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[1] Fish Managers Fear Power Needs Will Short Salmon
[2] Power Council Adds Up BPA Fish And Wildlife Costs
[3] NMFS Watershed Workshop Plays To Sellout Crowd
[4] BPA Clarifies Position On BiOp Funding
[5] BPA Rate Increase Still Out Of Control
[6] 'Shared Strategy' For Puget Sound Meets Again
[7] Interim ODFW Director Named

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Idaho fish managers are none too happy about losing Dworshak Reservoir water that's normally saved for augmenting spring flows to aid fish migration. But with its options limited and Grand Coulee already tapped out, BPA called a power system emergency Jan. 18 to free up more water for power generation. First, the agency used Coulee to help bail out the West Coast. Then, on Jan. 22, BPA bumped flows from Dworshak--on Idaho's Clearwater River, a tributary of the Snake that comes in above Lower Granite--to 6,000 cfs from a normal 1,300 cfs for this time of year, creating more water the nine federal dams could use to generate power.

IDF&G manager Steve Pettit took issue with the emergency declaration. He called it a "non-emergency power concern" because the federal agency boosted flows to avoid buying the spendy spot market power that cost BPA over $50 million the previous week.

"They're trading economics for fish, as far as I'm concerned," Pettit said last week. The drafting meant Dworshak was losing a foot of elevation every day, he added.

Hydro managers planned to draft Dworshak for a week and look at conditions after that to see if the strategy is still warranted. Cindy Henriksen, head of the Corps' Reservoir Control Office, said Canadians were releasing a normal amount of water through the system, but the earlier draft of Coulee had left it at about 1245 feet, some 20 feet below normal for this time of year and about 40 feet below the flood control elevation for a normal water supply forecast. "But what's normal, anymore?" Henriksen quipped. It was down to 1241.5 feet by Jan. 31.

Since flows at Bonneville dam are still around 130 kfcs, they are helping keep ESA-listed chum redds covered, said Paul Wagner, senior operations biologist for NMFS' Portland office. The system is still operating outside the BiOp, which would restrain use of reservoir water now, saving it for spring flow augmentation. "The chum are not the drivers, but this is a minimum to protect them," he said, noting flows at Libby had also been stepped up.

With the water supply in the Clearwater Basin about 73 percent of normal, Wagner said it's not likely that Dworshak will re-fill this spring to BiOp-mandated levels. But Coulee may not refill either, which could leave managers with a big policy question about migrating fish.

Since the BiOp calls for a policy to maximize fish transportation if spring flows at Lower Granite are estimated at less than 85 kcfs, spill might end at dams, where fish are collected in order to capture as many as possible for barging downstream. It also opens the door to the possibility of barging fish from McNary in the spring if mainstem flows are low. Idaho doesn't like the idea of maximizing transport unless spring flows at Granite are estimated in the 50 kcfs to 60 kcfs range, said IDF&G's Pettit. He said his agency thinks flows below 85 kcfs are more beneficial to in-river migrating chinook and steelhead than NMFS does.

If spring flows are estimated to be low and the federal family decides to support a maximum transport strategy, Pettit said Idaho will recommend suspending NMFS barging studies for the year, because without spill, there will be no true control fish for the study--i.e. fish that do not pass dams via bypass systems. His agency will make the call in early spring, after the April water forecast is announced.

But the study may continue whether Idaho wants it or not. Wagner said NMFS will likely have to begin tagging fish for the study before Idaho fish managers come up with any recommendations.

"This operation is being done with great reluctance," said Doug Arndt of the Corps' Pacific Salmon Coordination Office. He said there are two things guiding the current state of affairs--the weather and power needs both in and outside of the Northwest--and it's a dynamic situation.

"A lot of people are waiting for the rain to bail us out," said Arndt, "but if we don't have a big change by mid-February, we'll have to start talking contingencies like maximized transportation and the possibility of barging spring fish from McNary." He shared Idaho's concerns over current operations, but said it's time to start discussions about spring strategies if flows will be low and reservoirs unfilled.

