A NW EnerNet News Service of Energy NewsData

Fish.Net Search NW Fishweb Fishletter Archives NW Fishletter Links

[1] NMFS Announces 12-Step 4(d) Rule For Salmon Recovery
[2] Science Conference Struggles With Hatchery Technology
[3] More Water For Fighting May Mean Less For Fish
[4] Cal Faces New Options For Fish, Water Future
[5] Fishways Study Nixed By Appeals Court
[6] Briefs: Hydro System In Emergency Mode, And More

Fishletter Readers: Get automatic e-mail notification whenever a new issue comes up on line. Comments? Advice? Give feedback to the editor.


NMFS regional administrator Will Stelle announced tough new 4(d) rules last week that will affect a 160,000-square-mile area from the Canadian border to southern California. The rules are designed to help recover the West Coast's ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks..

While Stelle spoke about salmon declines, 18,000 sockeye swam
Lake Washington sockeye faces
tourists in Seattle.
through downtown Seattle on their way to Lake Washington and spawning grounds on the Cedar River in the city's watershed. That one day's return may be just the beginning of a record return for the stock (which is not listed). Some biologists say the run could top 600,000 fish by the end of July and is another strong signal that many Northwest salmon populations are increasing for now, largely due to improved ocean conditions.

But Stelle never acknowledged the big boost in fish numbers throughout the region, focusing instead on the huge effort underway to develop recovery strategies. The new fish rules were not yet available at the June 19 press conference, so fact-hungry reporters had to settle for a series of releases.

Named 4(d) after that section of the Endangered Species Act from whence they sprang, the final rules will depend on yet-to-be-completed regional plans such as the tri-county effort for Puget Sound's listed chinook. After local entites complained they needed more time, Stelle gave counties, municipalities and other entities until the end of the year to finish them.

Once OK'd by NMFS, the plans will spell out how future development, road building, logging, farming and any other human activity that might impact listed stocks can take place. With the feds' approval, the plans will allow such activities to continue because an exemption from take prohibitions will be granted. Included will be guidelines for harvesting salmon in areas where listed stocks are found, how to operate non-federal hatcheries in ways that ultimately help ESA stocks and a call for properly screening all irrigation diversions.

Stelle said plans would be judged by 12 criteria as to how "salmon-friendly" they are. As for individual activities, Stelle said if action takes place outside the scope of the plans, it's up to each citizen to file for a Section 10 permit or risk prosecution if NMFS decides the action adversely affects recovery of listed stock.
New PIT tag detectors at the Ballard locks.

The NMFS announcement was necessary to satisfy a court order that required the 4(d) rules governing listed steelhead to be in place by the end of June. Stelle said his agency would comply and the rules will soon be published in the Federal Register. Steelhead stocks affected by the new rules are found in Idaho, eastern Washington, the lower Columbia River and Oregon's Willamette Valley. There are also three listed stocks in California (central coast; south central coast; and Central Valley).

NMFS Spreads The Blame Equally Between Mother Nature And Us

A day after the June 19 announcement, a bootleg version of the 4(d) rules was making the rounds via e-mail. Early takes on the nearly 400-page document show that much of the general language in proposed rules regarding human activities ranging from lawn care to home heating choices has been dropped. In fact, most of the pages seem to be devoted to NMFS' responses to comments received from public meetings up and down the Coast, giving the agency a chance to explain the belief system that is guiding the huge effort.

"The two primary themes that repeatedly arise in these comments," says the NMFS document, "revolve around whether the massive declines in salmonid abundance are brought on by natural conditions or human alteration of the environment. NMFS recognizes that natural environmental fluctuations and increasing numbers of natural predators have recently had negative impacts on the species. However, NMFS believes human-induced impacts (e.g., harvest and widespread habitat modification) have played at least an equally significant role in the salmonid declines up and down the West Coast. And because the very nature of this rule-making--the codification of take prohibitions and the limits placed on them--cannot apply to natural processes (by definition, the ocean cannot 'take' species), the rules necessarily address human activities."

The NMFS regional administrator used the press conference to sell his new product. Letting state and local entities develop their own strategies, blessed by NMFS, would relieve developers, road builders and loggers from ESA enforcement action over incidental take of listed species, he said.

Stelle called the new rules "an essential tool in recovering these stocks." Without them, he said there is "no way to change peoples' behavior." He stressed the innovative nature of the effort--protecting fish while providing powerful local incentives for salmon conservation. Plus, he said the effort would streamline a procedure that would otherwise require the federal agency to process and judge every action individually for potential take liability.

