By: Megan Hooker
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council (Council) is currently accepting public comment about important river protections that impact freely flowing rivers throughout Oregon, Washington, Idaho and parts of Montana. Hydropower developers have sought to weaken these protections, and we encourage you to speak up for freely flowing rivers throughout the Pacific Northwest today!
In May, the Council released its Draft Amended Fish and Wildlife Program, which covers a wide range of issues relating to fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin, and includes a program to mitigate the impacts of the Columbia River hydropower system and protect special rivers and streams throughout the region from future hydropower development. River reaches with this protection are known as Protected Areas, and cover over 44,000 miles of river across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. The Energy Department recently set a goal of doubling the production of hydropower in the U.S. by 2030 through building new dams, and the Protected Areas Program is all the more important in the face of this threat. These rivers also provide refuge as our climate changes and in the face of toxic loads in the mainstem Columbia River.
You can see whether your favorite rivers are protected through StreamNet's interactive Protected Areas mapper.
Last fall, American Whitewater advocated for strengthening the Protected Areas Program throughout the public process established for amending the Fish and Wildlife Program. (You can view AW's recommendations and comments.) During this round, hydropower developers called Protected Areas unnecessary and outdated, and actively sought to weaken the program. They recommended that Protected Areas be eliminated altogether, or that an exception process be reinstated where they could apply to build a dam in a Protected Area. American Whitewater sought to keep exceptions out of the program and expand Protected Areas designations to include river reaches where habitat has opened up from dam removals, and newly listed endangered fish.
Fortunately, the Council continues to see the value of the Protected Areas program and has listed it as a key strategy for six of the Fish and Wildlife Program's goals and objectives. However, the Draft Program reinstates an exception process and fails to address recommendations relating to expanding the program. We need river lovers from across the Pacific Northwest to speak up about why protecting freely flowing rivers is important to you. You can provide comment to the Council by July 25th online, or by attending one of the public meetings listed below.
Primarily, show the Council that you care about protecting freely flowing rivers, and that the decisions they make are important to you. Talk personally about the value that freely flowing rivers provide to you and your family.
Although some hydropower developers have said that the Protected Areas Program has run its course and should be eliminated, the program is all the more important today. The Protected Areas Program discourages development of new dams on rivers that are freely-flowing with healthy, functioning habitat. Keeping this program strong is important to protect the millions of dollars we're investing in fish and wildlife restoration throughout the region. The Council reinstated a process to allow hydropower developers to apply for an exception, allowing them to build hydropower projects in Protected Areas. We don't believe that this is in the public interest.
A strong Protected Areas Program is all the more important in light of the Energy Department's recent goal of doubling our hydropower production through new dams by 2030. Hydropower developers are heeding this as a rallying cry to get to work, and some of the greatest potential for new hydropower was found in the Pacific Northwest. Instead, there is a great deal of hydropower potential that exists in opportunities to upgrade existing systems. The Protected Areas Program helps to encourage smart investments in achieving maximum benefit from existing facilities.
You can submit comments online, send them via e-mail to PublicComments@nwcouncil.org, and if you're in the Portland, OR Metro area, consider attending a public meeting on July 8th from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council Central Office, 851 SW 6th Ave, Suite 1100, Portland, OR.
About the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Fish and Wildlife Program:
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council works to ensure an affordable and reliable energy system while enhancing fish and wildlife in the Columbia Basin. The Council's Fish and Wildlife Program protects and enhances fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin, and guides project funding by the Bonneville Power Administration. The Council amends its Fish and Wildlife Program every 5 years, and is currently undergoing a revision. In 1988, the NWPCC established approximately 44,00 miles of rivers and streams as Protected Areas, where the most sensitive fish and wildlife habitat throughout Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washinton is protected from new hydropower development. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is charged with issuing hydropower permits and licenses to utilities and private developers, and has followed the recommendation of the Council since 1988 by declining to issue a single hydropower license for a project located within a Protected Area.