The U.S. states of Idaho and Oregon have signed a settlement agreement for the Hells Canyon Complex, which Idaho says represents a “monumental step” toward Idaho Power’s reauthorization to operate three Snake River dams and hydropower projects.
Hells Canyon provides about 40% of Idaho Power’s total electricity, according to company data, with power generated by the complex distributed through southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. Its three powerhouses include 585.4-MW Brownlee, 190-MW Oxbow and 391-MW Hells Canyon.
The Office of the Governor of Idaho says this agreement is the culmination of decades-long negotiations between the states of Idaho and Oregon and Idaho Power. The parties have been working since 2005 to resolve disagreements on water quality and fish passage along the portion of the Snake River that is shared by Idaho and Oregon.
In 2016, the parties appeared to be at an impasse, but both states and the company agreed to one last effort to resolve the outstanding issues.
“This long-awaited agreement supplies clean, affordable energy for Idahoans, improves water quality, and provides additional fish for recreational and tribal ceremonial purposes,” Governor Brad Little said.
Pursuant to the settlement agreement, Idaho Power will make significant investments in water quality projects, resulting in cleaner, colder water flowing downstream. In addition, the company will increase production at its Rapid River Hatchery, enabling 800,000 additional chinook salmon to bolster state and tribal fishing opportunities. In return, Oregon will not require fish passage as a condition of its water quality certification for the operation of the Hells Canyon dams.
The Oregon Governor’s office says the agreement “unleashes over $312 million toward water quality and habitat improvements, and includes investments in additional fish production, monitoring, and study.” An assessment of fisheries and habitat is scheduled for 20 years into the license term.
In December 2018, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) solicited comments on the draft water quality certification for the continued operation of the dams, which included a draft settlement agreement. The DEQ is finalizing the water quality certification and formal responses to public comments received. It anticipates the efforts will be completed within the next month.
In April 2018, court filings sought to force Idaho Power to add fish passage to the three dams.