It’s hard to pick up a paper today without seeing some reference to fish in the Northwest. This is especially true if the article mentions a mid-Columbia PUD. The one thing that usually sticks out in the reader’s mind is the cost associated with protecting those fish. And, in fact, fish-related costs are very significant. The combined budgets needed to operate Douglas County PUD for the current year amount to $46,160,000 for both Wells Dam and the Electric Distribution System. This year, “fish costs” will amount to $6,327,000. That is almost 20% of the $32,606,000 Wells Dam Operating Budget.
Nearly all of our fish expenditures are required under a 1990 Long-Term Fish Settlement Agreement that is a part of our federal license to operate the Wells Hydroelectric Project. An essential part of the fisheries effort is working with various entities in the region to work together toward common goals for the good of local fish and our electric consumers. Fish costs are broken into four basic categories. They include hatcheries, studies, debt service, and fish passage.
The “Hatcheries” category includes items such as operating and maintaining three fish hatcheries, hatchery practice evaluations, fish food, and staff time in administering these facilities. Douglas PUD funds the operating budgets for the Wells Hatchery located at Wells Dam near the City of Pateros and the Methow Spring Chinook Hatchery just outside the Town of Winthrop. Douglas PUD also funds an experimental Sockeye Hatchery at the Cassimer Bar located at the confluence of the Okanogan and Columbia Rivers. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife operates the Methow and Wells Hatcheries. The Colville Confederated Tribes are under contract to operate the Cassimer Bar Hatchery. This “Hatcheries” category is budgeted at $2,175,000.
Termed “Studies”, the budget for the second category is $1,685,000. Included in this cost are juvenile fish survival studies, adult passage radio telemetry studies, and the evaluation of resident fish located within the Wells Dam reservoir, Lake Pateros.
“Debt Service” is an allocation of funds necessary for repaying the bonds that were issued in the past to construct, and/or improve fish-related facilities. Similar in example to our home mortgages, this third category sets aside funds to pay for the initial purchase of land necessary for our hatcheries, the construction of those hatcheries, and fish collection and acclimation facilities. The largest category in our fish costs, at almost 8% of the Wells Budget, debt service amounts to $2,467,000 this year.
The fourth category could be called “Fish Passage”. Large amounts of water have been dedicated to aid young fish in their journey down the Columbia River. When fish pass through Wells Dam, water must be passed through fish bypass systems to assist those fish in their journey. This water does not pass through the turbines so it cannot be used to generate electricity and represents, therefore, revenue that will not be generated. Although we do not estimate the cost of federal fish flow, the cost to provide passage for fish at Wells Dam will amount to an estimated $1,300,000 this year. This amount is not reflected in the budget.
You can see that protecting fish at your Wells Dam is a significant financial obligation. Douglas PUD takes real pride in its fish operations and is recognized as a leader in this area. As significant as these costs are at the Wells Project, other federal and non-federal dams face even higher costs and a loss of generation. The Wells Hydroelectric Project is a tremendous resource for Douglas County. We are working to protect its benefits for our customers/owners.
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