On August 10, 1988, the Northwest Power Planning Council adopted a proposal to designate some 44,000 miles of Northwest streams as "protected areas" because of their importance as critical fish and wildlife habitat.
The "protected areas" amendment is a major step in the Council's efforts to rebuild fish and wildlife populations that have been damaged by hydroelectric development. Low cost hydroelectric power has provided tremendous benefits to the Northwest, but those benefits have also imposed significant costs. The Northwest's fish and wildlife have suffered extensive losses; salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River drainage, for example, are a fraction of their former numbers. The region's concerted efforts to restore these populations could not be fully effective without strong protection for fish and wildlife habitat. The Council's goal of doubling salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River Basin will require hardy wild and natural fish populations, which rely on high quality habitat. To protect the ratepayers' investment in fish and wildlife restoration, it is necessary to protect the best remaining habitat.
The designation of protected areas is also intended to playa positive role in the efficient development of environmentally benign hydropower. Development of the region's most critical fish and wildlife habitat is likely to generate divisive, time-consuming and costly controversy. By identifying this habitat as "protected," the Council hopes to point developers to less sensitive areas, where the time and cost of development will be lower. Ratepayers should benefit from both more productive fish and wildlife investments and from lower development costs.
While the Council does not license hydroelectric development, certain federal agencies have a legal obligation to take the Council's action into account in their decision-making. Those agencies include the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which grants licenses for non-federal hydropower projects, and the Bonneville Power Administration, which acquires and transmits electrical power from the projects.
The final protected areas proposal, as adopted, is a formal amendment to both the Council's Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, which covers the Columbia Basin, and to the Northwest Power Plan, which covers the entire states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington, and western Montana. The amendment is currently being revised to incorporate the changes made by the Council as a result of public comment. The final rule and the Council's response to comments on the proposal will be available in September. If you wish to receive these documents, please fill in and return the enclosed self-addressed, postage-paid postcard to the Council.
The following are the chief changes made in the final amendment:
The Council derives its authority from the Northwest Power Act of 1980 (PL 96-501) which required the Council to develop a program to "protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife, including related spawning grounds and habitat" that had been affected by hydroelectric. development in the Columbia River Basin. The Act also required the Council to develop an electric power plan for the entire Northwest that called for the development of resources that would be cost-effective and environmentally acceptable. The Council recognizes the enormous importance of hydroelectric power to the Northwest. Its intent is to focus developers on those areas with less critical fish and wildlife habitat. The protected areas mileage represents less than 20 percent of the Northwest's rivers and streams.