Idaho tribes want fish passage above Snake River dams

Image of chinook salmon.
Image of chinook salmon.(KMVT)
Published: Mar. 28, 2018 at 3:19 PM MDT
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Two southeastern Idaho tribes are seeking to intervene in a utility's attempt to negate an Oregon law requiring fish passage as part of relicensing for a hydroelectric project on the Snake River.

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes on Tuesday filed documents with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit seeking to intervene in support of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Idaho Power in February petitioned the court to review a 2017 decision by the commission dismissing the Boise-based utility's request that it exempt the three-dam Hells Canyon Complex from an Oregon law requiring fish passage as part of relicensing.

The tribes cite their 1868 Treaty of Fort Bridger with the U.S. government.

The tribes said they could be adversely affected because the treaty gives them rights to fish off-reservation in the waters of the Snake River and its tributaries.

Brad Bowlin, Idaho Power spokesman, said the company was reviewing the document.

"Idaho Power is still actively working with the states to resolve the fish passage issue, and we remain hopeful that further litigation of this issue will be unnecessary," he said in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Idaho Power's 50-year license to operate the complex on the Idaho-Oregon border expired in 2005, and the company has since been operating on annually issued licenses.

Oregon wants salmon and steelhead to be able to access four Oregon tributaries that feed into the Hells Canyon Complex. But Idaho lawmakers have prohibited moving salmon and steelhead upstream of the three dams.

At issue before the appeals court is Idaho Power's argument that the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution that has to do with federal authority over states pre-empts the Oregon law. The commission said it found no reason why Oregon couldn't require fish passage and reintroduction as part of relicensing.

Biologists have said the Snake River above the dams is so degraded it couldn't support salmon and steelhead without significant rehabilitation work, which would require cooperation from landowners.

Idaho Power supplies electricity to nearly 550,000 customers in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. The Hells Canyon Complex in a normal water year produces about 30 percent of the company's total annual power generation.