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NWF.106/July.14.2000
[1] Four Dead Smolts Lead To Idaho Flow Agreement
[2] Next BiOp Still Promised By End of July
[3] Saving Water For Later Policy Nixed On Snake
[4] Grant PUD Dams Spill More For Fish
[5] Northwest Fish Runs Stay Hot, Alaska Cools
[6] Salmon Need Salmon, Says New Study
[7] Stelle Says He Will Stick Around
[8] Judge Marsh Resigns from US v. Oregon

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[1] FOUR DEAD SMOLTS GET NMFS AND IDAHO WATER USERS TOGETHER

NMFS policymakers have reached a tentative agreement with a group of Idaho water users to improve flows for ESA-listed salmon--in spite of the fact that with only 60 percent of normal snowpack, the Lemhi River Basin, in the eastern part of the state, was already hurting.

It took a combination of low flows and a few dead smolts to get the federal fish agency to flex its muscles for the first time in that part of Idaho--and it came about after a state fisheries employee found four dead salmon smolts at an irrigation diversion screen on the Lemhi, a 60-mile tributary of the Salmon River that flows just west of the Continental Divide.

In early May, after the fish were found, Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne told NMFS regional administrator Will Stelle that his staff would meet with other agencies and local stakeholders to try and develop "a voluntary collaborative effort to meet both the water needs of the region and the fish during the weeks ahead."

To show he meant business, Kempthorne attached a May 12 letter to his own--correspondence from Karl Dreher, head of Idaho's Department of Water Resources, to Lemhi watermaster Rick Sager, in which the state cautioned water users not to exceed authorized water rights, since consideration of listed fish "makes it imperative that water diversions and uses be carefully managed and documented to demonstrate compliance with valid rights established under state law." Dreher said the state would help local water users determine if they need better measuring devices to insure compliance with the law.

Stelle responded to Kempthorne two weeks later, saying that "given the dire condition of Snake River salmon," NMFS took the situation on the Lemhi "very seriously." He also noted that NMFS "has substantial evidence that injury to listed chinook salmon and steelhead has occurred and is ongoing in the Lemhi River."

Though Stelle's letter paid lip service to voluntary efforts by the local watershed group, he said more progress was needed to avoid "take" of the listed species. He told Kempthorne NMFS was ready to work with Idaho to "implement a longer term agreement to protect the salmon and steelhead and provide ESA authorization for water management activities in the Lemhi Basin."

The effort appears to have borne fruit. Rayola Jacobsen, staffer in the NWPPC Boise office, said a "tenuous, but stable" agreement has been reached among the parties. She gave high marks to ex-NWPPC counsel John Volkman, who now works for NMFS and negotiated flows with Lemhi water users. Volkman could not be reached for comment. A 35 cfs minimum flow was arranged for June and a 10 cfs minimum was set for after July 1, with provisions for pulses to 35 cfs to aid both juvenile and adult migration. A MOU signed in late June also said the Model Watershed Project and IDFG will get together to monitor adult salmon movement to determine when it will be necessary to add water for flushing, a strategy that could continue until mid-September. They will also keep track of juvenile migrants to find out when they are on the move. Thirdly, the agreement calls for weekly status reports to be submitted to signatories and the NMFS office in Boise, though the federal fish agency did not actually sign the document. Lastly, the agreement calls for obtaining funds to accomplish these tasks. In the longer term, the parties agreed to investigate more options including pumping water from the Salmon River into the Lemhi; drilling wells and converting flood irrigation systems of willing landowners to sprinkler systems and dedicating saved water to the lower Lemhi, along with converting another 17cfs of diversionary rights to augment flows in the lower river. The MOU was signed by representatives of the Lemhi Irrigation District, the Model Watershed Project, Water District 74, IDFG and the state Department of Water Resources.

John Folsom, spokesman for the area's Model Watershed Project, said 40 salmon redds were counted in the Lemhi last year, and he hopes this year's good run will improve on that. The project began in 1992 under the aegis of the NWPPC and has worked to improve local habitat and boost flows with the help of local landowners. Folsom said there are about 270 different water diversions on the Lemhi, but few are truly large scale; many serve small single-acre residences.

The Lemhi has come a long way over the years. Consultant Don Chapman reported in his 1991 Snake River chinook study that development had destroyed the original fish population. Back in 1941, a USFWS survey reported that Idaho Power Co. maintained a 6-foot-high diversion dam a mile above the confluence of the Lemhi and the Salmon Rivers.