Meanwhile, UW climate researcher Nate Mantua said "nobody has a clue" as to why the jet stream has split, allowing most precipitation to track north of the region. Mantua noted that fellow UW scientist Cliff Maas said this winter is actually not that unusual. He said water levels this low are a one-in-ten-year event, pointing out that the region faced similar conditions in the winters of 1976-77 and 1993-94.-Bill Rudolph


An accounting of BPA's fish and wildlife costs--requested by Northwest governors in 1999--has been completed. The total spent so far is approaching $4 billion, according to the NWPPC's draft document on the subject, released at the Council's Jan. 17 meeting.

Beginning in 1978, when BPA spent $800,000 on F&W projects, the annual budget grew, largely out of ESA concerns, to a whopping $400 million in 1995. Over the next four years the agency spent another $1 billion, with the grand total (through 1999) amounting to about $3.48 billion.

Council staff broke the costs down in several ways. The agency's foregone revenues for operating the system to aid fish, along with power purchases to meet load requirements because of system constraints, added up to nearly $1.4 billion for the 1978-1999 period.

BPA spent $811 million on direct program expenditures (research, monitoring, habitat projects, land acquisition). Capital investment costs that included paying off Treasury loans spent to modify dams, build hatcheries and fish barges totaled $803 million; $503 million went to reimbursable expenses--operation and maintenance costs for capital projects.

Some of the direct program costs from 1978-1999 included over $200 million for research and evaluation, $163 million for hatcheries and $138 million for enhancement and restoration. Controversial programs like predation reduction (squawfish) cost BPA over $50 million--about twice what was spent on captive broodstock programs.

State and federal agencies were prime recipients of the spending as well. NMFS has received over $70 million, USF&WS another $53 million, BuRec $40 million and the Army Corps $26 million, while state agencies like ODF&W were paid more than $120 million over the years. Idaho's Fish and Game Department received more than $70 million, while Washington state fish folks received $53 million.

Over the years, Northwest tribes received $207 million in BPA contracts, with the Yakama Tribe coming out on top, with more than $43 million. The Nez Perce received about $36 million, the Umatillas $27 million and the Colvilles $22 million. The Columbia Fish and Wildlife Foundation received over $8 million, while the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission was given about $7.6 million. As a prime contractor, the Pacific States Marine Fish Commission received close to $100 million in contracts. -B. R.


NMFS' Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle hosted an open house last week to showcase work by one of its newest groups--the agency's research watershed program. The day-long gathering featured 18 presentations on topics that ranged from studies on nutrients from fish carcasses and other aspects of habitat, to model development, riparian studies and restoration efforts in both small streams and large rivers. The venue proved so popular that the review played to a second-day audience as well.

In opening remarks, acting manager Phil Roni explained the program's overall objectives--to develop linkages between salmon production and habitat characteristics; to quantify effects of human disturbance and natural processes on salmonids and their habitat; and to develop and determine the effectiveness of habitat restoration strategies.

Three years ago, one lone scientist made up the watershed program. Today 14 individuals are part of the regional research group studying freshwater conditions for salmon and steelhead, which says something about the new-found importance of research in guiding ESA policy decisions on salmon recovery. But by the end of the session, some participants griped about the lack of context for the group's effort and pointed to a need for a better understanding of the goals for the quantitative research.

Roni said later that a draft research plan is in the works. "This is a good team of young scientists," he said, "and you're going to see some great work out of this group." He noted that some of the research underway predates the agency's recovery effort and pointed out that the watershed program will also help in other areas where more information is needed to develop habitat conservation plans, along with ESA section 7 and section 10 consultations.

Salmon recovery efforts are underway in several watersheds, but even in places like Puget Sound, where a technical recovery team has begun work, analysis has barely begun to pinpoint factors that limit fish recovery.

No recovery team has yet been assembled to work on Snake River salmon, some of which were listed nine years ago. But initial groundwork to study the nutrient base in some streams has begun. Researchers at the open house reported that baseline studies have started in the Middle Fork of Idaho's Salmon River, but it could be several years before pasteurized salmonid blocks or carcasses could be dumped into Idaho streams to boost productivity. Why so long?

The scientists warned, in some cases, adding fertilizers or carcasses may not work because of other conditions that limit productivity even more severely, like lack of light, degraded habitat, or a weak food web structure.

For example, salmon productivity could be simply limited by the kinds of trees growing along streams. Biologists have found that streams lined with alder, whose leaves fall annually, have a nutrient base nine times higher than streams in coniferous environments. In other situations, more species along a stream could actually indicate that less nutrients are available than other places with less biological diversity.

