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NWF.127/Jul.13.2001
[1] Lower Water Forecast Means No Summer Spill
[2] New Mainstem Planning Process Gets Underway
[3] Administration Hears From Region On BiOp, Pledges Support
[4] Mid-C Setback For New Fish Bypass Construction
[5] No Spill At Lower Snake Dam Helps Adult Run
[6] NMFS' Push For Brownlee Water Drowns After DC Meeting
[7] Good Salmon Show Throughout NW

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[1] NO SUMMER SPILL FOR FISH, SAYS BPA

"We will not recommend going forward with summer spill."

That was the word from BPA acting administrator Steve Wright on June 29, just a day after the NW River Forecast Center issued a July early-bird forecast that dropped Columbia River runoff by another 2 million acre-feet.

Wright made his announcement right after a federal caucus meeting that discussed spill options for the federal Columbia River Power System. Initially, the meeting was not expected to conclude with a final determination on the summer spill question. But the runoff forecast issued June 28 apparently forced the decision.

Tribal critics charged at one point that the meeting was not a discussion of spill issues but rather a fait accompli announcement of a no-spill decision. BPA's Greg Delwiche--subbing for acting CEO Steve Wright, who was out and about doing rate increase news conferences--said there would be conversation on spill issues despite the new figures.

But the figures released by NOAA river forecasters left BPA almost 2 MAF short of the 56 MAF reliability criteria threshold. According to the Center's most recent analysis, January-to-July runoff at The Dalles is now expected to be 53.9 MAF--51 percent of the 105.9 MAF average and possibly the lowest on record. Grand Coulee runoff is now set at 35.2 MAF, or 56 percent of normal. Runoff at Lower Granite is at 48 percent of normal, or 14.4 MAF (The final forecast released a few days later bumped The Dalles forecast back up one percent).

Cindy Henrickson of the Corps of Engineers said she isn't surprised by the latest forecast. Precipitation throughout the basin has been from 60 percent to 70 percent of average for June, she told NW Fishletter. Latest figures from the Northwest River Forecast Center indicate precipitation on the Columbia River above Grand Coulee is 70 percent of average for the season (October through June); above The Dalles, it's 69 percent of average. On the Snake River above Ice Harbor, precip is 71 percent of normal

Council Weighs In

A day before the new forecast came out, the Northwest Power Planning Council voted to advise BPA against spilling water from the federal hydro system this summer to help Snake River fall chinook. The six-to-two vote, which approved amending the Council's April spill policy to indicate Bonneville's "summer operating plan should not decrease the currently forecast level of electrical reliability," was in response to acting BPA administrator Wright's request for Council input on four spill-related questions. After extremely thorough discussion of the process for responding and the wording for such a response, Council members took a "don't do any more harm to reliability" approach, but also authorized BPA to purchase out-of-region power to allow spill, if such purchases are consistent with BPA financial criteria and current levels of reliability.

In his June 26 presentation during the Council's meeting in Pendleton, OR, Wright asked members to answer the following four questions: What is the Council's view of the region's reliability situation relative to the federal agencies' operations plan criteria; does the Council agree that a deeper summer draft at Dworshak can provide benefits to ESA-listed stocks that are comparable or better than lower river spill, given this year's unique conditions; given the biological analysis of the benefits of various spill levels to non-listed stocks and the cost of spill under current prices, what spill action would the Council recommend; and given the same benefits, but a cost of spill under a $50 market price, what spill action would the Council recommend?

Wright told the council that summer spill would affect only one of nine ESA-listed stocks--Snake River fall chinook--because they are the only stock present in the river at this time. "I believe there is an operational alternative involving Dworshak Reservoir" that could do as much good for the fish as spill, Wright also told Council members. In addition, "power prices have dropped dramatically, and the cost perspective has changed." Another alternative, therefore, would be to purchase power from outside the region and secure more reservoir storage space that way.

As might be expected, Idaho's Council members did not react positively to the idea of drafting Dworshak reservoir below 1520 feet. "It is hard for Idaho to support this when we argued against early [water] release this spring at Dworshak," said Jim Kempton. A motion opposing deeper drafts at Dworshak later failed on a tie vote, so the Council ended up taking no official position on the issue.