Steelhead rules will go into effect 60 days from publication in the Federal Register, Stelle said, and when salmon rules are published in December, they will become effective 180 days later.

According to Stelle, the new rules will either be based on existing programs like "salmon-friendly" guidelines developed by the Oregon Department of Transportation, or new agreements such as the ground-breaking "Fish and Forest" agreement in Washington state, which he characterized as being "good enough to help rebuild salmon populations." He hoped that Oregon and California will develop agreements along similar lines.

Washington's two-year effort brought together greenies, tribes, state and federal agencies and both large and small timber interests to hammer out a final product, but not before environmental groups walked away from the table. The enviros have now filed a notice of intent to sue NMFS over the timber issue, saying the buffers and other measures simply don't do enough for fish. "The government is letting timber companies and big developers off the hook," said Michael Rossotto, legal program director for the Washington Environmental Council.

Stelle said his agency was prepared to defend the agreement in court. He pointed out that another plan developed under the 4(d) rule regarding the California gnatcatcher in Orange County had been challenged and sustained by the courts.

In a joint press release, the environmental groups said they are also challenging the NMFS exemption for future local ordinances governing all development because the objectives in the rules are too vague and lack "any meaningful standards or criteria.

"Instead of having clear, scientifically-based standards that follow the law and protect salmon, the federal government just keeps saying 'let's make a deal,' and this is a deal where the salmon lose," said Patti Goldman, attorney for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.

Stelle's view was simple. He explained that once his agency OK'd a plan and it became a local or state ordinance, any take of salmon through an activity governed by the plan would not hurt the stock's chances for recovery. Therefore, said Stelle, any third-party lawsuit based on an ESA taking would have "no legs."

But he said he didn't doubt third-party lawsuits would be filed by others who felt that ESA requirements weren't being met, though he noted that NMFS would only go after the "worst cases." In a more cryptic mode, he noted, "We worry about drying up rivers."

Northwest farmers are worried about water rights. Dean Boyer of the Washington Farm Bureau told the AP he was frustrated because the government didn't publish the final rules before adopting them. Restricting water usage is, in effect, a taking of private property, said Boyer.

Setting definite recovery goals is an issue that some politicians have been interested in as well. Todd Ungerecht, staffer for Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) said last year's Appropriations Bill contained specific language that directed NMFS to develop by this July specific recovery numbers for places like Puget Sound and gave the agency money for the task. But Ungerecht said Stelle recently told Congress the goals wouldn't be developed until mid-2001 because the recovery team has only been together for a short time.

Gorton himself took a shot at Stelle's announcement. "This agency is once again putting the cart before the horse," Gorton said in a June 20 press release. "Today's announcement just adds 300 pages to the existing set of confusing rules and regulations. The thousands of complaints and confusion from the people of Washington state seem to have fallen on deaf ears--these rules will be hard for families and communities to understand and it certainly doesn't make it any easier for local salmon recovery groups to save salmon."

Stelle complimented Puget Sound politicians on their efforts to put together a salmon recovery plan for the tri-county area and said he is sure that NMFS will grant an exemption from take when their plan is completed.

The latest version of the tri-county salmon proposal was released June 20, but sources say all is not well within the group. A potential deal-breaker has the counties and NMFS at odds over the consequences to a jurisdiction if it pulls out of the agreement before fish recovery is achieved, a situation called "post-mitigation termination."

Sources say that NMFS wants a blank check to assess any such jurisdiction for both past harm to listed species and future alleged harm. It's something the counties will not accept. Friction between large and small cities has also become evident, with large municipalities along the I-5 corridor banding together--Seattle, Bellingham, Everett, Tacoma, Portland, and possibly Olympia--to work out common concerns about urban growth, an issue for which NMFS is developing a template taken from Portland's new urban growth limits.

That leaves suburban cities, with smaller budgets but huge potential liabilities for salmon take, pretty much on their own. They simply cannot afford recovery without federal help. NMFS is trying to get all parties to commit to a secure source of funding for the long-term effort, but the players say that's impossible if it's up to Congress to allocate funding every budget cycle.

With unknown goals and a wide-open time frame for salmon saving efforts, NMFS has adopted what the Puget Sound counties are aiming for in their own neighborhood--not mere recovery of the stocks, but achievement of a "harvestable surplus" to satisfy tribal concerns. When asked if he expects the 4(d) rules to remain in place until stocks are recovered or until a harvestable surplus is reached, Stelle said, "I don't see a distinction between the two of them."

