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[1] NMFS Hints At More Input Into Power Council Process
[2] Power Planning Council Unveils New Vision Of F&W Program
[3] BPA Pulls Rank To Ease Power Crunch
[4] EPA Tells Corps It's Violating Clean Water Act
[5] Captive Broodstock Success--226 Sockeye Return to Redfish Lake
[6] Seattle City Council Endorses Dam Breaching On Snake
[7] Fish Supplementation Workshop Results Distilled
[8] Tacoma Hopes Salmon Plan Will Speed Cowlitz Relicense
[9] Montana Dam Relicense May Go To Court
[10] Cushman Ghost May Return To Haunt FERC Chambers
[11] Briefs: Fall Chinook Running Hard; NMFS Says "Never Mind" To Estuary BiOp; Senate Will Review Hydro Opinion

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Regional policymakers met Aug.2 in Portland to take their first bite out of the new draft BiOp and to examine NMFS requirements for "off-site mitigation" designed to aid ESA-listed stocks.

With aggressive improvements to survival in the hydro system and other Hs--mainly habitat--NMFS says it may be possible to avoid breaching lower Snake dams. To achieve that end, the feds are hinting at more input into regional processes like the Power Planning Council's effort to amend the region's fish and wildlife program.

That's what Brian Brown, NMFS hydro operations head, suggested at the Implementation Team meeting in Portland. He told state and federal policy folks that he doesn't foresee an expanded role for the regional forum of state, tribal and federal entities, but rather, "more federal input in the Council's process."

Brown's remarks came as he walked the group through the draft BiOp that spells out future operations of the hydro system that in NMFS' judgment will avoid jeopardizing listed salmon and steelhead stocks in the Columbia Basin. Offsite mitigation strategies have been outlined in the draft "Basin-Wide Recovery Strategy" (aka All-H Paper), developed by federal agencies involved in salmon recovery efforts.

The big question, Brown said, is to what degree improvements in the other Hs can offset hydro impacts.

The scope of the Basin-wide Recovery Strategy is huge, taking in 14 federal hydro projects, 31 BuRec projects and calling for supplemental consultations on BuRec projects in other main tributaries like the Yakima and Umatilla rivers. It will also contain an assessment of the massive irrigation effort in eastern Washington, the Columbia Basin Project, which waters more than 600,000 acres of farmland. According to Brown, BuRec's biological assessment will examine "Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives to current operations"--looking at return flows and overall effects on listed stocks.

But much of the offsite mitigation effort will be directed at the subbasin level--as described by NMFS staffer Elizabeth Garr and outlined in volume 2 of the Recovery Strategy. Garr said subbasins are being prioritized for helping listed stocks and that BuRec will seek further authority to make improvements in four main areas--flows, unscreened diversions, passage barriers and protection of high-quality habitat.

Garr said physical performance standards will be developed for temperature, riparian condition, sediment input and tributary flows, with a special effort dedicated to assessing needed improvements in the lower Columbia estuary, which she admitted was "quite a ways off."

Garr said harvests have already been reduced considerably, but more work is outlined to improve selective fisheries, develop more terminal fisheries and improve data management for controlling harvest. Hatchery reforms are in the works, under the Power Planning Council's lead effort, but funding issues "still need to be worked through."

NMFS' analysis in the draft BiOp suggests that Snake River spring/summer chinook need a 10 percent to 40 percent improvement in their numbers from non-hydro actions, in addition to aggressive improvement measures in the hydro corridor. Snake fall chinook need a 19 percent improvement. In the Upper Columbia, the analysis says chinook need 31 percent better numbers from non-hydro improvements, but steelhead only 13 percent. Snake River steelhead need 35 percent non-hydro improvements.

But Brown stressed the uncertainties. He said the quantitative analyses are "trying to inform a basically qualitative decision." He pointed out that "too much noise" surrounds many of the results--such as a worst-case scenario that suggested Idaho steelhead need a 35,000 percent improvement from one generation to the next if potential ill effects from hatchery fish are factored in.

"How you get from 'percent improvement needed' to an annual plan is the 64-dollar question," said Brown.

That's where the Power Planning Council comes in. NMFS consultant John Palensky suggested Council members may not know what's coming their way. "They may not understand the importance of the BiOp on their program," he said. No representatives of the Council attended the Aug. 2 IT meeting.

Council Response: Wary but Welcome

"We welcome federal input," said NWPPC chair Larry Cassidy the following day. He stressed the Council's "ground-up" approach, which will culminate in a separate subbasin planning effort that may not mesh with the "top-down" federal effort. Cassidy also said there are unresolved issues as to funding processes and another Council mandate--ensuring a reliable power supply in the region.

Other council members were ready to work with feds, but had concerns. "We're very interested in what the BiOp says," said Oregon member Eric Bloch. "But we recognize the need to have lots of coordinated effort between the federal and state agencies and all other agencies working in salmon recovery."

Though Bloch said the Council played no formal role in development of the paper formerly known as All-H, staff shared a series of informational meetings with federal authorities. He said there has been an unprecedented level of information sharing and collaboration.

"But it all needs to be evaluated for benefits and costs," he pointed out, which is an important point in the recovery recommendations recently released by the four Northwest Governors.

Of the ultimate plan, Bloch said it's liable to cost more than we're spending now "if it's going to help salmon." BPA is already committed to spending up to $700 million per year in the future, nearly $300 million more annually than it now spends through a process led by a Council budget review of the agency's fish and wildlife program.

Montana Council member Stan Grace was a bit less excited about the prospect of federal participation. "They say they want to work with us? I haven't seen it yet. Maybe at the technical level, but not at the policy level." But he suggested that the feds may have added a dose of political reality to their salmon plan. "People are finally realizing who guards the pot of money." -Bill Rudolph



The Power Planning Council has released a draft of its proposed fish and wildlife program, the fifth revision since the agency adopted its first plan in 1982. The latest plan is a major departure from previous ones--with an ecosystem focus that trickles down to each of the more than 50 subbasins in the Columbia River drainage. It calls for more input--and more money--from state and federal agencies besides BPA, which now foots most of the bill for the Columbia Basin's fish recovery efforts.

Draft language says that it is appropriate for the power agency to pay for programs, including offsite measures, that respond to the hydro system's impacts on salmon, but since fish declines have occurred for other reasons as well, "The cost of responding to these other causes should continue to be shared by all responsible parties."

