Fishy power

California’s energy crunch is killing salmon in the Northwest. So says the Seattle-based environmental group Save Our Wild Salmon.

The group is condemning the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) for using water from the Columbia and Lower Snake rivers that should be reserved for salmon migration to generate electricity for sale to California utilities.

The decision not to reserve the water could mean lethal conditions for salmon migrating along those rivers later this year. The group estimates that up to 95 percent of the migrating juvenile salmon could die as a result.

“We’re looking at a massacre here,” said Save Our Wild Salmon spokesman Chris Zimmer. “It looks like it will be the third worst migration in history.”

The salmon on these rivers were already in trouble due to a relatively dry winter, but the diversion of river flow for electricity will compound the problem.

“So we’ll have conditions this year that are even worse. The water will be that much hotter and slower,” said Zimmer.

The BPA is an agency of the U.S Department of Energy. Its 29 hydroelectric dams provide about 45 percent of the electricity demand of the entire Northwest, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho and parts of Montana and California. The entire system generates about 10,000 megawatts and the energy to be gained by dropping the salmon conservation effort amounts to only about 900 megawatts.

“What gets me is that we’ve spent all of this money on conservation efforts for the fish and are wasting it for some short-term energy gains,” said Zimmer.

He added that he believes more aggressive conservation efforts in California and the rest of the Northwest are critical during the next two years.

Save Our Wild Salmon is one of several groups that has been pushing for the removal of four dams along the Lower Snake River, in hopes of reviving salmon runs and the jobs dependant upon them. Those dams generate about 1100 megawatts, so removing them may be especially unpopular in today’s somewhat power-panicked political climate.