Council members spent a considerable amount of time discussing the framework for responding to Wright's questions. Members decided to refer back to the spill policies set in April and use that as a starting point. "This policy was the cornerstone," said Council chair Larry Cassidy of Washington. "Let's look at what we've done previously and see how it matches this."

Policy number two allowed limited spill at John Day, The Dalles and Bonneville dams and suggested the Council work with federal operating agencies and the federal, state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies to develop a plan for "when, where and how such spill would be provided." As originally written, policy point two continued, "this operational plan should ensure an appropriate level of electrical reliability and should deploy any additional water storage to assure the best benefit to fish."

Council members voted 6-to-2 to amend that sentence to read, "The summer operating plan should not decrease the currently forecast level of electric reliability..." in order to make sure the reliability outlook doesn't worsen. Current predictions indicate there is a 12 percent chance for a loss of load this winter. "Twelve percent is not really a great number," pointed out the Power Council's Dick Watson. "Our standard has been 5 percent or less."

"This operating plan should not decrease the current level of electric reliability," Washington council member Tom Karier asserted.

But the Council didn't advise against summer spill under any circumstances. Members also passed a resolution recommending Bonneville purchase spill--via out-of-region power purchases--if such purchases are consistent with BPA's financial criteria and current levels of reliability. That motion passed on a five-to-three vote. It was the Council's response to Wright's last two questions, regarding the costs and benefits of spill at different market power prices.

According to a Council staff analysis, summer spill has little or no benefit for juvenile Snake River fall chinook because most of those fish are collected and transported downriver in barges and released below Bonneville Dam. But the spill benefits fall chinook that originate in the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River just upstream of the Tri-Cities because those fish only have one opportunity for collection, at McNary Dam.

And a NMFS analysis of summer spill options that was discussed at the Council's meeting last week suggests that eliminating spill would reduce survival of non-listed salmon species that originate in rivers downstream of McNary Dam by up to 17 percent. Those fish cannot be collected for barging.

NMFS Numbers Game

NMFS presented its biological analysis at the June 15 federal execs' meeting, and the benefits seemed truly meager. With 600-MW-months of spill in the lower river, survival of Snake fall chinook from the upper Lower Granite pool to below Bonneville Dam was estimated at about 3.0 percent, according to NMFS policymaker Jim Ruff. Without spill, that would be reduced to about 2.6 percent. He noted that with full BiOp spill, survival this year was pegged at only 3.15 percent.

Ruff said the little difference in survival from different spill options was probably due to two factors. First, survival of fall chinook through the upper pool to Lower Granite is expected to be extremely poor this year. Less than 20 percent of the juvenile fish are expected to make it because of the low flows, high temperatures and associated increases in predation. Second, about 80 percent of the fish that reach the dam will be barged, leaving relatively few fish in the river. NMFS estimates that only 1.5 percent to 17 percent of the non-transported fish would even make it to McNary Dam. Therefore, spill at lower river dams would not affect many fish.

NMFS had another table in its presentation that showed total system survival under reduced spill options (which includes barging fish from lower Snake and McNary dams) dropped by only two-hundredths of a percent, from 3.56 to 3.54 percent, for Snake fall chinook from BiOp spill levels to no spill at all. Ruff cautioned that the analysis included guesses of relative survival of barged fish because no real studies have been done on the subject, so there is "considerable uncertainty" about the results.

Other stocks, though not listed, would get more benefit from spilling, Ruff said. Hanford Reach fall chinook that migrated inriver were estimated to have a 33.4 percent survival rate with 600 MW-Mo of spill (down only 0.5 percent from full BiOp-mandated spill), with a decline to 29.1 percent survival with no spill. The NMFS presentation didn't show how barging affected the total system survival of the Hanford fish or the Deschutes fall run, another stock the agency analyzed for spill benefits.

Using the same model, but plugging in summer flows higher than NMFS had modeled, a preliminary NWPPC staff analysis found that spill had a negligible impact on the Snake fall chinook and a slight benefit for the Hanford fish.

BPA representatives told execs at the time that their updated power reliability analysis was still too uncertain to make a decision about summer spill. As for financial reliability, the agency reported that the decision to spill another 600 MW-Mo depended on how high next year's power rates are.

Their study modeled rate increases of both 60 percent and 130 percent and found if next year's rates were high, adding another 600-MW-Mo of spill would violate the financial criteria established this spring. But it also concluded that BPA could spill that much "if circumstances were still the same at the time additional spill were to commence.

