Idaho, Oregon Reach Deal With Utility Over Hells Canyon Dams

Dec 14, 2018

Idaho, Oregon and Idaho Power have reached an agreement on operating a set of three dams in Hells Canyon that’s been years in the making. But some environmentalists aren’t happy.

Idaho Power has promised to keep water temperatures cooler, cut pollution and keep oxygen levels up in the part of the Snake River that flows through the Hells Canyon Complex on the border of Idaho and Oregon.

Those steps could help make a healthier habitat for salmon and steelhead. But the deal didn’t include any way to let fish pass through the dams.

“We will treat the fish passage based on the direction that the states and the federal agencies give us,” says Brett Dumas, the Director of Environmental Affairs at Idaho Power.

According to the Associated Press, Idaho lawmakers have banned moving salmon and steelhead above the three dams because it could force expensive restoration work.

Justin Hayes with the Idaho Conservation League says he applauds the $400 million that Idaho Power will use to restore streams flowing into the Snake that’s in addition to the agreement, but that it’s not enough.

“That work needs to be done – in and of itself it needs to be done – but it doesn’t substitute for the need for fish passage. Fish passage needs to be done in addition,” says Hayes.

The three dams that make up the Hells Canyon Complex provide 70 percent of the hydropower generated by Idaho Power. The company has operated the dams on yearly licenses since 2005 when its long-term license expired.

The deal still needs to be approved by Idaho, Oregon and the federal government.

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