Bob Lohn, director of the Council's Fish and Wildlife Division, said the draft is an attempt to put "sideboards" on the future program. He said the Council will call for submission of subbasin plans by state agencies, tribes, and private landowners next spring, with the hope they would be in place by the end of summer 2001.

Lohn called the effort an "action-forcing mechanism" because the Council will have one year to put the subbasin plans in place. Whether such a timeline will bring parties together is still a big unknown, but Lohn said once the hot-button issue of dam breaching is put aside and folks focus on the specific elements in their own subbasins, there is much more consensus about fish and wildlife recovery needs than one might think.

The Council's draft says, for the near-term, the prospect of breaching dams on the lower Snake will not be included in the planning process. But five years from now, when it is obliged to amend its program again, breaching could be addressed if there is a change in the "status" of the dams.

The draft appeared just a few weeks after federal fish authorities suggested that the Council's new program should address significant salmon mitigation to avoid the possibility of breaching lower Snake dams to recover ESA-listed salmon. More than 20 subbasins in the Council's plan are affected by federal efforts to recover stocks.

Performance Standards Being Analyzed

The draft BiOp released by NMFS at the end of July spelled out performance standards for fish survival through the hydro corridor and called for major habitat improvements to make up for fish lost to the dams, along with a strenuous monitoring and evaluation effort to gauge the benefits of different actions.

But at this point, BPA is not clear on just what NMFS expects from it. The agency has hired a handful of consultants to comb the BiOp and expects to hand the fish agency a significant number of questions before the opinion is finalized. The BiOp calls for as-yet-unspecified improvements in habitat and other Hs to make up for losses from the hydro system. The NMFS analysis says that passage improvements alone won't be enough to recover listed stocks in the Snake and upper Columbia rivers.

If planned improvements don't significantly boost listed stocks, then the feds would recommend breaching the dams. NMFS hydro operations chief Brian Brown told policymakers in early August that a basic off-site mitigation plan is scheduled for completion by Jan. 31, 2001.

Some point out that such a plan would be finished only a few days after a new President delivers his inaugural speech. If the Republicans carry the White House, they don't expect NMFS to be pushing draconian salmon recovery measures in the future. Rather, they expect the feds to place more emphasis on local, state and regional efforts to improve listed stocks.

The four Northwest governors already have said they want more involvement in the process, with emphasis on costs and benefits and more proof that some strategies pushed by feds, like flow augmentation, are biologically beneficial to listed stocks.

Lohn believes that planning efforts may be rather subdued until after the election, no matter who wins. At best, he expects the NMFS offsite plan to be a "vague, broad-brush, very general plan."

"And our plan is not the same as the governors'," Lohn pointed out. "But it does reflect some of their elements."

The Council draft says members will review proposed federal hydro operations "to determine their adequacy in meeting the broader mitigation obligations of the Power Act." The draft is up front about its support of a reliable energy supply for the Northwest while recovering fish and wildlife, another point driven home by last week's power emergency. In order to keep spilling water at dams to help the tail end of the fall chinook run, BPA was spending millions daily to purchase power from California.

Lohn said the NMFS BiOp isn't concerned about power system impacts. "We're getting closer and closer to the edge." Neither did NMFS have to deal with a balance between upriver and downriver interests, as the Power Council does, he added. Moreover, Lohn was concerned about the effectiveness of some of the measures spelled out in the draft BiOp--such as water issues, and whether water was better used to augment spring migrations or later in the summer.

It does look like NMFS supports the Council efforts at reforming hatcheries and developing a more scientifically grounded habitat effort. Lohn said Donna Darm, who heads the regional NMFS office of Protected Resources, is "pretty enthusiastic" about the changes that are outlined in the NWPPC's new draft program.

But the NMFS draft BiOp raises questions about the possibility of detrimental effects of hatchery fish on wild stocks. Over 40 percent of the current fish and wildlife budget is spent on hatchery activities.

Lohn said the new Council plan has "bright-line" language that calls for using hatcheries to boost fish runs in certain cases. Draft language says "artificially produced fish created for harvest should not be produced unless they can be effectively harvested in a fishery." The plan calls for each subbasin planning effort to identify possible opportunities for terminal fisheries and it asks that fish be marked to develop selective harvest techniques.

Potential fish and wildlife productivity at the subbasin level will be estimated by the EDT analysis [Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment] developed in the Framework Process, said Lohn. He said several scientists who were involved in the PATH process will examine the EDT method to test its validity and review the model's assumptions.

But the draft plan still recognizes key uncertainties in regard to some hydro operations and the value of transporting juvenile fish. The plan calls for regional biologists to meet on a regular basis as a starting point for targeting research to reduce those uncertainties.

The Council's new program also recognizes the importance of understanding ocean effects on salmon populations to help assess the value of "inland efforts." Without such knowledge, says the program language, "we may be tempted to confuse large returns with successful mitigation practices. Or, poor returns of adult fish may lead to abandonment of mitigation actions that are in fact highly beneficial unless we can recognize that the poor returns are in spite of, and not because of, these mitigation actions." - B. R.



Hydro representatives nixed a request earlier this month from fish managers to boost flows in the mainstem Columbia to spill more fish at McNary Dam. That argument was just the beginning a month-long series of power v. fish arguments brought about by hot temperatures and limited power generation throughout the West Coast.

The controversial strategy was sent to regional policymakers for resolution after Technical Management Team reps failed to reach consensus. Implementation Team policymakers OK'd the measure, judging that improved flows would help fish more, even though fewer fish might be barged as a result.

But BPA had the last word. Citing a Presidential Order that calls for federal agencies to take all possible measures to help California during its summer power crunch, BPA said any water left behind Coulee should be saved to provide more flexibility in coming weeks. That flexibility has now disappeared. After the region's lone nuke plant went down to almost half power on Aug. 14, BPA found itself buying power from California, rather than selling it.

Before the latest crisis, BPA representative Robyn MacKay was blunt. "We're going to commandeer the system until the end of the month," she said at the Aug. 10 meeting of fish and hydro managers. BPA said it was likely Southern California would be in another Stage 2 emergency by Aug. 14.

