Should the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicense the hydroelectric dams on the Cowlitz River? If so, should the FERC require modifications of the dams?

Conference Report
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Biology 106

Introductory Organismal Biology

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Fall 2015

Biology Issues Conference

Guidelines for Conference Report

The WSU Vancouver faculty has a tradition of connecting our courses to issues that are locally and regionally relevant, often following a theme of “Global Change in a Local Context.” Throughout Biology 106 we have been discussing biological concepts that are applicable to a wide range of organisms living in many kinds of environments on Earth. However, most (if not all) of the topics we have discussed in this course also have relevance to living things and habitats in the Pacific Northwest. Therefore, as a culminating assignment, I would like you to consider an issue in which the biology and ecology of salmon, an iconic organism for our region, intersects with human and social systems, and specifically how scientific understanding of salmon biology may inform and influence management decisions.

The issue:

The Cowlitz River is a major tributary of the Columbia River, and has historically supported large seasonal runs of several Pacific salmon species and steelhead trout. Tacoma Public Utilities, the city-owned company that provides electricity service to Tacoma and its surrounding area, owns and operates two hydroelectric dams that were built in the 1960’s on the Cowlitz River.

All utility-owned hydroelectric dams in the United States are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and must be licensed to ensure the dams are operated safely and with sufficient environmental protections and resource improvements. Dam licenses are issues for up to 30-50 years. When the hydropower dam license expires, the dam owner must renew it through an administrative process called re-licensing.

In the re-licensing process, the FERC must consider not only the power generation potential of a river, but also give equal consideration to energy conservation, protection of fish and wildlife, protection of recreational activities, and preservation of environmental quality. Dams may be re-licensed “as is” or they may be re-licensed after modifications that improve protections for fish and wildlife. Dams may also fail to receive re-licensing approval, which may necessitate substantial modification or complete dam removal.

The question to consider:

Should the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicense the hydroelectric dams on the Cowlitz River? If so, should the FERC require modifications of the dams?

Your assignment:

Write a technical report that consists of two parts:

1) A 3-page (MAX), double-spaced background information “white paper” that informs the FERC about the biology and ecology of salmon, including their life history and migration patterns, and the impacts of dams on salmon biology and behavior (see specific questions to address at the end of this document); and

2) A list of arguments in favor of and in opposition to relicensing of dams on the Cowlitz River. This list must include at least three (3) arguments on each side of the issue, including a detailed justification for each argument (75-word minimum for each justification).

In the lab section during the last week of the semester (Dec 8-9), each student will bring:

ONE PAPER COPY of the arguments for and against re-licensing of the dams.

The background paper and the arguments will be due by the beginning of your lab section, on Blackboard. You will use the paper copy of your arguments to refer to when you get into a small group of 4 other students for discussion in class. These discussions are NOT debates, and they are not intended to be a time to convince others of your own position. Instead, the group should discuss the various arguments presented from each student, rank the arguments for and against, and assess where the group stands on the issue. In the last 25-30 minutes of the class period, each student will write up a revised list of arguments for and against the proposal, describe the general views expressed in the group discussion, and then make a personal decision about the issue.

The Issues Conference grade will be based on the background paper, the initial list of arguments and the justifications described (60% of the grade), and on the final list of arguments, the description of the group views, and the justification for the final decision (40% of the grade). I will NOT be judging students based on their ultimate decision, but on the arguments given and the description of how each student arrived at their decision.

Questions to address in the background information “white paper” for decision-makers (3 pages MAX):

Provide a description of the biology and life history of ONE example Pacific salmon species that is found in the Cowlitz River (either Chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha or Coho salmon Oncorhynchus kisutch). This should include information on their size and appearance, geographic range, diet, and reproduction.

Provide a description of the migration behavior of your chosen species of Pacific salmon, including when it is found in the Cowlitz River, the lower Columbia River estuary, and the ocean.
Describe the status of Pacific salmon stocks in the Cowlitz River (e.g. how many salmon currently return to spawn, etc.).
Describe the Cowlitz River Project of Tacoma Public Utilities, including information about the Mossyrock and Mayfield dams, power generation, and environmental protections.
Provide a general description of the impacts of hydroelectric dams on Pacific salmon in the Columbia River basin, and what modifications have been made to dams in the Columbia to accommodate salmon migration.

You should provide at least one citation to an outside reference for each of these points (one reference may be cited for multiple points, but you should have at least two outside references in total).

You can use both websites and published literature as your resources. Please be sure to provide a detailed Bibliography (but this is NOT part of the three pages). Please follow the citation style described in the guidelines for Paper #1.


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