Others were dismayed by the remark. "NMFS should read the ESA," said Bruce Lovelin, director of the Columbia River Alliance, a coalition of river users. "Their requirement is for species conservation, not exploitation." -Bill Rudolph


Northwest fish scientists met last week for a three-day conference to discuss the scientific basis for using salmon hatcheries as a recovery strategy under Oregon's fish plan. The group hoped to answer some basic questions--when and how should supplementation be used in the recovery of depleted stocks, and how should the effects be evaluated over time? Logan Norris, chair of the Oregon Plan's science team outlined the ambitious timeline for a draft report, with the final result to be completed in August.

The topic has generated nearly endless disagreement, with three heavyweight reports tackling the subject in recent years: The National Research Council's Upstream, the Independent Scientific Group's Return To The River, and the Independent Scientific Advisory Board's Report on Artificial Production. These reports, along with countless scientific assessments of hatchery supplementation, add up to a six-foot-long section on sagging shelves at the Northwest Power Planning Council's library in Portland--with still no answers about the best ways to use hatcheries, if at all, to recover depleted natural populations of salmon.

At the heart of the matter is a basic difference in policy between tribal and federal agencies. Tribes firmly support using hatcheries to aid wild fish populations. The feds and states are genuinely lukewarm about it, if not downright opposed. David Johnson of the Nez Perce Tribe said the "tribes will implement supplementation on its co-managed lands," but, "the tone of the conference is to take hatchery supplementation off the table." Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission counsel John Platt said he had been dealing with this issue for about 20 years and has sharpened his "crap detection" skills. "Policy is masquerading as science," Platt said. "We are concerned about half-truths, hyperbole and untested hypotheses that masquerade as policy. There is no empirical evidence to support the contention there is outbreeding depression in the wild."

Questions of Fitness

Very few studies specifically address this issue, and USGS researcher Reg Reisenbichler noted a few of them. Regional agencies have not done research, however, into whether a native stock maintains "fitness" in streams after using native salmonid broodstock supplemented from a hatchery setting. But based on his and other researchers' work, "when hatchery fish spawn naturally with wild fish, the productivity of the naturally spawning population should decline," Reisenbichler said.

As an example, Reisenbichler used a 1978 study in Oregon's Deschutes River, in which he crossed hatchery steelhead derived from native stock (and only two generations removed from wild parentage) with wild steelhead to examine their ability to survive in nature and in the hatchery.

This study showed that the wild-wild crosses survived better in the stream than hatchery-hatchery crosses and hatchery-wild crosses. But in the hatchery just the opposite response was seen, with the wild-wild crosses surviving at a lower rate than hatchery-hatchery crosses.

Reisenbichler has also been evaluating the response of spring chinook to hatchery rearing and the productivity of the hatchery-raised fish compared to wild chinook. His preliminary findings suggest that hatchery spring chinook are only 75 percent as productive as wild chinook in the natural stream. He said he was shocked by this finding, because the chinook are not reared in the hatchery environment for as long a period of time as steelhead and their life history is less diverse. "The hatchery imposes an intense selective force and will cause the hatchery fish to move in a direction that is away from the optimum for natural rearing," said the USGS researcher.

Mark Chilcote of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, spoke about the Kalama River steelhead research. This ongoing 20-year project has found that hatchery summer steelhead are only 16 percent as effective as wild steelhead in producing adult progeny, and winter steelhead are even less productive, at 8 percent. The Kalama River research compared the response of native wild and non-native hatchery fish. The hatchery summer steelhead were from streams near the Kalama and the winter steelhead were from Puget Sound.

This research program is tooling up to compare the relative fitness of wild and hatchery fish using the Kalama River native stock. Chilcote concluded that there are reproductive differences between wild and hatchery fish and these differences can be very large. He said supplementation programs that ignore these differences will fail.

Gary James, a biologist for the Umatilla Tribe of Oregon, said his tribal program is designed to enhance native steelhead in the Umatilla River with native hatchery broodstock. Though the wild steelhead population is still below replacement, said James, it has not declined at a faster rate than wild steelhead in the Walla Walla and John Day rivers. He recommended reducing the program goals for steelhead to "more realistic expectations."

ODFW researcher Rich Carmichael reported that he has been working on hatchery supplementation of Imnaha River spring chinook using native brood stock. He concluded that by using the hatchery, there has been a benefit; that is, the rate of decline has been reduced. However, he noted that the hatchery fish have shown a shift in age structure so that fewer old, large fish are in the population (5-and 6-year-old fish) and run timing has shifted to later in the season.