WDF&W representative Jim Neilsen was equally blunt. After a discussion about prioritizing emergency measures in a power crunch, he said WDF&W didn't support reducing spill "for any reason." It wasn't clear whether he spoke for the governor on that issue.

There was also discussion about the possibility of drafting Lake Roosevelt two feet below the BiOp-prescribed level of 1,280 feet by the end of August. But BuRec representative Kim Fodrea said her agency was not willing to draft the extra two feet. Basin tribes supported BuRec's position as well, along with Washington state.

West Coast Power Shortage

California's problems began last month, but they baked through the first week in August without actually declaring a major emergency. However, expectations early that week that such an alert would occur had repercussions in the Northwest, especially for BPA. The agency on Aug.1 issued a news release warning of the imminent emergency to the south and announcing BPA's intention to "do what it can to assist California in this emergency." That included potentially curtailing fish spill operations--which proved unnecessary, but prompted criticism nonetheless.

"BPA must do everything humanly possible to avoid further endangering imperiled salmon," Northwest Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton said in a news release. "California's power shortages will continue this summer, but forcing fish through deadly dam turbines is totally unnecessary."

As it turned out, no fish were forced anywhere; other than delaying night-time spill at John Day for an hour the evenings of Aug. 1 and Aug. 2, operations continued at close to normal. One power scheduler likened the one-hour delay to extending the month of July for a few more days. The spill regimen is 13 hours off/11 hours on in July, while it switches to 12 hours on/12 hours off in August, with spill usually starting about an hour before sundown.

BPA, with input from the Technical Management Team, prepared a prioritized list of 29 potential actions it could take to adjust operations of the Federal Columbia River Power System in the event of a "NW or SW system reliability event." The actions start with a regional plea for energy conservation, followed by voluntary load curtailment on the part of industrial users and rescheduling unit outages. BPA reportedly got to about number 10 on the list. Pulling fish screens was the very last of the 29 options.

Besides getting slammed by environmentalists, BPA also took heat from the Cal-ISO [Independent Service Provider] and some California utilities. Several sources told NW Fishletter the ISO was furious that BPA issued the news release warning of an impending Stage Three emergency, complaining that BPA's announcement affected market prices in California (the new lower price cap didn't take effect until Aug. 7).

The BPA sources said the agency had to issue the news release to comply with the NMFS BiOp for FCRPS operations. "If BPA wants to curtail spill, it must consult with NMFS and state fish agencies and do a news release," spokesman Perry Gruber indicated. "It's not a matter of publicity," he added. "The prioritized list includes a regional plea for energy conservation. What went out Tuesday was a revision of the regional plea."

Sources also indicated BPA had actually approached the California Energy Commission and the NW Power Planning Council about issuing a joint news release late the week prior--before the crisis developed, but after it had been quietly predicted. The CEC reportedly declined, while the NWPPC felt it wasn't the Council's role.

Fire At Grand Coulee

Further complicating the situation was an explosion at Grand Coulee Dam on Friday, July 28, which immediately tripped about 800 MW of energy off the system. The trip didn't affect system reliability, said WSCC operations specialist Steve Ashbaker, because other units at Coulee picked up the slack. But the damage has reduced Coulee's generating capacity by about 1200 MW, and estimates of the time needed for repairs varies from one week to a month.

The problem reportedly involved a breaker failure in the power house that includes the station generators, which provide the electricity that operates the facilities at Coulee. The failure caused a fire that injured one worker and tripped off nine of Coulee's 24 turbines. The fire damaged the 6.9 kV station service system and possibly some control wiring. Also out of commission as a result are six of the 12 pumps for Banks Lake, Coulee's reservoir.

The loss of generation at Coulee is a potential supply problem for the Northwest, but not for California. Coulee is located north of the John Day cutplane, a point of serious congestion on the region's transmission system. When congestion there is severe, generation at Coulee is reduced anyway and picked up at facilities farther south. At the same time, the demand California utilities place on the north end of the Southern Intertie at the California-Oregon Border limits transfer capability on the northern intertie into California.

Tables Turned Last Week

There was a sigh of relief at BPA last week, when the agency discovered that the power market was much deeper than it expected. Facing a daily shortfall in resources needed to meet Northwest loads of as much as 1500 MW for the rest of August, BPA went hunting for power early Monday morning and found it. "We were deeply concerned," said Greg Delwiche, vice president of generation supply. "We really didn't believe there would be enough [market power] out there."

The agency was so concerned that it considered curtailing spill, lowering already-depleted reservoirs and imposing rolling blackouts. Those draconian measures proved unnecessary, but the price was high. BPA paid as much as $250/MWh for the power it bought last week, although the average price was closer to $200/MWh. On Tuesday, August 22, Bonneville bought 1350 MW, paying an average price of $175/MWh.

"We are paying dearly," Paul Norman, senior vice president of the Power Business Line, said last week. And the agency will continue to pay, spending as much as $70 million to fulfill Northwest power needs during August. "We are not in a lights-out sort of emergency," said Norman. " It's an issue of simply having to buy an extremely large amount of power at extremely high prices to avoid changing river operations."

Endangered species mandates make it extremely difficult for Bonneville to seek changes in Columbia River hydro operations. The power shortfall convinced federal agencies to curtail spill at several Columbia River projects for a few hours Monday night (Aug. 21), but spill was back at Biological Opinion levels by Tuesday, where it will stay for the rest of the month.

Harm to fish was probably minimal from cutting spill 40 percent to 30 percent at The Dalles on the afternoon of Aug. 21 until early the next morning. Using the Fish Passage Center's smolt passage index and generally accepted survival rates for passage through turbines, bypass systems and spill, up to 70 juvenile fall chinook might have died from the reduction in spill over that 16-hour period. In adult equivalents, that adds up to less than one returning adult. During that time, BPA generated more than $850,000 in added power by routing more water through turbines. By Tuesday, there was enough surplus power available for BPA buy enough to boost spill and maintain the expensive fish-saving strategy that's called for in the current BiOp.

Other options for meeting the emergency are also difficult, if not impossible. Other reservoirs have little water to spare if recreational activities are to continue and kokanee are to survive.

The power shortfall has several causes besides the loss of power at the nuke plant, that will have to shut down completely for repairs, putting it out of commission for up to 12 days. But that won't happen until Bonneville gives the OK, probably not until September.