In matters of water, NMFS scientist George Pess pointed out that peak flows tend to improve biological processes in both floodplains and upper reaches; the lower stretches get nutrient boosts from sediment, whereas more wood falls into upper reaches to help form pools, riffles and add decaying material.

But such flood events can actually do more harm than good, Pess said, if they occur more than once every 15 or so years. Sediment loading gets to be a problem when floods occur more often that that. "These events are needed," Pess said, "but could be a constraint on production."

In other regions, more natural dams constructed by beavers could improve coho production, said the Science Center's Tim Beechie. "We need to get the beaver back, to get the coho back."

Other research has found that young salmon, which normally move downstream more often at night, would migrate more during daylight hours if water is more turbid or flow increased, reported Ashley Steel. The research included radio telemetry studies in free-flowing stretches of the Snake and a 1998 study that looked at wild chinook in the Skagit. She said water temperature had no detectable effect on fish movements at the scale they were studied. The results showed that land and water management actions may impact migratory habitat, Steel pointed out.

Researchers reported on the progress in developing models to assess productive potential--one for coho in Oregon coastal streams and another called SWAM [Salmon Watershed Analysis Model] that is trying to correlate spawning areas with certain habitat conditions to eventually determine areas where critical recovery efforts should be focused.

Other work is underway, sometimes in conjunction with other agencies, to study estuaries, benefits of riparian restoration efforts and the functions of various buffer widths in forested areas. -B. R.


BPA's Dan Daley told NW Fishletter last week that his agency wants to make sure that the BiOp spending caps he referred to at this month's IT meeting (see Fishletter 116) are not a focal point for BPA policy, as he may have emphasized them too much.

"Our focus is not on cost caps," said Daley. "In fact, we and the other action agencies are working closely with NMFS to ensure that we're operating consistent with the Biological Opinion, and we're preparing to implement the goals of the Biological Opinion, including covering our share of the dam configuration costs and off-site mitigation costs.

"Our rate case is set up to cover a pretty wide range of costs, including what we think will result from our BiOp implementation. However, we are seeing amazing power prices right now that have significant financial impacts, including a possible large rate increase. Energy prices, market conditions and projected run-off volumes are all of concern this year, but we're working our way through this situation in light of Bonneville's commitment to recover salmon and steelhead stocks."

Daley said the BiOp gives action agencies an ESA obligation that will be met by following one- and five-year implementation plans that incorporate priorities developed by regional planning processes and "an assessment of the feasibility of those priorities by the action agencies."

This prioritization effort will address the vagaries of nature and the market, said Daley, along with the amount of funding provided by Congress. "While Bonneville is concerned about the current power situation, we do not anticipate, at this time, having to fall back on spending caps. These caps were merely a matter of speculation on my part." -B. R.


BPA acting administrator Steve Wright told customers and other interested parties last week the agency "could be heading toward an average wholesale power rate increase" averaging 63 percent over the next five years. The increase would be higher the first two years and lower in the last three due to "backwardization" or the "upside-down" nature of the current market, he said, in which shorter-term prices are higher than quotes for longer-term power. According to a chart BPA provided, the increase in each of the first two years would be well over 90 percent above the rate announced in May (before the rate case was reopened); nearly 60 percent in 2004 and about 35 percent in 2005 and 2006.

The figures are based on BPA's expectation that it will need revenues averaging about $1.3 billion more than the estimates of last May. Even with these kinds of increases, BPA's rates "will still be well below market rates," Wright emphasized in his letter to customers. "But even so, it is extremely disheartening to provide this report to you on the current state of regional affairs. There is no doubt about the hardship such a rate increase would create in the Pacific Northwest."

Wright stressed the final amount of the increase has not yet been set and mitigation measures are being explored. "It is possible that solutions will be found that significantly reduce the size of the rate increase."

The letter was released last Thursday, the same day BPA and its customers were scheduled to reconvene in Portland to try to reach a settlement on the rate increase. Customers, who had offered to accept a 30 percent increase heard an outline of the BPA proposal last Monday and caucused Wednesday. The Thursday session with BPA was to take place only "if [the customers] were ready," said Terry Mundorf, attorney for the Western Public Agency Group.