Bruce Ward from the University of British Columbia reported that in a long-term hatchery supplementation study on Vancouver Island's Keogh River, hatchery steelhead survival is one-third of that for wild steelhead. Ward pointed to evidence that wild steelhead were declining more quickly in streams stocked with hatchery fish than in unstocked streams.

NMFS researcher Barry Berejikian has studied the relative breeding success of hatchery and wild coho salmon and has found that hatchery fish had lower reproductive success than wild coho, a feature most pronounced in males. He said the region should expect to see "lower reproductive success from hatchery fish."

Another NMFS researcher, Dan Bottom, who has looked at hatchery and wild salmonid use of estuaries in Oregon's Salmon River, has found that wild fish use restored shallow water estuary habitat, but hatchery fish do not--although 90 percent of the spawners in the Salmon River are of hatchery origin.

A different point of view was offered by Andre Talbot, a aquaculture geneticist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Talbot said using hatchery fish to increase genetic variance has value and natural selection will work to weed out the less fit in the population.

But Robin Waples, Director of Conservation Biology for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle, said that artificial production is not a substitute for natural recovery of listed fish. Based on his own research review, Waples said that "sustainability of hatchery supplemented populations is in question" for all populations reviewed, and "it is premature to say hatchery supplementation works."

He noted that "naturally spawning hatchery fish have reduced reproductive success in the wild," and "there will be genetic change in hatchery populations even in the first generation." Waples related results of the Tucannon Hatchery (lower Snake River) spring chinook supplementation study, which showed that hatchery fish produced adults that were younger at maturity, smaller, and with fewer eggs than wild fish. "This is a major reduction in the productivity of this population," said Waples, who noted that "we see more rapid genetic change in hatchery populations compared to wild populations and this is especially true for hatchery programs using small populations."

In relation to the Endangered Species Act, Waples said, "the supplementation hatchery must be a way to get a wild stock to a self-sustaining level and there must be a net benefit to the listed population." However, he was concerned that a hatchery program "cannot capture all the life history diversity," which means an eventual "loss of genetic diversity."

"We can't load all the problems of the universe on the hatchery program. It's just a tool," CRITFC's Talbot responded. He said hatchery and wild salmon crosses "will do as well as wild fish in reproductive success, and that the fitness of hatchery fish in the wild will remain theoretical." Hatchery and wild production needs to be integrated, he added, and if "supplementation fish become another stock in the river, it is a failure."

Productivity v. Production

Idaho Fish and Game Department biologist Peter Hassemer related other findings on hatchery supplementation. He said that the smolt-to-adult survival rate for hatchery fish is poor, the sex ratio is skewed with low female numbers, the fish are of small size, they have variable gamete quality, they spawn later and they have fewer eggs. "These are definite culture effects and it is not encouraging." Hassemer said.

He is also voiced concern about hatchery practices that propagate a large number of fish from just a few families, because of the potential loss of genetic and life history diversity for salmonids that must rear in an ever-changing environment. The Idaho supplementation study states: "Supplementation can potentially increase natural production but it cannot increase natural productivity. The benefit in natural production from supplementation must more than compensate for any long-term loss in natural productivity for the effort to be successful. The success can only be measured by the number and performance of these natural offspring."

Retired Oregon State University fisheries professor James Lannan did not like using the term "wild" to describe salmon. "Wild is some magic quality, abstract and undefined," Lannan said, expressing concern about the notion of "having hatchery fish mimic wild fish."

Responding to the idea that wild salmon should be used as the model to measure hatchery fish performance, he asked, "This is a scientific forum, isn't it? This sounds like religion to me." Lannan disputed the NMFS' view of highest fitness levels for wild populations since the wild stocks are declining; he recommended using hatchery supplementation to improve them.

NMFS' Waples took issue with the idea. "The adaptive phenotype works and we should work with it because its life history characteristics fit the requirements of the habitat." Lannan said he agreed, noting that the region needs a gene conservation commitment to maintain the genetic structure of these fish.

David Fast, Yakama Indian Nation biologist, described the measures for hatchery supplementation success that his group has developed. First, productivity doesn't decrease. Secondly, non-target taxa diversity doesn't decrease; and third, diversity of target taxa doesn't decrease. Fast stressed the importance of having reference streams to act as controls for hatchery experiments.

By the end of the workshop, there was considerable agreement regarding the problems hatcheries pose, if not agreement on what to do about it. And there was still much debate over the relative reproductive success of hatchery and native fish in the wild and whether hatchery fish pose a risk to the conservation of native, wild salmonids.