Hot weather melted the Canadian snowpack in early August. By mid-month, with the snowpack gone, Columbia River system streamflows were measuring only 80 percent of normal. The region also was hit by the loss of 1000 MW on Aug. 18, when wildfires shut down Montana's Colstrip transmission lines.

All these factors mean Bonneville will be out shopping for power the rest of this month and possibly longer, at a huge cost to the agency. If a heat wave hits California, the market could dry up, forcing further costly actions. BPA officials won't speculate on the financial impact of this roller coaster month, saying they'll reserve judgment until the fiscal year ends in September. Bonneville said it was able to sell power in early spring and again in July and early August, which could help balance the books. But the financial gains made earlier this summer could quickly disappear if conditions deteriorate.

"We can weather short-term situations," said BPA's Delwiche, "But if this persists through September and we have to buy the amount of energy we're buying now, we would likely be disappointed with our financial performance." -Jude Noland, Bill Rudolph, Lynn Francisco



EPA has told the Corps of Engineers that it still thinks its operation of the lower Snake River dams violates the Clean Water Act. In June, the Corps informed EPA it was doing the best it could, and that it would comply with applicable water quality standards "to the extent practicable in the operation of multiple purpose water resource projects." The two agencies have argued for some time over just how much the Corps can do to reduce water temperatures and dissolved gas in the lower Snake by changing operations at the four federal dams.

But the Corps' response wasn't good enough for acting regional EPA administrator Chuck Findley, who cited CWA legal language in a July 31 letter to the Corps' Northwestern Division Engineer, Brigadier General Carl Strock.

"The failure of federal agencies," said Findley, "to commit to work toward the attainment of water quality standards in the Columbia and Snake rivers seriously undermines EPA's, states' and tribes' efforts with other parties to secure the actions necessary to attain water quality standards throughout the Columbia River Basin. We continue to strongly urge that the Corps make a strong, unqualified commitment to identifying and implementing the measures necessary to reduce exceedences of water quality standards at Corps' facilities."

The CWA calls for maximum human-induced temperature effects not to exceed 20º C. (68º F.). The Corps claims water temperatures in that stretch of river have actually declined since the dams were built. EPA doesn't agree, citing results from a computer temperature model that it has developed over the past couple of years. Environmentalists have used the model in an ongoing lawsuit against the Corps over CWA compliance.

The EPA letter also said the Corps' draft EIS on future operations on the lower Snake needs "a complete discussion of proposed mitigation for those project impacts, as well as any new impacts produced from implementation of the final preferred alternative," along with an evaluation of present impacts and a discussion of mitigation measures.

Findley said any water quality plan being developed for the new hydro BiOp must be part of the Corps' revised draft EIS on the lower Snake.

The Corps disagrees with EPA's conclusions about temperature, said Doug Arndt, head of the Corps' Salmon Coordination Office. But he was optimistic that discussions would lead to the resolution of certain issues, although others will be "challenges, and some most likely will not be resolved."

As for stumbling blocks such as the temperatures issue, Arndt said policymakers would likely "boot them upward" for resolution at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The Corps has long maintained that hot water was a fact of life in that part of the country long before the dams were built. For now, its main strategy is to add cooler water from Idaho's Dworshak Reservoir to reduce temperatures at Lower Granite Dam, where Aug. 9 forebay temperatures reached 23.5º C. and 19.7º C in the tailrace.

Far upriver, in Hells Canyon near Anatone, water temperatures were 23.2º C. Below Lewiston, where cooler water from Dworshak enters the Snake from the Clearwater, the temperature was only about 13º C. But in the next 30 miles, it heated up again before reaching Lower Granite Dam. Temperatures throughout the mainstem were above CWA standards; Bonneville Dam recorded nearly 22º C. that same day.

Environmental groups filed more briefs at the end of July in their case against the Corps, citing previous documents and not specifying any particular remedy. Oregon District Court Judge Helen Frye had asked both sides for more evidence after she ruled in March that she needed more information.

EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund lawyer Kristen Boyles told NW Fishletter last April that if the Corps is found in violation, there are a number of things the agency could do to improve conditions, such as increasing water withdrawals from Idaho, modifying dams to reduce gas or building a step-by-step road to future compliance. But it is not up to the environmental groups to decide those kinds of things, she added.

The enviros' latest filing includes EPA's comments on the Corps' draft EIS, which mentions an appendix written by the USF&WS that recommends investigation of a water temperature control system at Brownlee Dam, and "if feasible, include water temperature control as a requirement for the dam's new license."

A recent analysis of flow augmentation, sponsored by Idaho Water Users, says that any water used to augment summer flows from the mainstem Snake is likely too hot and will do more harm than good to migrating fall chinook.

On the dissolved gas issue, Arndt implied that other regional dams are being let off the hook for CWA compliance. "Where were they [EPA] in the FERC EIS on the Mid-C's?" he asked.

The CWA mandates a dissolved gas standard of 110 percent, a benchmark that is purposefully exceeded nearly every spring when water is spilled to aid juvenile fish passage at dams throughout the basin.

Findley's letter said EPA was working with states and tribes to ensure that similar standards were developed for non-federal dams.

But Arndt pointed to NMFS language in the draft hydro BiOp that supports stringent spill measures at dam, citing evidence that dissolved gas supersaturation of 115 percent to 120 percent didn't harm salmonids. -B. R.



By August 24, 226 adult sockeye had
photo of stanley basin
Home plate for Idaho sockeye
Stanley Basin (with nearby fire as of Aug. 18)
returned to Redfish Lake, Idaho, signaling a big shot in the arm for the captive broodstock program that has tried to bring the fish back from the brink of extinction.

The returning fish are the product of more than 140,000 smolts that migrated out of Idaho in 1998. Some of those were planted as yearlings, while others were sub-yearlings planted a year earlier in lakes in Stanley Basin, about 900 miles from the ocean and 450 miles from the last dam the fish had to pass.

IDF&G biologist Paul Kline said most adults trapped at the weir below the lake will be released to spawn naturally in three nearby lakes. A dozen or so may be incorporated into the spawning effort at Eagle Hatchery. The recovery program is a cooperative effort among IDF&G, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, NMFS, and the University of Idaho. BPA spends nearly $5 million annually to fund the broodstock program, which began with 15 adults and used the frozen sperm from Lonesome Larry, the only sockeye that returned in 1992. -B. R.