Though he praised the cooperative efforts of all parties, Idaho Power Council member Mike Field was a bit incredulous over the effort generated from four dead smolts. "Compared to what the terns eat down in the estuary, it seems rather insignificant," he said. "Yet, it seems that we can't get rid of the birds."

Others said it was a defensive move on the part of the farmers, and was an agreement they could live with, while indicating they are making an effort to "do the right thing." -Bill Rudolph


[2] NEW HYDRO BIOP NOW PROMISED BY END OF JULY

It's now official, say federal officials. The hydro BiOp will show up a month later than last promised (by late June). It was originally going to be released May 22. Before that, it was called the '99 Decision, a target set in the 1995 BiOp.

George Frampton, acting chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, made the announcement as part of a June 28 press release that outlined what the feds call two key strategies in their salmon recovery handbook--restoration of salmon habitat in critical watersheds on federal lands and findng a fix for the lower Columbia estuary. Frampton said the draft strategy proposes scientifically grounded "performance measures" to gauge salmon recovery success-- as well as a recommendation to seek Congressional approval for breaching lower Snake dams if recovery targets aren't met.

Meanwhile, back in Portland, action agencies (BPA, BuRec, COE) are having a tough time swallowing the performance measures NMFS wants to impose on the hydro system. One insider admitted that the action agencies suggested the concept of performance standards in the first place, but not in the way NMFS has developed the idea. The agencies wanted estimates of natural river survival through the hydro system to be used as a tool in creating the standards, but NMFS wants to use the estimates themselves as the benchmark. The agencies also consider NMFS' proposed standards scientifically indefensible, and even some NMFS folks privately admit to misgivings.

NMFS policymakers say that the new BiOp won't have any surprises, but utilities, irrigators and other river users are quietly lining up their legal firepower, ready to take on the feds over future flow and spill measures. It's likely environmental groups will sue as well--alleging the feds are not doing enough to save fish. Though one source said the last go-round with NMFS over the 1998 supplemental BiOp mellowed the "do everything possible" tone of that draft document, the same intent remains in the new one.

Some members of Congress are tired of waiting. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR)will hold a hearing in Washington DC July 19 to question officials about the status of the BiOp. A Smith spokesperson said testimony will be heard by the Water and Power Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sen. Slade Gorton said he planned to attend.

Meanwhile, federal officials are still sticking to their story that the BiOp will be out by the end of July. Such was the word from NMFS at the July 12 monthly meeting of regional policymakers in Portland. But other sources say things are pretty much in the air, and that alternatives are being presented to NMFS by action agencies that have never before been pursued. -B. R.


[3] SAVING WATER FOR LATER POLICY NIXED FOR SNAKE

Regional fish and hydro managers met last week in Idaho to discuss differences over proposed operations for Dworshak Reservoir for the rest of the summer. Some folks want to release more water now to aid juvenile fish migration, while others--notably, the state of Idaho and some Columbia Basin tribes--hoped to save the cooler Dworshak water for later in the season, to help adult chinook and steelhead migrating up the Snake River in late August and September. The TMT's authority to adjust flows evaporates at the end of August, since that is the current BiOp's cutoff date for flow augmentation on the Snake..

But the state of Idaho, the Nez Perce Tribe and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission were unable to convince other parties at last week's confab in Lapwai, where the TMT met to hash out the issue. When the meeting was over, Washington, Oregon, NMFS and USFWS were not convinced by Idaho's analysis and did not change their position. So the impasse was bumped up to the Implementation Team for a decision. A day later, the IT, via conference call, decided to augment flows now for record numbers of outmigrating fall chinook, even though that means water will be tight by the end of the summer.

Corps of Engineers' Reservoir Control head Cindy Henriksen told NW Fishletter on July 7 "that if we go to 14K on Monday we'd be out of water by about Aug. 20."

Henriksen said the latest forecast has also dried up expectations. The latest word calls for less water in the hydro system than previously estimated as summer marches on: forecasts at The Dalles have dropped from 99 percent of average to 91 percent of average for the April-September period. Estimates of outflows upstream at Grand Coulee stayed at 98 percent of average, while up on the Snake, inflow into Brownlee Reservoir was only 65 percent of normal (April-July). The news was better in the Clearwater drainage, where Dworshak inflow was estimated at 97 percent of normal (April-September).

