Take Action: Protect PNW Rivers from Hydropower Development

Posted: 11/18/2013
By: Thomas O'Keefe

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Protected Areas Program protects about 20% of rivers in the Pacific Northwest from future hydropower development. Hydropower developers are working to weaken the Protected Areas Program, and paddlers' voices can help maintain this important river protection program.

Through their Fish and Wildlife Program, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council ("Council") works to protect, mitigate and enhance fish and wildlife of the Columbia River Basin that are affected by the impacts of the Columbia River Hydropower System. The Council is currently amending its Fish and Wildlife Program, and in September hundreds of individuals and dozens of tribes, public interest groups, state and federal agencies and hydropower interests submitted initial recommendations for the program.  While there was a great deal of support for strengthening the Protected Areas Program, there were a handful of comments that recommended rollbacks on protections.
The Council is receiving comment on the initial recommendations through Wednesday, November 20th. You can help by lending support to recommendations that seek to strengthen Protected Areas, and by commenting on those that seek to weaken it. The Council has established a simple online interface that allows you to view recommendations that were filed and comment on them. You can review all the background and recommendations filed on the Fish and Wildlife Program Amendment Process website. We recommend focusing on a couple of the recommendations as outlined below:
1) American Whitewater filed ten specific recommendations and you can review our complete filing and comment here:
In filing a comment in response to our recommendations we recommend that you highlight your personal connection to rivers and the importance of Protected Areas to you. We suggest that you specifically note support for our primary recommendations we made that include the following:
Exemptions in Protected Areas should be prohibited, as in the 2009 Fish and Wildlife Program. If an exemption process is reinstated it should prohibit exemptions on the Nationwide Rivers Inventory and in areas of critical habitat for ESA-listed species, require developers to demonstrate a need for power, require a public hearing process, and require an independent analysis of the impacts and benefits of any proposed project.
The Council should evaluate and amend the Protected Areas status for anadromous fish for the White Salmon River and its tributaries above the former site of Condit Dam in Washington, and the Council should evaluate and amend the Protected Areas status on all rivers and streams where anadromous fish runs have been restored due to restoration projects and barrier removals.
2) Black Canyon Hydro and Snohomish PUD were among the minority of commenters who filed recommendations that expressed a desire for weakening the Protected Areas program to facilitate construction of their projects for new dams and hydropower facilities on the North Fork Snoqulamie and South Fork Skykomish respectively.
A) Black Canyon Hydro, a developer proposing to build a project that would dewater Ernie's Gorge, proposed the following:
1) provide a revision process for stream designations 2) create an exemption for small low impact projects 3) provide a consistency determination for suitable projects that may enhance resources 4) provide a variance for projects where there is no practical alternative and 5) give recognition and provide acceptance that some older “grandfathered” projects would benefit from a new original license or renewal which would otherwise be deterred by the “Protected” stream designation.
You can read their complete filing and comment on it here:
We recommend a comment opposing these revisions that would fundamentally undermine the key provisions of the Protected Areas program.
B) Snoohomish PUD recommends amendments that would provide "two important options for allowing potential new hydropower development in the area designated as protected." Specifically, Snohomish PUD called for a process to change the protected status designation of a river reach to enable hydropower development in that area, and an allowance for any party to seek an exception to a protected area designation for a proposed hydropower project with "exceptional benefits" to fish and wildlife in the protected area.
You can read their complete filing and comment on it here:
We recommend a comment opposing these revisions that encourage new hydropower development in areas that are currently recognized as Protected Areas.


Thomas O'Keefe

3537 NE 87th St.

Seattle, WA 98115

Phone: 425-417-9012
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