The Seattle City Council voted unanimously last week to pass a resolution that supports breaching the four federal dams on the lower Snake River. Only a few weeks ago, federal authorities said the dams will stay for now, because it's possible ESA-listed runs may recover without breaching.

That didn't stop the Seattle City Council from voting to breach the dams, citing studies that show the region can maintain low electric rates after the dams are removed. The Council's resolution states that important agricultural and transportation benefits can be maintained or replaced as well. It also calls for accelerating development of renewable energy sources and conservation efforts.

The Council cited USF&W scientific studies that say dam removal is the best possible means to restore wild salmon in the Snake River. However, the group neglected to mention a recent NMFS analysis that shows dam breaching, by itself, is unlikely to recover the stocks.

The resolution gives a nod to improved returns this year, but doesn't give better ocean conditions much credit. "The high returns of salmon this year are welcome signs that full restoration and healing of endangered Northwest ecosystems is possible, but biologists throughout the region agree that the threat of extinction of Snake River salmon is still very real and imminent and that the recent high returns should not be taken as a sign that the salmon crisis has been resolved."

The resolution hasn't played well on the other side of the Cascades. Tri-Cities water consultant Darryll Olsen said he found the Council statement very divisive. "No one from eastern Washington would dream of telling west-siders what to do in their own backyard," Olsen said. -B. R.



An independent team of regional scientists has sent a letter to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and his state's legislature that outlines its findings from a hatchery supplementation workshop held in June. The workshop's main goal was to identify, clarify and compile the scientific basis on which conservation hatcheries and supplementation strategies may help accomplish the mission of the Oregon Plan, to recover wild runs.

First, the definition: hatchery supplementation, the authors said, "... is a strategy by which hatcheries are used to produce fish from wild stocks that are reintroduced into the natural environment to become naturally spawning 'wild fish.'"

NMFS researcher Robin Waples said that programs were evaluated according to how well they have accomplished a series of specific objectives.

"Major conclusions that emerge from a preliminary results of data for 19 salmon supplementation programs in northwestern North America: 1) Many supplementation programs have achieved a measure of success in the aspects of fish culture traditionally associated with salmon hatcheries (e.g., high egg-smolt survival; adult : adult replacement rates in excess of 1.0). 2) To date, however, little information is available about the performance of hatchery fish and their progeny in the natural environment. Therefore, the premise that hatchery supplementation can provide a net long-term benefit to a natural population is a hypothesis that has not yet been tested. This fact should be kept in mind in evaluating the appropriate use of supplementation programs."

Waples also presented information on risk analysis that should proceed development of supplementation hatcheries. "...Managers are often in the position of attempting to find the least disagreeable way of dealing with deleterious effects that were not anticipated when a supplementation program began. A variety of strategies can be used to minimize risks of supplementation, but most risks cannot be eliminated entirely. Furthermore, some risks are inversely correlated, such that efforts to reduce one risk simultaneously increase others."

Reg Reisenbichler, a long-time USGS researcher into hatchery and wild fish issues, said "...the fitness for natural spawning and rearing can be rapidly and substantially reduced by artificial propagation. This issue takes on great importance in the Pacific Northwest where supplementation of wild salmon populations with hatchery fish has been identified as an important tool for restoring these populations."

Speaking for the Columbia River tribes, CRITFC's Andre Talbot said, "The genetic diversity of hatchery stocks can be maintained, and their genetic impact on wild stocks minimized, by breeding programs that deliberately generate genetic diversity." Talbot is concerned that low survival rates for juvenile salmonids in the upper Columbia basin, including the Snake River, require a supplementation hatchery solution to increase the number of "wild" smolts.

Gary James of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation pointed out that hatchery supplementation for steelhead has been successful, but not as much as first believed. He recommended "adjusting the goals to more realistic return rates."

ODFW scientist Rich Carmichael, who has headed the research and evaluation program for the spring chinook hatchery supplementation program on the Imnaha River, using native broodstock, summarized his findings below: "Smolt-to-adult survival rates have generally been poor ranging from 0.05 to 0.58%. In our evaluation of the program we have found that:

  1. High prespawning mortality and egg loss influenced effectiveness significantly during early years of operation.
  2. Poor smolt-to-adult survival for most broodyears has limited success.
  3. We have observed differences in run-timing and age structure between hatchery and natural fish. Hatchery fish return a higher proportion of age 3 males and fewer age 5 fish. The run timing of hatchery fish has been later than natural fish in some years.
  4. We have not seen significant differences in genetic characteristics between natural and hatchery fish.
  5. Progeny-to-parent ratios for natural spawning fish have been consistently below replacement since the 1983 broodyear, while hatchery fish ratios have been well above replacement for most years.

"We have not seen a consistent increase in the number of naturally produced fish that return to the basin. Modeling results indicate that the combined total population of natural and hatchery fish and the number of natural spawners (combined natural and hatchery) is greater than the natural population would be had we not initiated the hatchery program.

"If hydro system survival improvements are not achieved," concluded Carmichael, "natural productivity will remain low and we will be unable to meet any long-term conservation management objectives."

Idaho Fish And Game biologist Peter Hassemer summarized findings of his state's hatchery supplementation study. "Increasing natural production through supplementation can only be realized if natural production is limited by low adult escapement and the mortality factor that caused the population to decline is removed. Without improvement in smolt-to-adult survival, salmon and steelhead populations in Idaho are expected to further decline."

Three Big Questions

The invited scientists formed working groups around three questions. The first group was asked: Under what conditions should supplementation be used in the recovery of wild salmonids? The second group dealt with appropriate methods and strategies. The third group grappled with how the effects of supplementation should be evaluated.

Work group one adopted the Regional Assessment of Supplementation Projects definition of hatchery supplementation: "Supplementation is the attempt to use artificial propagation to maintain or increase natural production while maintaining the long-term fitness of the target population, and while keeping the ecological and genetic impacts on target populations within specified biological limits." (RASP 1992).

The group "emphasized that because of the uncertainty in the outcome of recovery actions, a diversity of recovery strategies, in addition to supplementation, should be used in order to 'spread the risk' of relying only on supplementation or on only one or two methods. Attempts should be made to minimize uncertainties. Finally, monitoring and evaluation are very important in assessing the outcome of any implemented recovery or supplementation strategies."