Northwest tribes and Prof. Lannan remain advocates for increased hatchery supplementation, while the other scientists remain skeptical, preferring to move forward with supplementation only if the strategy is supported by a strong monitoring and evaluation program. With a final report due in August, policymakers will have yet another recommendation about the goals and strategies of future supplementation efforts.-Bill Bakke


As the region lurches towards the next important stage in the salmon recovery drama with the public unveiling of the new hydro BiOp still scheduled a few short weeks from now (though some now say it may not be completed until August) --Washington state resource agencies find themselves at odds over draft recommendations for future operations of the federal hydro system.

At a February meeting of the Columbia River Basin Forum, representatives from the state's Department of Ecology offered support for a new flow augmentation policy, citing results of recent flow/ survival studies that indicate no relationship between flow and spring chinook survival. They suggested saving water for use later in the summer, when it might do more good. The situation perplexed NMFS policymaker Brian Brown, who told the same group in March that he was confused by Washington state's position on flows, since the fish managers had strongly supported the current BiOp flow targets. "The Federal Caucus believes flow augmentation improves survival," he said at the March 10 Forum session.

State fish folks have now weighed in with even stronger recommendations for the next BiOp. In a May 18 letter to the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Marine Fisheries Service, WDFW head Jeff Koenings said flow targets in the 1995 and 1998 BiOps "are justified and constitute at least a minimum level of flow needed to protect juvenile salmonid migrants."

But Koenings went on to say that current talks did not seem to be aiming for adequate flows in the mid-Columbia, since the feds haven't considered water withdrawals from BuRec's Columbia Basin Project. "Accordingly," said Koenings, "we request the Bureau initiate consultation with NMFS on the Columbia Basin Project, just as has occurred on Bureau projects in the Snake River Basin in Idaho."

What Koenings didn't say was that Idaho water users are not likely to give up any more water in the new BiOp than the 427 KAF designated in the last one. Sources say NMFS is lucky to be getting that much.

Koenings' letter takes issue with NMFS proposals to take more water from behind Grand Coulee--up to an additional seven-foot draft (currently, there is a 10-foot max)--in water years when runoff forecasts are less than 80 MAF. That has happened about 26 percent of the time over the last 50 years. NMFS would also cut back pumping from Lake Roosevelt into Banks Lake to provide 250 KAF for flow augmentation. This strategy would result in a 10-foot summer draft at Banks, reducing wetlands and adversely affecting a fishery on walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Although they support additional flow augmentation measures, the state fish folks say, "we are not convinced that these measures are the most appropriate sources until we have seen a full accounting of water use and needs in the Bureau of Reclamation's Columbia Basin Project." WDFW believes water use efficiencies have reduced irrigation needs on project lands and that these reductions could be used "to augment summer flows without requiring additional impacts to resident fish resources in Lake Roosevelt or Banks Lake."

Koenings cited concerns over Roosevelt's resident fish if the lake is drafted more than at present, including reduced food productivity, along with potential problems associated with recreational access and tribal cultural resources, and reducing kokanee spawning habitat.

Some say the benefits of going after Columbia Basin Project irrigators may be illusory anyway. Water consultant Darryll Olsen said about 50 percent of the irrigation water used from Banks returns as flow to the Potholes region and eventually back to the Columbia River. Others say that may be a bit optimistic. But in plain English, it means that reducing irrigation withdrawals will likely produce much less in the way of flow augmentation than a simple accounting would lead one to believe.

Dick Erickson, south district manager for the Columbia Basin Project, said drawing down Banks Lake by 10 feet would have a "miniscule effect" on flows. According to Erickson, the project pumps 2.5 MAF a year, with about 600 KAF returning to the river annually--about one-third of that "current year water." He said the project actually uses about 3.4 MAF by the time the water gets in canals because the process draws more water out of the ground than is taken from the river.

Erickson also said irrigators have become more efficient, and only occasionally do they use all the water they're entitled to. But "we still need our extra water rights in dry years." As for ponying up more water for flow as WDFW suggests, "Most years, it's already there," Erickson said.

On another front, a federal judge last week ruled that WaterWatch of Oregon and other environmental groups failed to show that actions by the Army Corps of Engineers--specifically, the COE's decisions in 1971 and 1978 to grant permits for irrigation pumping stations along the Columbia--have adversely affected ESA-listed salmon in the basin.

But Judge Brown did say it's COE's responsibility to determine whether its actions may affect listed species and "to insure that its agency actions, the 1971 and 1978 permits, in consultation with NMFS, are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the listed Columbia River salmon and steelhead."

