The US States of Idaho and Oregon have signed a settlement agreement for the Hells Canyon Complex, representing a major step toward Idaho Power’s reauthorization to operate three Snake River dams.
The agreement represents the culmination of decades-long negotiations between Idaho, Oregon, and Idaho Power. The parties have been working since 2005 to resolve disagreements on water quality and fish passage along the portion of the Snake River that is shared by Idaho and Oregon.
“This long-awaited agreement supplies clean, affordable energy for Idahoans, improves water quality, and provides additional fish for recreational and tribal ceremonial purposes,” Idaho Governor Brad Little said.
“Oregon and Idaho agree that improving water quality in the Snake River and the tributaries is a significant step forward," added Oregon Governor Kate Brown. "This agreement benefits the communities of Eastern Oregon, since we know what’s good for water, habitat, and fish is good for people."
The settlement agreement includes $12 million of direct investment in water quality and habitat improvement projects in Oregon tributaries and it advances the Snake River Stewardship Program of Idaho Power, which will implement $300 million worth of water quality projects, resulting in cleaner, colder water flowing downstream. In addition, the company will increase production at their Rapid River Hatchery, enabling additional chinook salmon to bolster fishing opportunities in the future. The states will revisit the question of fish passage at twenty years into the license period.
The combined water quality measures, including habitat improvements made possible by this agreement are expected to result in:
- Improvements in habitat and water quality in Snake River tributaries.
- Placement of fish in Pine Creek and research on the viability of salmonid populations.
- Reductions in the sources of mercury and other pollutants which impact human and ecological health.
- In-stream habitat restoration projects along a 30-mile reach of the Snake River, including floodplain enhancement projects, island creation projects, inset floodplain creation, emergent wetland creation, and riparian revegetation projects along 150 miles or more of tributaries of the Snake River that will increase shade and reduce warming from the sun.
The full implementation of the Snake River Stewardship Program will result in cooler water that is vitally important for fish spawning.
In December 2018, the Oregon and Idaho Departments of Environmental Quality (DEQ) solicited comments on the draft water quality certification for the continued operation of the dams, which included a draft settlement agreement. The DEQs reviewed and considered all submitted public comments, and made modifications as it deemed appropriate. DEQ is currently finalizing the water quality certification and will provide formal responses to public comments received. This agreement is dependent on the successful issuance of state water quality certifications.