The second group concluded that "supplementation activities are context specific. Goals, objectives, and implementation strategies must be set on a case-by-case basis. Identifying the limiting life history stage in the target population is key to understanding the current problem and producing a successful supplementation effort. Another key to planning a successful supplementation program is to ensure a balance of costs and benefits for the target populations, for the ecosystem, and for other factors. Current research programs and published literature may provide a starting point for how (or how not to) meet supplementation objectives. When beginning a program, specific strategies can be developed only after program goals and desired endpoints are established."

The third working group concluded that: "The evaluation of hatchery supplementation programs is a biologically, statistically, and logistically complex problem. Given the difficulty of determining fish ancestry once supplementation has begun, assessing the genetic effects of combining hatchery and wild populations (e.g. selection or drift) will be challenging. Moreover, the effects of supplementation on salmonid populations will be extremely difficult to separate from those of habitat manipulation, climate variation, and various management practices, such as harvest. These other factors can potentially overwhelm an otherwise successful supplementation program rendering it ineffective. Distinguishing natural random variation from actual management effects is made more difficult by the complexity of the system."

The groups placed emphasis on maintaining genetic and life history diversity of the target populations for supplementation and the importance of setting measurable objectives and investing in monitoring and evaluation. Hatchery supplementation should be treated as an experimental recovery tool for wild, native salmonids due to the uniqueness of each population, extensive risks and a high level of uncertainty. - Bill Bakke



It took nearly five years of study and negotiation, but Tacoma Power says an agreement forged with Indian tribes, environmentalists, federal and state fish agencies and sports fishers may ease the utility's effort to relicense its 462-MW Cowlitz River Project. The $60-million strategy calls for habitat and hatchery improvements, as well as minimum flows, all to benefit several runs of salmon and steelhead. The scheme also offers recreational enhancements on the river and promises a cultural resources plan to preserve Native American elements of the Cowlitz.

"This agreement is good for the salmon, good for the environment, good for our customers and good for everyone who enjoys the outstanding recreation at the Cowlitz River Project," said TP superintendent Steve Klein.

Tacoma Power ratepayers will foot the bill for the salmon plan, although TP says no Cowlitz-related rate increase is planned for the 2001 through 2002 biennium. Instead, the cost will be spread out over the life of the new license, according to Pat McGarty, Tacoma Power's generation manager.

The proposal is designed to please FERC, which will receive the 60-page agreement later this month. In a move to speed up the process, TP is offering FERC draft license articles, written with the help of a FERC attorney. The pressure is on the utility, since its Cowlitz license expires in 2001. TP is seeking a 40-year license for the project, which was originally licensed in 1951.

The lengthy agreement includes something for everyone. The utility promises to form a fisheries technical committee, with members representing fisheries agencies, environmental groups and tribes. The group will write a fisheries and hatchery management plan, a fisheries disease management plan, a hatchery remodel plan, as well as a plan for oversight. McGarty said the utility wants the plans in place so that construction can begin as soon as the license is issued.

Until now, Tacoma Power has collected and trucked salmon around the Mayfield and Mossyrock dams. The plan calls for new passage facilities at Mayfield, which is downriver from Mossyrock. Fish will likely continue to be transported around Mossyrock.

The focus of the agreement is the promised changes in habitat and hatchery management, designed to benefit runs of spring and fall chinook, as well as coho and steelhead above the two dams. Tacoma Power has promised to spend $3 million to acquire spawning and rearing habitat on the river. It also plans to extensively remodel the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery and the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery and will build three smaller rearing facilities in the Cowlitz basin.

American Rivers Signs On

The new protected habitat and the hatchery changes are what convinced American Rivers to sign on to the agreement, according to conservation director Rob Masonis.

"There are major gains for salmon and steelhead in this agreement," said Masonis. "Reintroducing 200 miles of habitat is probably the most important. But also the commitment to revamp the antiquated hatchery system--to focus on restoring wild runs, not just to produce more pounds (of fish)--that's a major achievement," he added.

Sports fishers also won concessions in the production of hatchery fish to support a popular fishery on the river. But McGarty said the hatchery production will not be at the expense of wild fish. "The primary objective of this plan is to restore natural runs above the dams," he said.

The Endangered Species Act mandates also drove this agreement, which has received the endorsement of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Washington Department of Ecology, Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation have signed the agreement, as has the Yakama Indian Nation and the Washington Council of Trout Unlimited. The US Forest Service, Lewis County and BPA all participated in the negotiations and are expected to sign in the next few days.

The Cowlitz project is Tacoma Power's largest hydro facility. Mayfield Dam began generating power in 1963; Mossyrock in 1968. -Lynn Francisco



Montana Power's only remaining hydro project is on track to become the subject of a new lawsuit. FERC in June granted the IOU [Investor Owned Utility] a two-year license extension for its 3.2 MW Milltown project. But in a July letter that cites the commission's failure to account for the project's impacts on ESA-listed bull trout, environmental groups--the Clark Fork Coalition, Trout Unlimited, and TU's Westslope Chapter--filed 60-day notice of their intent to sue FERC for failure to comply with Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.

"We want to preserve our option to file suit," Matt Clifford, Clark Fork Coalition's staff attorney and conservation director, told NW Fishletter. "Whether we ultimately do that will depend on what FERC does" during the 60-day window. At the moment, the commission has on its desk requests for rehearing and/or reconsideration of the license extension from parties including the enviro groups and the Department of Interior. They claim FERC erred in approving the extension without first consulting with US Fish & Wildlife Service, despite USFWS' explicit request for Section 7 ESA consultation.

FERC on Aug. 8 issued a one-paragraph order, granting rehearing of the Milltown extension "for further consideration." But the order fails to take on the elements of the parties' claims. "FERC has a rule that says if you move for rehearing and don't hear back from them in 30 days, it's considered denied," Clifford explained. The 30 days would have expired two weeks ago, "but FERC doesn't want that to happen, because it appears they want more time to think about it," he said.

The Milltown project, consisting of a dam, powerhouse and small reservoir, is part of the nation's largest Superfund cleanup site--a 120-mile stretch of the Clark Fork River contaminated with arsenic, copper, zinc and other heavy metals from defunct mining operations. The project's reservoir holds an estimated 6.6 million cubic yards of contaminated silt and in 1983 was added to the EPA's National Priorities List under the Superfund law.

