A worsening water shortage in the northwest US is push- ing the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to make further cutbacks on salmon-saving measures. BPA’s acting administrator has told the Northwest Power Planning Council (NPPC) that unless all plans to cut electricity production to help fish are suspended, the Agency would be at serious risk of defaulting on its power supply obligations.

Normally at this time, BPA would store water in federal reservoirs for release in spring and summer as an aid to migrating salmon. Instead of generating power BPA diverts water over the spillways to aid migration. Such measures, required under the Endangered Species Act in normal years, cut Bonneville’s ability to generate electricity by 1000MW. According to a plan outlined by BPA to the NPPC, BPA must cease salmon aid measures if it is expected to meet power demand requirements.

  During normal years the storage and the flow in the Columbia provides an average of 106.5M acre feet of water from January to July for power production. Now the forecast for January to July is 45% below normal. If the forecast falls below 52.7M acre feet it would make this the driest year since records began in 1929. BPA says that the lower water forecast could leave it US$100M in debt by September.

A power council biologist presented calculations showing that eliminating spills altogether would decrease survival of oceanbound young salmon and steelhead by 1.6% to 6.5%, depending on the species. That would translate into 4000 less endangered spring Chinook making it to the ocean, out of the 100,000 expected to travel in the river this year. Another 900,000 spring Chinook are expected to be carried to the ocean this year in barges and trucks.

BPA is the US federal government agency charged with the marketing of power produced at the 29 government owned dams on the Columbia basin. NPPC is a consortium of appointees by the governors of the states of Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho.