Idaho Power’s law­suit against EPA in­volv­ing chi­nook salmon on hold

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY KEITH RIDLER As­so­ci­ated Press

A law­suit by an Idaho util­ity against the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency con­cern­ing wa­ter tem­per­a­ture stan­dards be­low a hy­dro­elec­tric project where fed­er­ally pro­tected fall chi­nook salmon re­pro­duce has been put on hold.

A U.S. District Court judge last week agreed to stay the law­suit by Idaho Power against the EPA while the fed­eral agency works to com­plete tasks re­quested by the state of Idaho in 2012.

“Es­sen­tially, this is what we wanted for six years,” Idaho Power spokesman Brad Bowlin said Fri­day. “We’re op­ti­mistic things are mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion. This is def­i­nitely a good step for­ward.”

Idaho Power in the law­suit filed in June says the EPA is vi­o­lat­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and ad­min­is­tra­tive laws by fail­ing to ap­prove or dis­ap­prove wa­ter tem­per­a­ture stan­dards sub­mit­ted by the Idaho Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Quality for the Snake River be­low Idaho Power’s Hells Canyon Com­plex on the Idaho-ore­gon bor­der.

“Since fil­ing of the com­plaint, the par­ties have en­gaged in dis­cus­sions con­cern­ing ac­tions EPA cur­rently an­tic­i­pates taking that may moot the is­sues in this lit­i­ga­tion,” Idaho Power and the EPA said in a joint mo­tion to stay the law­suit at the end of last month.

Chief U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge Ron­ald E. Bush in his or­der last week ap­prov­ing the stay re­quired that the EPA file sta­tus re­ports every 30 days un­til the stay ends on March 11 or is other­wise ter­mi­nated.

EPA spokes­woman Suzanne Skad­owski said Fri­day the agency had no comment. The U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice, which rep­re­sents fed­eral agen­cies in law­suits, ac­knowl­edged re­ceiv­ing an email in­quiry from The As­so­ci­ated Press on Fri­day but didn’t re­spond fur­ther.

Hells Canyon is a miledeep canyon carved by the Snake River, much of it pop­u­lar for recre­ation but in­ac­ces­si­ble by road. The three-dam Hells Canyon Com­plex built from the late 1950s through the 1960s par­tially tamed the river.

Snake River fall chi­nook were listed as threat­ened un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act in the 1990s. A re­cov­ery plan re­leased late last year by fed­eral agen­cies iden­ti­fied the Snake River be­low the dams as the best spot for boost­ing the num­ber of nat­u­rally re­pro­duc­ing spawn­ing fish for the cold-wa­ter species.

Idaho Power cites stud­ies by sci­en­tists with Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion Fish­eries that con­cluded chang­ing the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture stan­dards would not harm salmon.

But the change could re­duce the cost of elec­tric­ity, the com­pany said, sav­ing cus­tomers up to $100 mil­lion over 50 years.

When the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture stan­dards aren’t met, Idaho Power must pay for mit­i­ga­tion for po­ten­tially harm­ing fall chi­nook. The pro­posed tem­per­a­ture stan­dard change would mean Idaho Power would have to pay for less mit­i­ga­tion. Mit­i­ga­tion work in­volves im­prov­ing habi­tat up­stream of the dams with the goal of re­duc­ing wa­ter tem­per­a­tures.

Specif­i­cally, the new pro­posed tem­per­a­ture stan­dards would raise the al­low­able wa­ter tem­per­a­ture be­low the dams from 55.4 de­grees to 58 de­grees from Oct. 23 to Nov. 6.

Those two weeks are crit­i­cal for fall chi­nook that are spawn­ing and putting eggs in river bed gravel that might not sur­vive if the wa­ter gets too warm.

Idaho Power said river tem­per­a­tures un­der the cur­rent stan­dard have never been met, with records go­ing back to 1991. The com­pany said the new stan­dard wouldn’t be met in most years, but the level of mit­i­ga­tion to pay would still be less than un­der the cur­rent stan­dard.

Idaho Power’s 50-year li­cense for the Hells Canyon Com­plex with the Fed­eral En­ergy Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion ex­pired in 2005, and it has been op­er­at­ing the dams un­der an­nual li­censes re­newed each Au­gust.

KYLE GREEN States­man file

A chi­nook salmon makes a nest in the South Fork of the Salmon River near Warm Lake.

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