Montana Power's license for the project, granted in 1968, was originally set to expire in December 1993. But because the EPA had not yet specified a clean-up strategy--which would impact MPC's decision on whether to relicense or surrender the project--the company filed for license extensions twice during the early 1990s, both of which the commission granted.

Still Waiting for EPA Cleanup Decision

Because EPA has yet to decide on a Milltown remedy--which could range from capping and leaving the sediments in place to removing both the sediments and dam--MPC on Dec. 28, 1999, filed for another two-year license extension, pushing the termination date out until December 2006. At last report, EPA was scheduled to release a draft "focused feasibility study" on the site this December, with a decision on final remedy sometime next year. The latest Milltown license extension would give MPC until December 2001 to officially declare its intentions for the project.

While the company's two previous applications to move the deadline went unchallenged, parties including environmental groups, EPA, Dept. of Interior, City of Missoula and numerous individuals opposed MPC's latest filing. They cited circumstances that have changed since the last extension: the fact Milltown's classification for hazard potential has been switched from "low" to "significant"; and especially, USF&WS' June 1998 ESA listing of bull trout that are found near the project.

"Extending the existing license again is crazy because in the meantime things are getting pointedly worse for the bull trout," Clifford said. Fisheries studies have indicated the dam blocks migration of the threatened fish. And, in addition, Clifford pointed to "a new, developing problem"--the project's reservoir is home to a thriving population of northern pike, which prey on bull trout juveniles.

Parties opposing the extension suggested FERC should work with EPA and USF&WS to conduct studies and analyses needed, in FERC's words, to "effectuate termination of the license and decommissioning of the project, so that EPA, in fashioning its clean-up remedy, and FWS, in addressing the threatened bull trout, will know whether or not the commission will require Montana Power to remove the project dam." But the commission rejected their requests, instead issuing an order June 16 granting the IOU its license extension.

FERC said a surrender proceeding would best be coordinated with the other agencies after EPA has chosen a specific Milltown remedy. It also labeled "beyond the scope of this proceeding" Interior's request for studies of fish passage, dam and sediment removal and other F&W restoration and enhancements before the license extension was granted.

From MPC's perspective, "this is part of the process, and we respect individuals' rights to participate in that," spokesman Cort Freeman said of the Milltown proceeding. He said Montana Power's long-term strategy is to surrender or transfer the license. "But surrendering the license does not necessarily mean dam removal," Freeman pointed out.

Earlier this spring, MPC and Arco (which is liable for part of the cleanup due to a previous merger with the Anaconda Copper Co.) announced they had reached an agreement to establish a multi-million-dollar trust fund for Milltown's long-term operations and maintenance. The companies said they would jointly advocate a "dam-in-place and sediments-in-place" Superfund remedy and that they would be "amenable to the possibility" of transferring the dam to a third party that would be entrusted with continuing the project's oversight along with local organizations and county and state authorities.

Milltown is also part of the energy businesses MPC is currently in the process of selling, and CEO Bob Gannon has said the eventual buyer will be expected to assume ownership of the project. -Angela Becker-Dippman


The uncertainty hanging over Tacoma's 124-MW Cushman hydro project continued last week when NMFS told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission it intends to proceed with formal consultations under the Endangered Species Act to deal with two recent salmon listings, even though FERC has now said its request for formal consultations "was in error." Meantime, most parties in the DC Court of Appeals litigation over the July 1998 relicense FERC granted Tacoma have opposed the muni's request to hold the multiple appeals in abeyance pending resolution of the ESA issues.

NMFS told FERC the ESA requires formal consultation if NMFS does not concur with FERC's decision that the relicense "may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect" listed species. It went on to explain why it did not concur, and said it would proceed with a two-month process to develop a biological opinion, which will also consider operations under the now-stayed license.

That letter came less than two weeks after FERC wrote NMFS to say that its June 9 request for a formal consultation "was in error." FERC's more recent letter restated the commission's opinion that, "as licensed with our recommended measures," Cushman would not adversely affect the species, and asked NMFS to "let us know if you have any comments" on the finding, which FERC made as part of a biological assessment.

In a recent Appeals Court filing, FERC maintains that it "is not requesting formal consultation," but only NMFS' concurrence with its determination. Consequently, "formal consultation, whereby NMFS could recommend measures that the commission could include in the Cushman license, has not, in fact, begun."

But that's not how NMFS sees it. NMFS attorney Brett Joseph said that "under the regulations," if FERC makes a "not likely to adversely affect" finding, "they still have to proceed with formal consultation unless we agree with that finding."

Groundwork for the latest snarl in the Cushman relicense story was laid by NMFS' timing in listing two more salmon species as threatened under the ESA. NMFS proposed the listings only a couple months before FERC finally issued Cushman's relicense in July 1998. FERC, under pressure to issue the license after a 24-year proceeding, rejected the notion that it had to open a consultation. It noted the listings had not yet taken effect and that, in any case, the license included a reservation of authority for FERC to make changes if necessary after informal consultations. It issued the relicense but took no action on consultation until this June--nearly two years later--and nine months after NMFS finalized the salmon listings in March 1999.

In May 1999, FERC issued an order staying the new license pending the litigation. It dismissed NMFS' and other federal agencies' complaint that it did not start formal consultations before issuing the license by saying the timing of the listing process was not sufficient to justify "an indefinite postponement of rehearing and judicial review..."

FERC "Throws Wrench" Into Appeal Process

Tacoma Power attorney Mike Swiger said the FERC letter asking for formal consultation "took people by surprise, as it took a long time" and the relicense was already in the Court of Appeals. "Nothing had happened at FERC for so long that we thought they had decided to shelve it. So it was not unexpected, but it certainly threw a wrench into the court appeal."

It was also confusing because, in his view, when an "action agency" makes a "not likely to adversely affect" determination under the ESA, "there is no need for a biological opinion," Swiger said.

"It's really a screwy situation," he added. "And from Tacoma's point of view, it's not a desirable situation, because the license we're litigating at the Court of Appeals could potentially change. So even if Tacoma were to win in court, it would be a hollow victory." That's why Tacoma moved to put the litigation in abeyance, he said.

