Northwest RiverPartners Runoff August 2023

Runoff | August ’23

Welcome back to Runoff, the hydropower blog approved by 9 out of 10 beavers. Each month, we capture the region’s most important hydropower news and give you our take on it, along with some more lighthearted and interesting segments along the way.

Hydropower round-up

New lawsuit threatened over river temperatures

Four groups–Columbia Riverkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Conservation League and the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association–have formally notified U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of their intent to file a new lawsuit over river temperatures.

The notice states, “If the Biden Administration breaks its promise to deliver a ‘durable solution’ for salmon recovery, this letter provides 60 days’ notice of our intent to sue the Corps for violations of the Endangered Species Act and seek relief up to and including the removal of four dams on the Lower Snake River.” It continues, “The federal government can, and should, avoid this litigation by honoring its commitment to develop a credible plan to restore abundant Snake River salmon.”

Our take:

  • Based on their letter, it’s difficult to know whether the groups genuinely believe the dams are the cause of high river temperatures or are using the threat of litigation to pressure the Biden Administration in its current mediation efforts.
  • There is conflicting science regarding the relationship between dams and river temperatures. The plaintiff groups point to a large sockeye fish die-off in the Columbia River in 2015, but many more salmon have died in the undammed Fraser River due to deadly temperatures.
  • River temperatures are primarily driven by air temperatures. It’s also a well-known fact that temperatures upstream of the lower Snake River dams are too hot to meet salmon-safe levels. Removing the dams would not fix that problem.
  • Losing the lower Snake River dams would mean the region would have to rely on fossil-fueled generation for years longer and result in millions of additional metric tons of CO2 added to the atmosphere. That would aggravate the problem of rising air temperatures and unsafe river temperatures.

Bipartisan effort to reform hydropower licensing

Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced a bipartisan hydropower relicensing bill. Currently, relicensing a FERC-jurisdictional dam can take 10 years or more. Most parties agree the bureaucratic process needs to be improved.

According to the National Hydropower Association, the Community and Hydropower Improvement Act to improve hydropower licensing, relicensing, and license surrender processes. Additionally, the bill would strengthen environmental stewardship at the nation’s hydropower projects and expand principles of Tribal sovereignty in hydropower licensing.

Primarily, the process would be streamlined and simplified to reduce the time it takes for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to grant licenses.

Our take:

  • Northwest RiverPartners supports this bill as well as the Hydropower Clean Energy Future Act, a different relicensing bill authored by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
  • Hydropower owners need certainty as they plan for a carbon-free energy future. A streamlined relicensing process will help provide that certainty and improve planning and efficiency.
  • As a side note, federally-owned dams, like Grand Coulee Dam or Bonneville Dam are not subject to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licensing process. So, these bills don’t apply to dams owned or operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers or the US Bureau of Reclamation.

National Hydropower Association and National Hydropower Day

August 24th, 2023, is National Hydropower Day! Get ready to celebrate with us, our friends at the National Hydropower Association, and the rest of the hydropower-loving world on social media using #HydroDay.

Not only that, we just recently got the opportunity to host Malcolm Woolf, CEO and President of the National Hydropower Association, on the Dam! podcast. We encourage everyone to give it a listen to learn more about hydropower advocacy, policy, and much more!

Listen to Dam! Ep. 13 The unsung hero of the grid now!

Catch the latest episodes of Dam!

Everyone’s favorite Northwest hydropower rolls on with all-new episodes premiering every other Friday.

Click here to listen to our full archive. Or, better yet, find Dam! on your favorite podcast platform. From there, you can subscribe to receive notifications, and give us a positive review while you’re at it!

Hydro headlines

Is It a Lake, or a Battery? A New Kind of Hydropower Is Spreading Fast.

For a century, hydroelectric power has been synonymous with gigantic dams — feats of engineering that provide renewable energy but displace communities and destroy ecosystems.

The New York Times
Watt’s Up With Hydropower? How We Can Harness Nature’s Energy Source for a Greener Future

Hydropower, also known as hydroelectric power, is one of the oldest forms of renewable energy in the world. Here's how it can help shape a greener future.


Thanks for stopping by to read Runoff! We’ll be back on July 7th but in the meantime, be sure to follow us on our other social media channels below and spread the word about this blog with your own followers!

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