TU: Hastings Bill Stifles Innovation, Collaboration on Dam Operations
TU press release
Background: On August 1, 2012 representative Doe Hastings (R-WA-4) introduced HR 6247 — the "Saving Our Dams and New Hydropower Development and Jobs Act of 2012." This bill aims to promote hydropower production by reducing environmental regulatory safeguards, prohibiting the use of federal funds to support hydropwer reform or dam removal activities, and by penalizing organizations engaged in hydropower reform or other hydropower related litigation activities by prohibiting such groups from accessing federal restoration funds that are critical to implementing innovative, multi-stakeholder watershed restoration activities. The bill is scheduled for a field hearing in Pasco, Washington today, Wednesday, August 15, 2012. In response to this bill, Trout Unlimited released the following statement:
TU is a national non-profit conservation organization with more than 147,000 anglers, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts who fish, hunt, and recreate throughout the Columbia River Basin and in watersheds around the country that would be harmed by HR 6247. Not only do our members recreate in these areas, but they also live in — and use power in — these watersheds. Trout Unlimited recognizes the importance of hydropower as a key component of our nation's overall energy portfolio — particularly in the Pacific Northwest, where hydropower currently constitutes more than 50% of the region's energy production.
Trout Unlimited supports hydropower projects that are properly sited and responsibly developed and operated to minimize impacts to salmon and trout and their habitats and has a long history of development. HR 6247 would ultimately set back efforts nationwide to find creative, collaborative solutions that balance water supply and hydro operations with the needs of fish, wildlife and businesses that rely on healthy natural resources.
Among other harmful provisions, the bill would:
•Eliminate federal funding for studies, permits or other activities connected to the removal or partial removal of any private or public hydroelectric dam without express Congressional approval. This prohibition dramatically minimizes opportunity for common-sense solutions to basin-scale water management decisions and ignores the many success stories around the nation that demonstrate collaboration, operational innovation and modernization of our nation’s aging infrastructure.
•Eliminate federal funding or federally supported grants for habitat restoration work conducted by non-profit organizations, such as Trout Unlimited, where the organization previously participated in legal challenges related to hydropower operations — even if those challenges were successful. This provision would strip funding from numerous broadly supported restoration projects simply because of unrelated hydropower litigation.
•Weaken the authority of federal resource management agencies to include conditions on project licenses necessary to safeguard the interests of anglers, commercial fishermen, boaters, and others who depend on rivers downstream of hydropower projects. Without the ability for agencies to insist on needed natural resource protections, there will be little incentive for hydropower companies to collaborate to find creative solutions.
•Prohibit power producers from allowing water to bypass their turbines under certain conditions — eliminating proven measures needed for safe fish passage around hydropower turbines and prohibiting operators from providing flows to dewatered stream reaches during drought — a time when such flows are critically needed.
TU is pleased to be a part of some of some the most exciting, community-supported river restoration projects in the nation. In the State of Washington, the Elwha River dam removal and restoration effort is a regionally and nationally celebrated solution that was supported by hydropower companies, tribes, conservation groups, anglers and state and federal agencies. This restoration effort has delivered significant economic and environmental benefits for the state of Washington and the Northwest region. Sportsmen will soon be able to access steelhead and salmon runs as these amazing fish re-colonize hundreds of miles of mainstream and tributary habitat the primary beneficiaries will be the local communities that will reap the benefit of the restored fishery and sustainable economy. This effort would have been impossible under HR 6247.
On the Penobscot River in Maine, TU was involved in another landmark multiparty agreement that resolved decades of conflict over fish passage, hydropower, and tribal issues. Under the plan, three dams on the Penobscot will be purchased and decommissioned. Combined with improved fish passage on the remaining dams, the project will improve access to over 1,000 miles of river habitat for 11 species of sea-run fish. Moreover, enhancements to the remaining hydropower dams will offset any power losses from the three decommissioned dams.
These are just two examples of many collaborative river restoration efforts completed or currently underway across the country that would not be possible if HR 6247 passed into law. These success stories show that when companies, agencies, and stakeholders work together, they can find solutions that meet the needs of the hydropower industry, the fish and wildlife resources of our rivers and the industries they support, and the public.
What we need right now is more collaboration, creativity and management flexibility to balance our nations' energy needs with the strong public desire for healthy rivers and thriving fish and wildlife.
There are many ways to promote responsible hydropower production without sacrificing opportunities for watershed restoration and without eliminating federal support and involvement in dam removal and other important restoration projects. We strongly urge Chairman Hastings and the natural resources Committee to sit down with stakeholders to discuss better ways to approach reform, and how to take advantage of momentum in local communities to support hydropower production in a manner that provides certainty for existing water users and protects and enhance environmental health of local watersheds.