After the IT meeting on July 12, policymakers reported on potential availability of additional water for summer flows. But the word from representatives of Montana and Idaho was that flows would be limited to current BiOp recommendations. Montana rep Jim Litchfield said Libby Reservoir is tapped out, but Hungry Horse is close to full. The problem is trying to maintain a steady outflow, he told the group, to minimize problems in the river below the dam.. Litchfield said it was unlikely that Montana would support any drawdown below 20 feet at Hungry Horse. Oregon said little interest was shown by irrigators in the southeast part of that state to sell water for boosting flows since they were strapped themselves.

Washington IT member Jim Neilsen said taking more water than currently called for from Lake Roosevelt could cause damage to tribal cultural resources, generally burial grounds. He said pumping more water out of Banks Lake than called for by current operations is out of the question because no assessment has been completed of the possible effects on tribal resources there.

BPA representative Dan Daley said it didn't look like Canada would be able to add water this year. He cited a letter that stated in rather pointed fashion that Canada was not willing to provide up to 3 MAF the current BiOp suggests the country might be willing to offer. The Canadians said they could see no benefit for their citizens by giving up the water, in fact, it would have "very negative impacts to the region's fish and recreational interests." They also suggested the 1 MAF of non-treaty storage now used for flow augmentation might be in jeopardy in the future. In any case, they said they would prefer to send it downriver in the spring rather than later in the summer. -B. R.


[4] GRANT PUD DAMS WILL SPILL MORE FOR FISH

Grant County PUD announced this week it will spill more water over its two dams to improve fish survival. The PUD has signed a memorandum of agreement on spill with federal and state fish agencies, tribes, and environmentalists--part of a long-term agreement under development with these groups, said Grant PUD spokesman Doug Ancona. According to Ancona, the larger effort will include other ways to improve fish numbers, such as increasing supplementation efforts in the region. He hoped it would be completed by the end of the year.

"We recognize tribal fishing rights and we hope to enhance those rights," Ancona told NW Fishletter July 13. He said the parties plan to meet in August to hash out other strategies to increase salmon and steelhead stocks.

The tentative agreement announced on spill focuses on spring and summer operation of Grant's two mid-Columbia dams. It calls for spilling enough water at the dams, rather than generating power, to achieve 95 percent passage survival or 80 percent fish passage efficiency (the percentage of fish routed around turbines), which translates into spilling 61 percent of the water at Priest Rapids and 43 percent at Wanapum Dam in the spring. For summer migrants, 49 percent spill would be maintained at Priest and 36 percent at Wanapum. Wild spring chinook migrating past the dams are listed as "endangered" under the ESA, but summer chinook are not. However, migrating steelhead are listed as endangered as well. A five-year monitoring and evaluation program will look at the effectiveness of the program.

This doesn't mean Grant is giving up on its bypass collector effort at Wanapum, said Ancona; the utility is committed to making more improvements. Those efforts began years ago with the Vernita Bar Agreement that regulates flows in the Columbia to keep fall chinook redds covered after fish spawn. Last year, Grant PUD took the lead in starting a program to reduce river level fluctuations that could trap juvenile salmon after they hatch in the Hanford Reach. According to Grant biologist Joe Lukas, this year's program to reduce stranding was as successful as last year's when there was much more water in the system. He said monitoring showed that fluctuating river levels accounted for smolt mortalities in the 1 to 3 percent range.

The spill agreement settles a 20-year conflict among the parties over the level of fish protection. It will be soon sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as part of Grant's hydro re-licensing procedure for the dams. The utility feels the MOA is a major step towards a comprehensive settlement and a commitment to get back to the table.

NMFS regional administrator Will Stelle gave a solid thumbs-up to the agreement. "The hallmark of this settlement is its focus on science," said Stelle, "along with a spirit of mutual concern for the fish and cooperation among all the parties." Citing high costs the PUD had earlier pulled out of a 50-year habitat conservation plan that Chelan and Douglas PUDs OK'd with fish agencies. NMFS has not signed off on that agreement yet, and there is some conjecture that elements of the plan won't pass muster with the feds in the upcoming effort to develop long-term fish recovery strategies for ESA-listed fish.

WDFW director Jeff Koenings said the PUD's action was a significant step toward rebuilding the runs. "This action is particularly timely, as the ocean conditions for these juvenile salmon to survive as adults has, in my opinion, improved dramatically. This means increases in the number of juvenile salmon reaching the sea will translate into more adults returning to the river."

Don Sampson, director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, called it a step in the right direction for juvenile passage. "We've got to devote similar energies to find solutions and agreements for adult passage, fish production and habitat mitigation," he said.

