, public information officer for Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, said, “Fish passage put the whole thing in a holding pattern.”


While the settlement agreement does not call for fish passage right away, it doesn’t close the door on the opportunity down the road. Idaho Power agreed to fund 20 years of habitat restoration and research that will look into whether or not passage of anadromous fish into Oregon tributaries is feasible.


The opportunity to enhance water quality in Oregon tributaries like Pine Creek in Baker County has officials hopeful. Another nod to keeping fish passage an option is the agreement does not restrict either state from advocating their fish and wildlife policies directly to the Commission.


The original license for the Hells Canyon Complex expired in 2005. Since then, Idaho Power has operated the projects under a series of annual licenses while it works toward a new long-term license, which Idaho Power continues to estimate will be issued by FERC no earlier than 2022.


Brett Dumas, director of Environmental Affairs for Idaho Power, said, “This proposal is the result of months of intense good-faith negotiations to find common ground that enables us to move forward with the relicensing process.”


Concerns about water quality certification compliance prompted Idaho Power to start habitat restoration a few years ago through the Snake River Stewardship Program in which the company proposed spending $400 million.


In addition to this commitment, the agreement dictates Idaho Power to work with ODFW on a plan that would evaluate fish habitat while paying Oregon DEQ $200,000 per year for 16 years to enhance water quality in the Snake and its Oregon tributaries.


Specifically, the agreement requires the company to pay out $6.8 million over 20 years to help modify agricultural land use to reduce sediment and phosphorus loading in the Snake, Malheur and Owyhee rivers.


Within three years of receiving its license, the agreement said Idaho Power is to identify adult fish migration barriers like water temperature, flow, grade, as well as natural and man-made barriers. Within five years, the company will do the same for salmonids in the Powder River basins below Thief Valley Dam.


Twenty years after relicensing Idaho Power will assess the pathogen risk associated with upstream fish passage into Oregon tributaries and evaluate habitat conditions in Pine Creek and the mainstem Snake River. A year later the company is directed to prepare a summary of options available for upstream and downstream passage of non-Endangered Species Act listed anadromous fish in Oregon tributaries, including a proposed course of action for fish passage for the remainder of the license term.


The release of the Idaho and Oregon clean water certifications Dec. 14 started a 60-day public comment period. To provide comments, which will be part of the public record, send in written form or attend the public hearing at 2 p.m. Wednesday, January 9 at the Portland State Office Building Room 1E 800 Northeast Oregon Street, Portland.


Comments can be submitted by mail, fax or email to Marilyn Fonseca, hydropower program coordinator 700 NE Multnomah, Suite 600 Portland, OR 97232; Fax 503-229-5675; email All comments are due by 5 p.m. Tuesday, February 12.


Also see:


-- CBB, April 6, 2018, “Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Side With Oregon On Issue Of Fish Passage At Hells Canyon Dams”


-- 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”


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