Judge Brown ordered the parties to confer and submit a proposed schedule by July 5 "for further handling of this matter to resolution."

Bob Hale, president of Inland Land Co., which presently sub-leases the property, called it a significant victory. Hale's company was denied a permit to build a new pumping station along the river to utilize existing water rights after NMFS refused to sign off on a Corps of Engineers permit for the project.

Inland Land then decided to pump the water--granted under existing Oregon water rights--from an older off-river station nine miles from the site of their proposed pumping station.

Hale said the Corps may be in for a big chore if the agency has to examine each permit for a jeopardy judgment from NMFS. "There are fifty thousand permits up and down the river," he noted. -Bill Rudolph


A long-awaited framework for addressing California's future water supply and water quality needs has been released; whether it will be a plus or minus for hydropower production is not yet known. The state water blueprint, released June 9, has a 30-year life span and is expected to cost more than $10 billion. Options include raising the state's largest reservoir, Shasta Dam; removing small local diversion dams, building new reservoirs, boosting groundwater storage and modifying dam operations.

"We don't yet know what the real impacts will be," said David Christy, spokesperson for the Western Area Power Administration. "It depends on the options selected."

Another big factor will be weather and how wet the year is.

The contentious water plan was developed by CalFed, a coalition of state and federal water and wildlife agencies, along with often feuding water interests--cities, farmers and environmentalists--over a six-year period. It lays out a range of alternative plans, from various water storage to ecosystem restoration programs aimed at boosting water supply reliability in the continually growing state while restoring the overtaxed San Francisco Bay Delta ecosystem estuary.

The estuary houses the powerful state and federal pumping plants of California's extensive water distribution network that ships Northern California river water hundreds of miles. The Bay Delta is also critical habitat to numerous native fish that have been listed under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts, including Central Valley steelhead and chinook stocks and Sacramento River winter-run chinook.

In a worst case scenario, CalFed's water plan could cause between a 30 to 50 percent drop in federal hydro production in the Central Valley. The federal Central Valley Project, which stretches 400 miles from Redding to Bakersfield and encompasses 20 reservoirs and 11 power plants, produces 4,800 gigawatt hours on average, with project consumption amounting to 1,270 GWh.

Hydro production, however, could also be increased, particularly with the expansion of Lake Shasta, which now holds 4.5 million acre-feet. An extra 300,000 acre-feet would be added by raising the dam, which now has a capacity of 650 megawatts. That may mean more power coming out of the turbines, depending on operational criteria.

Federal power production could also take a hit, however, from increased surface and groundwater storage, and actual changes in facility operations to boost supply reliability and fish and water quality protection, said Nancy Werdel, WAPA environmental manager.

Although the effects of CalFed's plan on hydro plants are not yet known, a wrench was thrown into the scheme shortly after Gov. Gray Davis and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt unveiled the touted water plan. A Congressional subcommittee voted to block the spending of federal funding for CalFed. The costs of the far-reaching programs are to be spread among state and federal taxpayers and water users.

Assuming the federal funds are eventually authorized, the plan, which will be phased in, will not be launched until CalFed agencies issue the voluminous final programmatic Environmental Impact Report, sometime this summer. -Elizabeth McCarthy


The US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, has vacated a FERC order on the the City of Centralia's Yelm hydro project that required the city to conduct a fishways study on the 12 MW project. The appeals court used some tough language in its June 9 ruling, scolding FERC for what it called a decision "that borders on the absurd," the court said the commission's mandate for the fishways study "makes no attempt whatsoever to balance power and non-power values in justifying the need for a study."

The ruling has a long history, beginning in the 1970s, when the Nisqually Indian Tribe filed a complaint against Centralia, claiming that the Yelm project was harming tribal fisheries. The two sides began negotiating, reaching a settlement in 1991. The city agreed to fund fisheries enhancement measures and the tribe agreed to back off its request for a tailrace barrier to protect fish. The tribe went so far as to say that a tailrace barrier would actually harm migrating fish.

Meanwhile, FERC realized that Centralia was operating Yelm without a license and ordered the muni to apply for one. That process brought NMFS into the fray, and the federal agency immediately mandated a tailrace barrier. FERC weighed the request but ultimately said no. NMFS continued to insist on the tailrace barrier, saying that--at the minimum--FERC should order a fishways study. In 1997, the acting director of FERC's Office of Hydropower Licensing agreed and added the study to Yelm's license requirements.