But in recent days, most parties in the slew of challenges and ancillary litigation that followed the relicense have opposed the motion for abeyance--among them FERC, the Skokomish Tribe, environmental groups, federal agencies (EPA, Interior, NMFS) and the State of Washington. More importantly, some parties, including the federal agencies and the tribe, have filed counter-motions asking the court to remand the matter to FERC. FERC says it opposes remand.

Joan Marchioro, assistant attorney general for Washington, said the state supports remand. "If in the consultation the federal agency comes up with additional conditions for the license under the ESA, it would be more appropriate to remand to FERC and send a neat package back up to the Court of Appeals," rather than handling separate issues piecemeal. But she said it was hard to say which option would take longer.

American Rivers opposed the abeyance motion, but did not seek remand. The issues are ripe now, said the group's Rob Masonis. "They need to keep it moving. This proceeding has lasted far too long already and we need to get relief for the fish and wildlife in the Skokomish River." He said Tacoma's move was simply "another instance of an attempt to delay resolution. Clearly the status quo works for Tacoma Power in that it allows them to operate under an annual license without having to implement any of the mitigation measures."

Mason Morisset, attorney for the Skokomish, said the case should be remanded and FERC should "start with a new license rather than just take a recess [from litigation], do something minimal and go back." He said FERC "may be constrained in what it can do if it's still on appeal versus" having it remanded. 'Clearly the status quo works for Tacoma Power in that it allows them to operate under an annual license without having to implement any of the mitigation measures.'

"We believe remand is the appropriate remedy to correct the error FERC made in not initiating consultation on the license itself and delaying for a year after staying the operation of the license articles," added NMFS attorney Joseph. "If the current proceedings before the court are in abeyance pending consultation, the outcome may be helpful to Tacoma ...but it doesn't allow for FERC to reassess its license decision based on our biological opinion."

Moreover, if the case is allowed to proceed, there is some chance the court will ultimately remand it to FERC anyway, according to Joseph. "So the quick answer to why remand is appropriate now, is [that] it allows issues to be addressed sooner rather than later."

Meanwhile, the relicense litigation itself has also become a slow and unwieldy proceeding. Some 36 parties are represented by 17 attorneys. Since Tacoma filed its original petition for review in April 1999, the docket summary alone has swelled to 25 pages recording over 130 filings, motions and orders.

Not even a format for briefing has been approved. Instead, the parties have argued about whether to transfer the case to the 9th Circuit (denied), as well as Tacoma's motions to stay the relicense (withdrawn) and dismiss some appeals. There have been federal motions to lift portions of the stay pending appeal (denied but a petition for rehearing en banc pending), as well as haggling over the record and a fight about whether to allow the Skokomish to amend their petition (referred to a merits panel). -Ben Tansey


Fall Chinook have been returning to the Columbia River in good numbers. Some runs like the upriver brights from Hanford Reach are expected to be the best in over 10 years. Fish managers estimate (to the river mouth) a Hanford run of more than 200,000 fish, with another 100,000 for the lower river, along with 1,764 wild fall chinook destined for the Snake River.

More than 63,000 fall chinook have been counted at Bonneville Dam. The run may be early; in any case, it's tracking about twice the 10-year average, with jacks showing about three times their 10-year average.

Managers closed the popular Buoy 10 recreational fishery for chinook in the lower estuary on Aug. 28 because anglers were expected to take their 9,000 chinook quota by then. But fishermen will still be going after hatchery coho; more than 450,000 are projected to return to the river this year. Commercial fishermen caught about 5,500 chinook in two openings. Effort was high with about 60 boats taking part.

The Columbia will stay open for more chinook fishing further upstream for both recreational and tribal fishermen. Tribes begin on Aug.30 and will fish until Sept. 2, then be allowed another opening Sept. 5-9.

NMFS announced last week it was withdrawing its "no jeopardy" decision on the Corps of Engineers' proposal to dredge another three feet from the bottom of the Columbia River shipping channel. The agency said it needs to evaluate new information on shallow water habitats and sub-lethal effects of contaminants on salmon before it OKs the $196 million project. Dredging the channel would allow newer-generation ships into Portland, a proposal heavily supported by shipping interests. The Corps also promised to restore 5,000 acres of the estuary as part of the deal that NMFS OK'd last December.

The fish agency hoped that estuary studies would begin this year, but the two federal entities have not reached consensus on the details.In an Aug. 24 letter to the Corps, NMFS acting administrator Donna Darm said a report is expected later this month that will look at the habitat issues.

"Because these shallow-water habitats play a key role in the estuary's ability to support fish," wrote Darm, "this new information underscores the need to be sure that we understand the probable effects of the Project, and to ensure that the conservation measures provided in the biological opinion are appropriate."

Next month, the US Senate will hold an oversight hearing on the Columbia River draft hydro BiOp. Originally scheduled for July 19, the hearing was scrubbed so senators could vote on unrelated legislation. The Water and Power Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will now meet Sept. 12 at 2:30 p.m. in Washington DC.

With the huge draft BiOp now available, the tenor of the hearing may change from more speculative questions to examination of the new strategies and goals proposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Todd Ungerecht, staffer to Sen. Slade Gorton, (R-WA) said he wasn't sure if the original witness list could be maintained. He said another new element in the hearing will be important questions about the reliability of the regional power system that have surfaced on the West Coast over the past month.

In July, five individuals were scheduled to speak, George Frampton, Acting Chair, Council on Environmental Quality; William Stelle, Northwest Regional Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service; Judith Johansen, Administrator, Bonneville Power Administration; Brigadier General Carl Strock, Division Engineer, Northwestern Division, Army Corps of Engineers; and Bill Shake, Special Assistant to the Regional Director, Columbia River Basin Issues, Fish and Wildlife and Parks.

When the draft BiOp was released last month, Subcommittee chair Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) said he "would like to think that this is the conclusion of a long battle. I fear, however, that it may only be the beginning of another protracted and divisive process. I hope that all parties will come together to do what is best for the region and the environment by saving salmon in a way that will preserve our region's economy and culture."

The draft BiOp calls for big improvements in salmon habitat to make up for negative impacts of the hydro system and a controversial schedule to track progress in salmon recovery. If not enough progress is made in other areas, then the BiOp would call for breaching the dams in eight or 10 years.

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