The BPA analysis contained a long list of assumptions, including that a spill swap with Grant PUD "won't work," and that California would stiff the agency over its $85 million bill for at least a year.

Spill Mitigation Efforts

At its June 27 meeting, the Power Planning Council recommended funding over $27 million in "emergency" projects to offset the change in dam operations this year. The 21 projects are designed to increase tributary flows, spawning and rearing habitat, screen more water diversions and relocate or plant fish in tributaries. Nearly half of the funds would pay for land acquisitions in the Yakima, Okanagon, Umatilla and John Day basins. Four other projects, totaling around $1 million would improve streamflows and habitat in the Deschutes, John Day and Yakima River basins. Another $2.86 million was OK'd to transfer water users from Idaho's Lemhi River to the Salmon to improve flows there.

On July 12, BPA announced it would fund 17 of the proposals to the tune of nearly $10 million. The power agency also said it would boost the bounty for pikeminnow, depending on how many were caught, in an effort to decrease the amount of predation on inriver migrating salmon. If an angler is lucky enough to land a tagged pikeminnow, it could be worth $1,000--that's $950 more than last year. About 800 pikeminnow are tagged out of a population of about 2 million and around 200 are caught every year, said BPA's John Skidmore, who hoped the added incentives would get fishermen to catch another 10,000 to 20,000 pikeminnow--which could mean that up to another million young salmon could make it down the river alive. -Jude Noland, -Bill Rudolph


[2] NEW MAINSTEM PLANNING PROCESS GETS UNDERWAY

The Power Planning Council has accepted regional responses after its call for amendments to the mainstem segment of its fish and wildlife program. It's a process that some see as a possible way to change the new hydro BiOp's reiteration of spring flow augmentation and its heavy reliance on spring spill to help juvenile fish past dams.

"It's the largest mis-allocation of power and water in the American West," consultant Darryll Olsen said of current operations. He added that the NWPPC has the ability to dictate to NMFS as to how the BiOp "is going to look."

However, there is one little problem. The action agencies--BuRec, COE and BPA--signed off on the BiOp back in May. Still, Olsen said the Council's recommendations could have real clout with the new administration over determining the way action agencies implement the new BiOp.

Montana Power Council member Stan Grace said last Thursday that the BiOp has the clout of the ESA behind it, although there are signals that the Bush Administration may try to change parts of it. Grace said the White House had asked representatives of the four Northwest governors to discuss the BiOp in DC this Tuesday.

On another front, the monthly Implementation Team meeting of regional fish and hydro policy folks was cancelled again. The reason: The Administration is still looking at BPA's plan to implement the new BiOp. It was reported that Ann Klee, the Department of Interior's top attorney, told BPA that her agency wanted to review the plan, mainly over questions of science and budget.

One source told Northwest Fishletter that he thought the agency's main concern was budget issues. Up until then, only the OMB and GAO had shown up at a BPA briefing in DC over the new BiOp. Little has been said about just how much more it would cost the region to implement the new slate of "Reasonable, Prudent Alternatives." Back in December, when the new BiOp was first announced, it was speculated that it would cost the region an additional $200 million to $300 million a year, which included funding for extensive offsite mitigation--efforts that BPA keeps pointing out should be partly funded by other government agencies and states as well.

"We need some principles," said Grace, who expected the Council's staff would comment on the proposed recommendations before members themselves took a crack at it.

The notice of request the Council sent out last March said the mainstem plan it will adopt could include measures for water management, flows and spill, along with the other myriad elements that dealt with fish passage through the federal system--as long as they assured the region of an "adequate, efficient, economical power supply"--along with enhancing fish and wildlife populations.

There may be a tussle brewing. "Two states are still acting like we're dealing with the Clinton Administration," Grace said, noting that "Oregon would like to implement the BiOp as is."

Others, like the eastern Washington-based Olsen, were hopeful the Council would go further than just cultivating more principles. Representing Columbia and Snake River irrigators before the Council last March, Olsen urged the group not to postpone the mainstem amendment process. Other parties, including NMFS and some of the Council's own staff, were pushing to delay the process at the time, citing the power supply crisis. Olsen was seconded by Northwest Irrigation Utilities director John Saven, who said the Council should examine the irrigators' new water management alternative. That alternative is one of nearly 20 responses received by the Council and now available on its website for public comment.

