BOISE – The Environmental Protection Agency is questioning the effectiveness of a plan that aims to cool Snake River waters to improve habitat for fish.
The EPA says Idaho Power Co. needs to find a way to reduce temperatures below Hells Canyon before it can get a new 30-year license to run power plants, because the Snake River can be too warm in fall for chinook salmon and steelhead spawning.
The utility proposes that it spend $3 million a year to restore trees to shade the Snake’s upstream tributaries, and to raise flows along with some other measures.
But EPA administrators doubt the plan will be enough to keep the water cool throughout the 100-mile journey through the Snake and its reservoirs. The agency is eyeing an alternate plan that could cost the utility up to $250 million.
“Right now it’s very unclear what these projects are going to be and that they would represent any temperature benefits downstream,” said John Palmer, an EPA senior policy adviser. “We think to get the level of temperature reduction it would require a significant amount of restoration.”
Idaho Power argues that it exceeds federal standards only two weeks in October. The company opposes spending so much for a temperature control structure needed for such a short time.