PUD Customers See Extra Charge in August

Mason PUD 3 customers will see a line item on their bills as a result of a court-ordered, experimental water spill program for fish passage at Columbia and Snake River dams.

The Bonneville Power Administration will charge 143 of its utility customers throughout the Pacific Northwest, including PUD 3, surcharges over the next four months, totaling $10.2 million. The charges will cover the cost of a federal judge’s order for the test, which was requested by salmon advocates and environmental groups.

For August, the amount added to Mason PUD 3 customer bills is $1.32 per customer. The other three months are expected to be comparable. PUD 3’s total share of the program costs is estimated at $150,000 for the four month biological experiment.

Federal Judge Michael Simon ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct the spill experiment at Snake River dams April 3 to June 20. The trial was run at Columbia River dams April 10 through June 15.

The experiment was aimed at determining if sending more water through dam spillways instead of using it for power generation would help the passage of salmon in the Columbia River Basin.

Northwest RiverPartners reported last month that the extra spill reduced a young salmon’s migration time by only a few hours. The additional water spilling over dams also increased dissolved gasses in the Columbia and Snake Rivers, a hazard for young fish. Some of the sampled salmon showed “gas bubble trauma,” which is like what happens to human divers when they get the bends. *

Depending on how much electricity a customer uses, the Northwest Power & Conservation Council says at least 14 percent of their monthly bill already pays for Columbia River fish and wildlife programs.

Mason PUD 3 and its industry partners have been frustrated by the increasing role of the federal court system in directing specific changes to the way in which the Columbia River System is managed for fish and hydropower. Fisheries experts who understand the science and impacts should be those who are consulted. Court rulings in the past few years has bypassed science in favor of judicial and adversarial opinions.

This is a federal issue on which PUD 3 has been working with other regional utilities and agencies to educate federal lawmakers on the impact of added, experimental costs to customers in the region. Several members of the Pacific Northwest Congressional delegation have offered legislation (H.R. 3144) which passed the House in May, to protect ratepayers from extra payments for operation of the Columbia River hydropower system. Local customers may contact their Congressmen and U.S. Senators if they have concerns.

* RiverPartners is an advocacy group for utilities and user groups who depend on the Columbia River system for hydropower, irrigation, shipping, recreation, and other uses.