A Snake River-Colunbia River Fish Story

There are certainly enough claims for ‘equity’ these days and salmon may not strike you as having a voice in the discord that’s out there, but Congress thought they did. Admittedly, they thought that some twenty-five years ago, a full ten years before Larry Craig became the Senator from Idaho and set out to erase equity as a salmon standard.

ColumbiariverIn 1980, Congress passed a law ordering that salmon in the Columbia hydro-system receive "equitable treatment," along with electricity generation, irrigation and barge transport. I don’t know how exactly you measure being equitable to a salmon, but those were days when Congress worried about such things. For that altruistic concern, the created the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the federal agency that sells power from federal dams.

So far, so good.

That twenty-five year ago legislation created the Fish Passage Center, a tiny fish-science organization with just 12 employees that counts salmon in the river ecosystem, to see how they’re doing. The power companies hate those well meaning fish-counters because from time to time they’re ordered to send enough water over the top of the dams to keep salmon alive and healthy. Water over the top doesn’t make any money.

Something like four out of five homes in the Pacific Northwest are lighted by hydroelectric power, so the Snake and Columbia river system is a big deal, an absolutely right direction to have gone for power generation and a vital national asset. But the rivers were dammed by agreement and with requirements and salmon were part of that. An agreed part. A part that can be lived with at relatively small cost.

SencraigidahoEnter, Larry Craig, Senator from Idaho, where he is the darling of the hydroelectric power industry. The last time Larry had to defend his seat in 2002, he piled up more money from electric utilities than from any other industry. I don’t know if Larry fishes, but I do know he was named "legislator of the year" by the National Hydropower Association. Legislator of the Year. That would be a hell of a fine tribute, if it came from anyone other than a guy’s deepest-pocketed contributor.

The National Hydropower Association’s “Legislator We Most Own in Washington Award” doesn’t have quite that nail-it-on-the-wall right there next to the picture of me and the president aspect about it. Particularly as it undoes Congress’ 1980 intent. Craig’s contribution to the undoing was but a single sentence hidden in fine print of the energy and water appropriations bill. "The Bonneville Power Administration may make no new obligations in support of the Fish Passage Center." Very concise, well edited and not too wordy, Senator.

FishladdersColumbiariversalmonlgFish and game agencies in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, Indian tribes with fishing rights on the river and the governors of Oregon and Washington have all said that eliminating the Fish Passage Center is a bad idea that would reduce the quality of information on endangered salmon. But it’s a dead issue, because if you don’t count the fish, no one needs to require water for the fish that aren’t counted and Larry has just made sure no one counts.

Okay, so what? The ‘so what’ is the method by which this occurred. Craig didn’t craft that sentence (admittedly, I speculate), the power industry did. It was cunningly tucked in to the legislation where no one would see it. Few Senators actually read these bills, their staffs are charged with that. An overworked staff, a single sentence.

Bingo! Pay-back time for a fish story.

A bunch more environmental issues muddying the waters on my personal web site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *