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Originally published Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 4:03 PM

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Guest columnist

Wild salmon and wind power can work together

Guest columnist Pat Ford says that wind power and hydropower don't need to work at cross-purposes for a healthy Northwest economy and environment.

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WIND-power supporters and salmon communities share common ground on plans to shut down wind turbines during this spring's high river flows and high hydropower production at Columbia River and Snake River dams ["Wind-power producers fight possible shutdown of turbines," Seattle Times, April 13]. With the right policies, wind and water can work together for a strong economy and healthy environment in the Northwest.

The above-average snowpack producing above-average flows this spring is good for young salmon and steelhead heading to sea. More will make that trip in the river, instead of in trucks and barges, and benefit from faster reservoir currents and more spill over dams. That means more adult salmon will come back in two years, improving watershed health and creating more fishing and food jobs.

Spring is when dams and wind turbines generate the most power. High water can lead to more hydropower generation than can be effectively marketed. Should that occur in the coming weeks when flows peak, the Bonneville Power Administration is prepared to cut off wind projects' access to the federal transmission system, uncompensated, so hydropower can fill the lines instead.

Wind developers and clean-energy advocates oppose this policy for several reasons, but I will focus on just one aspect. BPA says one reason this action may be needed is "to protect salmon" from too much spill. Fishermen and salmon businesses, however, disagree; we see more safe spill as a clear winner for salmon, which will also help wind power.

Spilling water over dams is the safest way ocean-bound salmon can get past big dams. It can also raise dissolved oxygen levels in the water below a dam. Dissolved oxygen levels above 120 percent can harm salmon, usually if exposures are prolonged. Oregon uses the 120 percent standard in the Snake and Columbia rivers, but Washington's standard in those rivers is 115 percent. If BPA were to join fishing groups seeking to move Washington to the science-based 120 percent standard, more safe spill could be provided.

Additional spill would reduce hydro generation (water sent over a dam doesn't go through its turbines), thus easing the over-generation problem that has BPA preparing to cut off wind power. No single action will solve this problem, but more spill is one tool that will help solve it.

Normal spill management includes biological monitoring so spill can be reduced should fish exhibit too-severe trauma symptoms. That's what "safe spill" means. Conversely, consider what befalls salmon that are not spilled. Most are piped into barges and trucks for artificial transport — a harmful and risky practice that must be reduced.

BPA has never much liked spill, but every year since 2006, fishing groups, tribes and the state of Oregon have won spring and summer spill through actual or threatened court orders. The results have been good for salmon and for people. More spill, up to the 120 percent dissolved oxygen level, would do more good, while also easing the pressure to cut of wind power.

Producing wind energy and restoring salmon are not in conflict. Most of us want to keep salmon swimming and wind turbines turning, to grow both salmon and wind power. Some policies need to change to achieve these shared values. Let's change them.

Pat Ford is executive director of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition.

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