"I've never seen the customers so anxious to come to accommodation," said a source who attended the negotiation. "Both sides realize Bonneville is in deep trouble" due to the lack of snow and other factors.

Even so, the week ended without a resolution. But during the meeting Thursday--prior to release of Wright's letter--customers presented BPA with a proposal for a semi-annual power cost adjustment mechanism to true up BPA's augmentation costs. The PCA would mean sacrificing the rate certainty customers crave, but "I think this is the best approach," said John Saven of the Northwest Requirements Utilities. He said BPA reacted positively and was slated to give a fuller reaction at a meeting with customers early this week.

Meantime, IOU and public agency customers reportedly agreed to meet this Tuesday to review joint testimony, due Feb. 3 in the absence of a settlement. BPA's response would be due Feb. 8 and rebuttals March 14.

Tacoma Power superintendent Steve Klein said that when he heard BPA's new numbers, he thought about the "pain and anguish" the muni has already endured by implementing a 50 percent surcharge (75 percent for industrial customers) in December and the hope it would only be for a few months. "To have this come on the heels of that is just going to be"--he paused for fully ten seconds-"almost too much to ask from customers."

As for BPA, it has already drawn on its financial reserves this winter, Wright noted in his letter, "and much of the winter problem may still be ahead of us." BPA started out the fiscal year with $810 million in reserves and expects to end January with $700 million. But that figure does not represent substantial recent transactions that have not yet been recorded and other credits and debits down the road, such as net billing payments or possible surplus sales.

Another important question, according to BPA VP and CFO Jim Curtis, is "how do we get through a year with high prices and little water honoring all our commitments, paying Treasury and have carryover to next year?" BPA is studying that now, he said. The answer is "probabilistic. It depends on where prices go, how much water we use and during what periods. We think there are ways to get through the year with help from nature and the river system that leave us not as comfortable as last year, but still healthy."

Under the May rate case, BPA hoped to end this year with $850 million in reserves; under the amended rate case that figure went up to $950 million. BPA is still working on a revised projection that Curtis said "depends on weather and water," but is likely to fall within a range of one-third to one-half the $950 million figure. Presently, he said, "my objective is to manage so we have no less than $300 million and hopefully more" after making the annual Treasury payment, which this year will come to about $700 million. But, he stressed again, "it is how we use the resources through the remainder of the year that will determine whether we have results on the order of a half to a third" of the amended rate case figure.

In his letter, Wright noted BPA is running the hydro system "more aggressively" to help manage the impact. The agency told customers that flows below Bonneville Dam would have to be 100 kcfs to achieve refill; normally flows would be 120 kcfs. This year the rate has been 130 kcfs and is going at times to 160 kcfs.

"Our folks are saying the spring migration is going to be a spring massacre," said Steve Weiss of the Northwest Energy Coalition. "We could lose or damage some very healthy runs." -Ben Tansey


About 200 state and local agency folks, along with watershed groups, environmentalists and a smattering of representatives from the Puget Sound business world, recently met for a "Shared Strategy" workshop--a follow-up to a late 1999 forum for "salmon leaders" put together by Bill Ruckelshaus and former WA Gov. Dan Evans.

Since the earlier forum, one of the main strategies that regional players seem to share a penchant for is going to court. Along with the growing list of lawsuits filed in response to new federal rules governing listed salmon, environmental groups and commercial fishermen announced just yesterday a new court action against EPA that asks the court to take action to protect salmon from pesticides.

But most groups left their lawyers at home for the two-day-plus workshop--billed as a way to create common understanding "of how to build on existing efforts to recover endangered species," to improve and embrace the Shared Strategy developed after the original workshop, and design a structure to implement the recovery strategy.

Except for a brief bit during a weekly half-hour news show on Seattle's public TV station, the meeting went unreported in the regular media. In fact, no reporters were in evidence, according to Lloyd Moody, from Gov. Locke's Salmon Recovery Office. "It was not particularly exciting from a press standpoint," Moody said last week. He said summaries of the presentations would soon be available on the Shared Strategy website.