Grant's Priest Rapids operating license expires in 2005, but once this MOA is sent to FERC, the utility expects the commission to formally amend its current license. The utility plans to submit its re-licensing application in 2003.

Though the new operating conditions means significant changes, especially at Wanapum Dam, Ancona said the PUD's electrical rates won't go up. The utility recently announced that it would freeze rates for the next three years. Three previous years of above-normal flows and good market prices boosted the PUD's reserves by more than $50 million. -B. R.


[5] NORTHWEST FISH RUNS STAY HOT, ALASKA COOLS

With the linchpin document for Northwest salmon recovery promised in a few short weeks, the long-awaited hydro BiOp, the fish have not cooperated with federal policymakers at all, but continue to flood the region's watersheds. Even some of the weakest of runs may be on the mend.

The progeny of Idaho's lone returning sockeye from 1992 Lonesome Larry, have returned with a vengeance--by July 10, 183 of them, results of an intensive captive broodstock program, had been tallied crossing Lower Granite Dam at the halfway point on their homeward migration. The numbers confounded fish managers who had estimated that 167 was about the number of endangered sockeye that would enter the Columbia, but not actually make it all the way to Idaho.

Meanwhile, the
Photo of Boats on the Lake
Seattle sporties snag socks off billionaires' docks.
mainstem Columbia sockeye run, with most bound for Lake Wenatchee, was tapering off fast, causing managers to downgrade their optimistic remarks from two weeks ago, when some thought 150,000 or more might make it back to the river. Now, it looks more likely around 90,000 sockeye will be counted at Bonneville Dam--But that's still about three times more than their original estimate. The relative bounty gave sportsfishing interests and tribes a chance to catch some of them.

Puget Sound is still where most the action is--the sockeye run into Lake Washington has passed the 300,000 mark with fish managers reporting that the total may still surpass half a million fish. Both sport fishing and some tribal commercial fishing has begun on that run. By July 12, sporties have caught around 43,000; tribal fishermen 33,000.

Chinook counts in the upper Columbia remain about twice the 10-year average; By July 11, nearly 3,900 chinook had been counted at Wells Dam. Last year, less than 800 fish had been counted by this date. Downstream at Priest Rapids, summer counts are rising--more than 31,000 spring and summer chinook have been counted this year, slightly less than the 10-year average.

Steelhead counts at Bonneville were running about 150 percent above the 10-year average and double last year's return. More than 31,000 passed the dam by July 11, with about one-third of the run being wild fish.

Farther north, the Fraser sockeye run was coming in close to expectations, with the early Stuart run reaching about 300,000 fish, the third highest on record for that cycle. On July 11, the Fraser River Panel upgraded their estimate to 350,000 fish for the early run.

Alaska, meanwhile, continued to disappoint. Bristol Bay's famous run was coming up 10 million short, principally for a run failure in one of the region's six main rivers, the Kvichak. But totals by mid-week were still astronomical by West Coast standards; 14 million sockeye harvested out of a 20 million-fish run. Alaska managers had predicted around 32 million fish to show up.

Sockeye returns were lower than expected in the Kodiak and Chignik areas and the Copper River region as well--adding fuel to the theory that 20-30 year ocean/climate oscillations are responsible for changes in production. When West Coast fish productivity is up, Alaska productivity may be down because of differences in strength of the Aleutian Low from previous years, with changes in wind and currents in the North Pacific that reduce zooplankton production in the more northern regions. Returning chinook runs in the Yukon and Kuskokwim drainages were extremely weak, Gov. Tony Knowles has already asked for federal aid to help subsistence fishers in that region.

Salmon trollers in Southeast Alaska found generally slow fishing for their chinook opener. Fish were still being tallied and managers said they would end up with about 50,000 being caught in the July1-5 season. But the trollers were upbeat--coho were showing larger than normal size. -B. R.


[6] SALMON NEED SALMON, SCIENTISTS SAY IN NEW STUDY

According to a new scientific paper published by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, coho salmon grew twice as fast in streams enriched by salmon carcasses and were nearly 50 percent bigger than coho raised without the extra nutrients. Bigger juveniles means better survival in both fresh water and marine environments. In one study of fish from a tributary of the Snoqualmie River in western Washington, juvenile coho salmon, cutthroat trout and steelhead obtained up to 40 percent of the carbon and nitrogen in their muscle tissue from the carcasses of adult coho.