Centralia appealed the FERC ruling. But in spite of strong tribal opposition to the tailrace barrier, the commission stood by its mandate, insisting the study was justified. In its June 9 ruling, the court recognized that FERC was constrained by the Federal Power Act, which requires the commission to "give equal consideration to the purposes of energy conservation, the protection, mitigation of, damage to, and enhancement of, fish and wildlife..." when granting a license.

But the court maintained that fish and wildlife considerations "do not have preemptive force;" otherwise, "the commission would be held hostage to every agency recommendation, and the commission's role of reconciling all competing interests would be compromised." The court insisted that "there are not sufficient facts to require Centralia to construct a tailrace barrier" and that FERC, being aware of this, "stumbles badly in concluding that the costs of a study could be justified.

"FERC is certainly empowered to require an applicant to conduct a study when there is some evidence of a problem and a study is necessary to determine the extent of the harm. But not even FERC is suggesting that an applicant has a duty to determine if a problem exists. Yet, that is the result of the disputed order in this case," said the ruling.

The court also sided with Centralia on the cost of the study, saying "it is difficult to justify a $300,000 expenditure for an inconclusive study to determine whether to spend another $1,000,000 to construct a tailrace barrier to address a problem that has not been identified. When weighed against the alternative remedies proposed by Centralia and the tribe, however, the order requiring a study borders on absurd," said the ruling.

The National Hydropower Association hailed the ruling and said it demonstrates the need for federal legislation to curb the role of resource agencies such as NMFS. NHA executive director Linda Ciocci said the ruling proves that "even FERC can lose sight of the requirement to balance in the broadest public interest...

"When federal agencies are only responsible for resource protection," said Ciocci, "they overlook broader goals including providing clean, renewable power. Our legislative reform effort would require resource agencies to take the broader view," she added. -Lynn Francisco


Columbia Basin hydro operators were in a "code yellow" emergency mode after Energy Northwest's nuclear power plant at Hanford, WA shut down on the morning of June 26 and caught the region short of power. Southern California utilities were caught short when Northwest sources dried up and began a voluntary power reduction program that was still in effect by the middle of the week.

Cindy Henriksen, head of the Corps of Engineers' Reservoir Control office in Portland, said hydro operators were working with fish managers on June 27 to create a contingency plan that could cut spill at dams where water is now being diverted from turbines to aid salmon passage. Henriksen said some turbines were operating outside 1 percent efficiency, which meant slightly less water was being spilled already.

It was also reported that spill was reduced at The Dalles Dam from 40 percent to 30 percent.

By June 28, a list of potential priority actions was being distributed that spelled out operational changes that may be necessary if the region needs to generate more power during the hot spell. Hydro operators will first reduce spill and make operational changes to turbine efficiency at Bonneville Dams, then John Day, and finally at McNary if conditions warrant.

Energy Northwest said they hoped to have their plant back on line by June 29, but that couldn't be soon enough for Doug Arndt, who heads the Corps of Engineers' salmon coordination office.

"There's a huge number of fall chinook in the river," Arndt said, and changes in operation at McNary could add warmer water to the bypass system where juvenile fish pass around the dam, which had the potential for harming them. But Arndt was hopeful. "McNary's down at the bottom of the list for actions."

The Hanford nuke plant provides about 10 percent of BPA's power. When it went down, the shortage forced BPA to buy power on the spot market to meet load, and was paying 1000 mills or more for the juice, about 500 times the cost of power from the nuke facility. If the plant is down for a week, the agency may have to spend up to $100 million to cover demand.

The latest word was not good. Energy Northwest's nuke "really tanked" according to sources who said engineers have discovered that "a major part" failed. It's likely the plant will be down more than a week while a new part is fabricated. Temperatures in the Northwest are supposed to cool by the end of the week, which could ease the situation significantly. But for now, utilities up and down the West Coast are buying and selling power frantically at outrageous prices (around 750 mills), hoping to keep the lights on.

Public outcry over a plan to kill surplus hatchery fish in the Methow Valley has state and federal officials scrambling to salvage their salmon recovery effort. The agencies announced June 20 that a new policy for Methow Basin fish may be ready in a couple of weeks. One option being studied is to plant surplus fish in the Okanogan watershed. Fish were originally planned to being culled at the Methow hatchery, where managers are trying to separate the Carson stock from the Methow composite stock, a run that was originally comprised of fish trapped at Rock Island Dam in the late 1930s. The Carson fish are a mongrel breed of upriver spring chinook originally raised at the Carson hatchery in the lower Columbia. The run is coming up short of original estimates, NMFS officials said, which could mean that culling won't be necessary The Yakama and Colville tribes, along with local residents and irrigators, had protested the original plan as a waste of fish and supported efforts to use them instead to seed other areas.