But it was reported that Washington ex-governor and former senator Dan Evans lit into the crowd for being too "politically correct," criticizing environmentalists for throwing rocks from "outside" at the folks trying to get things done. He also had strong words for tribal leaders, who had just announced they had filed a lawsuit against the state that calls for speeding up the effort to replace hundreds of culverts that block salmon habitat. State representatives had tried to avoid the lawsuit by meeting with tribal leaders and requesting mediation.

"Billy, you have to stay out of court," Evans reportedly told Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission leader Billy Frank, Jr.

One attendee, who did not wish to be identified, said the feeling at the meeting was "surreal" after that, since tribes, state and federal officials had already pledged mutual support to recover salmon.

Environmentalist Jacques White of People For Puget Sound said Evans' closing remarks were more cordial. White thought Evans' earlier comments had failed to acknowledge legal challenges by the business community, such as the action filed by the Association of Washington Business to block new shoreline management guidelines.

White said the Shared Strategy workshop was made up mainly of agency folks, with a few municipal types. Noticeably lacking, he said, were representatives of local governments. But he said environmental groups supported Ruckelshaus' main point--that the region needs to have concrete targets for recovery. But he thought there was some confusion over what recovery means for NMFS and for resource co-managers, who he said seemed more concerned about "properly functioning conditions" than the numbers NMFS scientists are trying to develop as viable salmonid populations.

Participants heard about different aspects of the recovery effort in the three H's of harvest, hatcheries and habitat. The audience seemed particularly impressed with NMFS scientist George Pess, who described efforts to analyze the recovery potential for different habitat restoration activities. He spoke on recent work in the Skagit watershed, where it seems that the most bang for the buck would come from improving estuary conditions, where 80 percent of the area is diked.
Puget Sound salmon quandary--tribal
gillnet in a Superfund site

Gov. Gary Locke was there both Thursday afternoon and the next morning, sitting in with Ruckelshaus in different breakout workgroups. NMFS acting regional administrator Donna Darm also participated.

A draft outline of the recovery plan is scheduled for release by Feb. 15, and a steering group plans to be organized by March, when meetings are slated with Puget Sound watershed groups. Interim recovery goals are scheduled to be ready by May 15, but some thought that was a bit optimistic. NMFS scientists told Tri-County salmon wonks last month that interim goals wouldn't be ready until next December, after limiting factors analyses are completed.
-Bill Rudolph


The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission has appointed Oregon State Police Captain Lindsay A. Ball as ODFW interim director, replacing James Greer. Ball will begin the job Feb. 16.

"Captain Ball has a can-do spirit in solving problems and he will be a good director. His strengths are in budgeting and the legislature," said commissioner John Esler. The commissioners made their choice at a special Jan. 30 meeting.

Commissioner John Perry wanted to know who Ball would be working for. After some discussion, they decided he would be primarily working for them. The question arose because OR Gov. John Kitzhaber has said he wants to appoint the next director. The state legislature is working on a bill that would give him authority to do so, subject to confirmation by the state senate.

The legislature is unhappy with the current state of its fish and wildlife department. Having a say in selecting a new director has some politicians convinced that it will ease their concerns over budget shortfalls, implementation of the state's salmon recovery plan, along with improving chances of increasing the use of hatchery fish for wild salmon recovery. These problems led to the retirement of Director Jim Greer--the legislature promised a budget stalemate until he left.

Commission chair Paul McCracken said Ball interviewed very well. He said Ball told him, "I'll get that budget through the legislature."

Commissioner John Perry said Captain Ball had his confidence. "He is a very capable administrator, he will get our budget approved and he will improve the operation of the agency. He won't be just a seat warmer."

Lindsay A. Ball, 48, has worked for the Oregon State Police for over 25 years, and has been the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division Director for the Oregon State Patrol since 1993. He has been a member of the ODFW executive leadership team for seven years. Ball has a Bachelor's Degree in Wildlife Science from Oregon State University.

"I have worked all over the state with Oregonians who are concerned about Oregon's fish and wildlife," said Ball, who added that conservation of fish and wildlife is his top priority. "I'm a traditionalist when it comes to conservation," said Ball. "I look at conservation as a means to utilize without exploiting fish and wildlife resources. That philosophy has served Oregon well over the years and will continue to do so."

Oregon Trout's Jim Myron called the hiring of Captain Ball a "positive step by the commission toward repairing their relationship to the legislature and others." -Bill Bakke

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