But salmon are not the only beneficiaries of nutrients from the salmon carcasses. The study said that 137 other wildlife species make use of them as well. These include animals such as the white-tailed deer (rare relationship through eating salmon carcasses) and both black and grizzly bears that have a strong, consistent relationship to salmon. Many species of birds also benefit from salmon.

The study, titled Pacific Salmon and Wildlife, Ecological Contexts, Relationships, and Implications for Management, notes the numerous pathways of marine nutrients and how they are utilized by the ecosystem. For example, riparian plants contain high levels of marine nitrogen and carbon derived from salmon carcasses. These riparian plants, in turn, provide salmon with benefits that include shading the stream, while also providing more than over 90 percent of the organic nutrients that support other aquatic life, as well as large wood that helps retain nutrients and sediments important for both productivity and spawning.

"Accumulating evidence suggests that spawning salmon populations are an important link to the adjacent riparian and terrestrial communities," the authors say, "and indeed, fortifies the role of salmon as a keystone species, wherein the integrity and persistence of the entire community is contingent upon the population's actions and abundance."

But as the salmon runs decline, the import of nutrients declines, which leads to a drop in stream productivity--another factor, the authors say, that is contributing to declining salmon runs. "In general, escapement trends (adult salmon that escape the fishery to spawn) have been downward since 1970 for all populations...the number of salmon now returning to Washington and Oregon rivers is only 3.3 percent of the historical biomass...and this nutrient deficit may be one indication of ecosystem failure that has contributed to the downward spiral of salmonid abundance and diversity in general, further diminishing the possibility of salmon population recovery to self-sustaining levels."

But states have the regulatory authority to determine how many salmon are harvested and how many are allowed to spawn. According to the authors, of the 113 wild salmon stocks in Washington that have established spawning escapement goals, "only 46 (41 percent) met these goals as of the early 1990s." In Oregon, they say, "no determination of the spawning escapement needs has been made for wild steelhead, chum salmon,...or searun cutthroat trout."

In Oregon, the state's Fish and Wildlife Department has set a spawner escapement goal of 42 fish per mile for coho salmon. Even though this goal has yet to be reached, the 42 fish per mile fell well short of the 160 fish per mile needed to return adequate nutrients from salmon carcasses to coho streams.

"Managing at the MSY (Maximum Sustained Yield) level may have the effect of substantially reducing the delivery of marine derived nutrients to freshwater habitats," the authors say. They recommend "a shift from MSY to more ecologically based stock management objectives." In addition, "widespread use of salmon hatcheries has also significantly reduced the amount of salmon carcass nutrients available for aquatic food webs," the study says. Hatcheries function as huge nutrient traps because returning fish are removed from the stream. Dams at hatcheries have been used to keep fish diseases from spreading upstream, but the practice has also kept nutrients out. However, new emphasis on nutrient enrichment from carcasses has led some states to use volunteers to distribute hatchery salmon carcasses into streams. The authors say action is needed now; the region needs "an uncompromising and all-encompassing plan to protect and recover wild salmon populations before the system is unrecoverable."-Bill Bakke

To order a copy of this study please contact David H. Johnson, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Habitat Program, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. His email is: johnsdhj@dfw.wa.gov.


[7] STELLE CALLS RUMORS OF RESIGNATION "HALL TALK"

The reported resignation of Will Stelle as regional director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, ready grist for the Northwest fish community rumor mill in this presidential year, is "grossly premature" in Stelle's words.

Stelle told NW Fishletter that the resignation rumor is"hall talk" and that he has made no decision to leave federal service. The rumor had Stelle joining the Seattle office of a big Northwest law firm in August. Stelle became regional director of NMFS in 1994, succeeding Gary Smith, who had been acting in the job since Rollie Schmitten went east to become head of NMFS at the national level. -Cyrus NoŽ


[8] JUDGE MARSH RESIGNS FROM US V. OREGON

In yesterday's meeting of state, federal and tribal parties to the US v. Oregon process, federal judge Malcolm Marsh announced he is leaving the case. Marsh, who has overseen development of the harvest and hatchery policies of the Columbia River Fish Management Plan, said he was moving to senior status and the plan will be overseen by another judge, Garr King, a Clinton appointee.

The US v. Oregon process has been in limbo of late, with parties working unsuccessfully to negotiate new terms of agreement after the original plan expired.

It was reported that Marsh told state representatives the current attempt to boost their harvest allocation would fail if pursued further. Marsh also questioned Justice Department attorney Fred Disheroon about Snake River fall chinook, asking if he knew of any other listed species that sustained a harvest rate of 31 percent. -Bill Rudolph

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