"Frankly, this year opened the veil over flow and spill," said Rob Walton, assistant director of the Public Power Council. He said he appreciated the Power Planning Council's efforts this year to examine the biological effects of spill. His group is calling for the Council to "help fill a void" in management of the river by ensuring that key provisions of the NW Power Act are enforced--like the clear mandate to balance fish and power needs.

"Some federal agencies have ignored or denigrated the Act and Council participation in mainstem issues," said the PPC, "and there has been considerable ambiguity about the relationship between the Council and the federal agencies." The group suggested that the mainstem plan could be integrated with the ESA and new BiOp through the implementation plan that action agencies are putting together.

Idaho irrigators recommended that flow augmentation from southern Idaho be omitted from the revised plan because of high economic and social costs, "but no significant biological benefit." IDFG called for optimized flow and spill in the mainstem--while ensuring adequate power supply.

BPA itself seemed to want more than Council members like Grace were willing to offer. In its comments, the power agency asked the Council to adopt amendments that include "quantifiable goals or biological objectives," ensuring that any additional objectives "are compatible with, not contradictory to" the BiOp and implementation plan.

Other responses were less amenable. The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission did not support the BiOp for a number of reasons, saying its assessment was overly optimistic, did not go far enough as far as spill and flow measures were concerned, and that the document "should have moved forward more aggressively with Snake River dam breaching."

The Colville Tribes called for investigating the feasibility of restoring anadromous fish above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams.

ODFW was tough on the BiOp as well. The agency's comments called for measures that go beyond the BiOp because "compelling" scientific information says the BiOp won't recover the fish.

Both WDFW and NMFS called for improving the health of the estuary--and NMFS recommended including the river's plume in the near-ocean environment as part of the provincial planning unit. -B. R.


[3] ADMINISTRATION HEARS FROM REGION ON BIOP, PLEDGES SUPPORT

Representatives of four Northwest governors ventured to Washington DC last week to express their concerns over the new hydro BiOp and just how it will be implemented. One common concern was their lack of input in the implementation process--a plan being developed by action agencies and spearheaded by BPA. The plan has been put on hold pending a review headed by Interior Department lawyer Ann Klee.

Consultant Jim Litchfield said Klee attended the July 10 meeting. She seemed to be interested in two questions about the implementation plan, Litchfield told NW Fishletter--"Just what is it and how much will it cost?"

Other federal officials attended as well, including NMFS lawyers who will be responsible for defending the new BiOp in court against fishing and environmental groups. Both Idaho and Washington representatives showed concern over the possibility of the BiOp being overturned in court. The lawsuit, filed in early May, charges that NMFS underestimated the risk of extinction of the Snake River stocks and claims that it's illegal to rely on offsite mitigation to help satisfy the hydro system's ESA obligations. It also alleges that the incidental take statement is illegal along with the Section 10 permit for the fish transportation program.

Only the state of Montana did not expressly support the plan. "On behalf of Montana, I said the state has questions over the plan," said Litchfield. "I told the Administration to get the plan out and talk to the governors before it's rubberstamped by the agencies."

Idaho Power Planning Council member Judi Danielson attended the meeting as well. She said the governors' representatives had a common message. "We need to get to the ground," she said, and begin recovery efforts, rather than spend years developing protocols as the plan now proposes.

She said the Administration, through Ann Klee and CEQ deputy counsel Ted Boling, assured the Northwest contingent that it would implement the BiOp and that the Administration has sent a letter to the governors pledging to support it.

But since Klee had put a hold on the proposed Implementation Plan before BPA had released it for comment, few have even seen the document so far. "No one we know has seen it," Danielson said.

She said Administration officials have asked each governor's office provide both technical and policy people on the salmon recovery issue.

The Northwest representatives reiterated the Four Governors' positions on hatchery and harvest reform, improving fish survival in the hydro system and other general recovery principles--including documenting the attributes of flow augmentation that make it beneficial to fish. They also called for increased funding for projects oriented to ESA compliance and more accountability for both meeting goals and spending recovery dollars.

NWPPC members Eric Bloch and Council chair Larry Cassidy also attended the meeting, but no tribal representatives attended the session. Bloch was unavailable for comment, but Cassidy told NW Fishletter he was pleased with the meeting. "To pledge support for the BiOp is an important thing," Cassidy said, "but the devil's in the details."