NMFS has agreed to keep water flowing in ditches operated by the Methow Valley Irrigation District. It gave the nod to a consent decree irrigators signed earlier in the month after a federal deadline had been reached. NMFS offered the irrigators a chance to develop a habitat conservation plan in lieu of converting to a $6 million pressurized pipe system that residents say would only add 3 cfs to river flows.The district had taken issue with the feds and was ready to go to court with expert witness Ken Williams, retired WDFW biologist, who said NMFS refused to accept most of the research on the Methow chinook and steelhead stocks contained in a controversial 1992 USFWS report. Williams said the NMFS policy of ignoring science of the magnitude of the report "assures that NMFS science invalidates itself. Moreoever, the willful suppression of opposing information speaks of scientific malfeasance."

After a record-setting run of spring chinook in the Columbia River, it looks like the basin's sockeye run is about to hit new highs as well. Most are headed up the mid-Columbia, but last Thursday, the first sockeye was counted at Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake, headed for Idaho's Redfish Lake. By June 26, seven of the fish had been counted--the first real fruit of a captive broodstock program that costs $5 million a year. Fish managers predict that 168 Redfish Lake sockeye will return to the mouth of the Columbia this year. By the time they get into the lower Snake, NMFS biologists at Lower Granite hope to radio tag two dozen of them and track the rest of their 450-mile migration.

Fish counters may be pleasantly surprised, though, since the salmon swamis originally predicted only 31,000 upper Columbia sockeye would appear at the river mouth. So far, more than 72,000 have been counted at Bonneville Dam-about six times the 10-year average. Most are headed for Lake Wenatchee, according to WDFW manager Joe Hymer, who said the run could end up at between 150,000 and 300,000 fish.

Meanwhile, sockeye were also pouring through urban Seattle, on their way to the Cedar River. By June 25, nearly 122,000 of them had been counted at the Ballard Locks, where the streaming fish have become one the city's biggest tourist attractions. Counters are hedging the bets on this one as well, saying it could end up at between 300,000 and 600,000 fish. Numbers over 325,000 fish will probably trigger a sports fishery in Lake Washington.

Farther north, Canadian fish managers say the sockeye run on the Fraser River this year may range from 2.3 million to 4.1 million fish. They say the estimates are highly uncertain, and point to unfavorable ocean conditions in the past that have reduced survival in recent years, especially in the 1999 run. A US fishery on the Fraser sockeye run would not be allowed unless the total run is expected to exceed 1.5 million fish.

Washington and Oregon fish agencies announced June 23 they plan to seek an injunction to keep the Secretary of Commerce and NMFS from using incidental take provisions of the ESA "as a tool to divide fishing opportunity between the states and Indian tribes." The states are still smarting from a spring harvest that gave 8.5 percent of the run to lower Columbia tribes and only 0.5 percent to non-tribal fishermen. ODFW head Jim Greer said the lawsuit isn't about more fishing, "but simply a fair way of allocating what fishing does occur." Last spring states and tribes were still debating with NMFS when the fish showed up in March, which led the states to close all recreational and commercial non-tribal harvest in the mainstem Columbia as growing numbers of ESA-listed spring chinook appeared.

Washington's salmon recovery strategy flunked a review by a group of independent scientists appointed by Gov. Locke to evaluate it. The strategy, called "Extinction Is Not An Option," came up short for lack of a scientific approach, said the team. They said the strategy was disjointed and lacked clear objectives. But state officials said it didn't matter if the plan was biologically sound if the public didn't support it. They said local input was necessary and that they purposely avoided a centralized approach.-B.R.

***Subscriptions and Feedback***
Subscribe to the Fishletter notification e-mail list.
Send e-mail comments to the editor.

***Link/Document Annex***
Works Cited

LINKS/DOCUMENTS FROM NW FISHLETTER 105:: Below are listed links and documents referred to in the text of NW Fishletter issue 105.

THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.

NW Fishletter is produced by Energy NewsData.
Publisher: Cyrus Noë, Editor: Bill Rudolph
Phone: (206) 285-4848 Fax: (206) 281-8035
Contributing Editors: Bill Bakke and Jude Noland

If you would like to be notified when the next NW Fishletter is published online, send an e-mail message to webmaster.com with "Subscribe NW Fishletter" in the subject line and your name and e-mail address in the body.


Please contact the Webmaster, webmaster.com,
with questions or comments on this site

© 2005 Energy NewsData