Last week at the Salmon Forum in Boise, Congressman Mike Simpson demonstrated the kind of leadership largely absent in Congress today. By publicly stating his commitment to play a leadership role in dealing with both Bonneville Power Administration’s impending financial crisis and the threat of extinction to Idaho’s iconic salmon, Mike has provided a launch pad for meaningful progress on these intertwined issues.
The BPA, based on its own numbers, has exhausted most of its reserves and faces nearly a billion dollars in required but unfunded retrofits/replacements to its four Lower Snake River Dams’ turbines. It’s also incurring total power production costs on the LSRDs well above what it can sell energy for in a Northwest market experiencing a major and growing power excess. Without relief from current burdens like the LSRDs (which generate less than five percent of total Pacific Northwest power production and are not needed for power demands today), BPA’s only alternatives are substantial customer rate increases or a governmental bailout. Either way a substantial cost to the taxpaying public.
Concurrently, numbers of Idaho’s wild returning Chinook and Sockeye salmon have plummeted to levels that may be unsustainable and point to total extinction absent more dramatic solutions than those tried to date. Most knowledgeable fish biologists agree the best (and maybe only) long- term solution is breaching the LSRDs.
Thus, as Simpson said, breaching these dams must be considered along with a way to meet the needs of those farmers and others currently using LSRD dependent barges to get to market. Solutions are available and through the commitment, collaboration and creativity Simpson urges, they can be found. The table is set for collaboration involving all interested parties. The need is now, and we must all do whatever possible to support these efforts.