Without proper funding, he said it was only lip service. "The Administration is giving plenty of money for drilling oil and gas, what is it going to do for fish?" Cassidy said the Administration has promised to double past expenditures to implement the BiOp, but he noted that no one at the meeting could come up with just what the previous BiOp costs were.

The CEQ's July 10 letter to the governors said the Administration's budget is intended to provide an "adequate level of funding" to support the BiOp and All-H Strategy. CEQ chair James Connaughton told the governors that their recommendations were highly consistent with proposed BiOp actions. "We recognize that federal funding is one key to the success of this approach."

Cassidy said he was aware some parties in the region are trying to get elements of the BiOp changed, especially, those related to spilling water at dams for fish passage, and they will try to use the Council's mainstem planning process to implement those changes. But just because he supported the reduced spill program this year, doesn't mean he would support any effort to reduce it in normal water years, he said. -B. R.


[4] MID-C SETBACK FOR NEW FISH BYPASS CONSTRUCTION

Chelan PUD announced last month that it was canceling this year's bid process for construction of its new juvenile bypass system at Rocky Reach Dam--an integral part of improvements to fish passage that are part of a proposed HCP that will help the utility satisfy its ESA fish obligations. Chelan PUD spokesman Wayne Wright said the project needed final approval from NMFS before it could proceed. "Absent that commitment, we need more time," said Wright last week.

Press accounts have portrayed NMFS as withholding approval because the agency was upset with Chelan's decision to forego spill at Rocky Reach this year. The utility decided to produce more power after a call from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to come up with more generation this year in the drought-plagued Northwest. The utility had offered to pony up $5 million for a mitigation fund and took some heat from other parties on the committee that seeks consensus for Mid- C fish policy, who complained about the unilateral nature of Chelan's decision.

NMFS mid-Columbia hydro biologist Bob Dach said he was "chagrined" to see his agency portrayed that way in the press. He said his agency thinks that other proposed changes to operations at Rocky Reach should be considered at the same time as the bypass proposal because of ESA considerations. "You can't separate inter-related actions," Dach told NW Fishletter. "It's a bigger process than just the bypass," he said.

Other actions proposed by the PUD include raising the reservoir elevation behind the dam about a foot, adding more height to spillway gates and adding a small turbine powered by water used to attract fish to the project's fish ladder.

"We think the net benefit is certainly there," Dach added, but when the spill program at Rocky Reach was terminated, the utility created new interim operations that must be considered by NMFS. "When they stopped the spill, they changed the questions we were consulting over," he said. Chelan, however, says the plan for adopting interim operations at the dams had expired. NMFS says it has not.

"We disagree with NMFS on that," Wright said.

The issue is complicated by the fact that NMFS must consult with FERC over the dams' operation, not just Chelan. "We're actually a leading proponent of the bypass," Dach said, "but the mess has been laid at our feet."

The proposed HCP scheduled to be completed by April 2002. Dach said under the ESA's Section 10 guidelines, that deadline will be met without a problem.

Chelan's Wright reiterated his utility's support of the proposed HCP, but stuck by Chelan's decision not to spill at Rocky Reach, noting the dam's prototype bypass is working well. "We spilled at Rock Island for ESA fish," he said, "but it's not as effective at Rocky Reach," he said. And with flows extremely low this summer, Wright said his utility will only operate Rock Island's second powerhouse, where fish survival is higher than at the older first powerhouse.

"This is proving to be the lowest flow year on record," said Wright. He is correct for the upper Columbia; downriver at The Dalles, the forecast is still the second worst on record by a slight amount. The latest January-to-July forecast bumped up the Columbia supply at Grand Coulee a tiny bit from the earlybird prognostication of 35.2 MAF to 35.9 MAF--but it's still a record low, beating the 36.1 MAF year in 1943-44.

Meanwhile, FERC has requested more clarification of the issue from both NMFS and Chelan. In a July 6 issuance, the feds noted that the interim operational plan the utility says has expired "is still pending before the Commission, and consultation with NMFS has not been completed." But FERC also said it would review each of Chelan's proposals separately, and would expedite the review because of the energy crunch.

Downriver at Grant PUD, folks still haven't heard from FERC on the feds' own alternative that recommended the utility forego spill altogether this summer. But Grant did send a letter to FERC on July 3, that said "new developments" have caused the utility to reaffirm its support for the FERC staff alternative, leading it to seek expedited consideration. The PUD cited the worsening water supply forecast, the suspension of BPA's own summer spill program, and the fact that neighboring utility Chelan is not spilling this summer at either of its two projects.

"Except for a rather modest amount of spill which is occurring at the Wells Dam," Grant said in its latest letter to FERC, "Priest Rapids is now the only project in the region where summer spill is taking place and currently the value of spill at Priest Rapids is the equivalent of 9,600 MWh per day." For these reasons, Grant told FERC that it would no longer need regional consensus as a precondition for suspending spill operations at its projects. -B. R.


[5] NO SPILL AT LOWER SNAKE DAM HELPS ADULT RUN

The maxed-out fish barging policy on the lower Snake River for spring chinook has provided an added benefit this spring. In addition to getting juvenile fish out of the slow moving river and past the hydro system, the lack of spill at the four lower Snake dams has made it easier for migrating adults pass through the hydro corridor and fish ladders at the dams.

By June 17, when the spring count officially ended at Lower Granite, almost 170,000 chinook had passed the dam, better than 98 percent of the number that entered the Snake and were counted at Ice Harbor, the first dam on the route. In average flow years, when both spill and barging takes place, radio tag studies have shown about 85 percent of the fish make it past the four-dam stretch on the lower Snake, say NMFS biologists. That means the no-spill policy may have added approximately 17,000 extra spring chinook to Idaho streams this spring.

Researcher Ted Bjornn said his radio-tracking studies have shown that in the early 1990s, with good flows and spill, about 86 percent of the fish made it past all four dams, but estimates based on dam counts were lower than that. He's seen returns as high as 94 percent through that stretch with spill. This year, survival looks excellent for spring fish, said the former member of the Bevan Team. Bjornn noted that the fish have been showing up healthy in high-country tributaries, where there is little worry over temperature and lack of water before spawning.

Fish managers estimated that 207,000 Snake-bound fish would enter the mouth of the Columbia this spring. Without the boost in harvest for both tribal fishermen, who caught close to 60,000 fish, and sport fishermen, who hooked over 25,000, it's likely that more than 200,000 spring chinook would have made it all the way to Idaho this spring.

Smolt-to adult return rates remain high--above 2 percent for all fish at Lower Granite. Dam counts of clipped (hatchery) and non-clipped (mostly wild) fish show that it's likely at least 25,000 wild chinook made it past Lower Granite this spring. -B. R.


[6] NMFS' PUSH FOR BROWNLEE WATER DROWNS AFTER DC MEETING

NMFS has changed its mind about having FERC direct Idaho Power to release at least 350,000 acre-feet of water from its Brownlee Reservoir before the end of this month. That request, delivered in a May 30 letter to FERC from NMFS regional assistant administrator Brian Brown, went by the wayside after representatives of FERC, Idaho Power and NOAA--parent agency to NMFS--met in DC June 22 to discuss the directive.

NMFS' request was apparently based on the assumption that Idaho Power would be able to release "all of the 237,000 acre-feet it had provided for summer releases from the Hells Canyon Complex in past years in the month of July" and shape the rest of the flow from USBR projects, William Hogarth, NOAA acting assistant administrator for fisheries, indicated in a July 10 letter to Mark Robinson, director of FERC's office of energy projects. But the 237,000 acre-feet was available in past years under a five-year power exchange agreement with BPA, which expired in April and has not been renewed. "Because of the drought conditions and the absence of a power exchange agreement with BPA, NMFS now recognizes that achieving the full 350,000 volume is problematic at best," Hogarth says in the letter.

It's unclear how NMFS could have missed the fact that Idaho Power and BPA had not been able to reach agreement on extending the power exchange deal. The issue was discussed at numerous meetings held by the Technical Management Team in April and May. Meeting minutes indicated two representatives of NMFS attended all of the meetings, either in person or by phone, and at times participated in the discussion.

But as a result of the DC meeting, NMFS now has "more insight and a better understanding of what we're up against and how the Hells Canyon complex operates," Idaho Power spokesman Jeff Beaman told NW Fishletter after the "agreement" to halt the planned release was announced.

Hogarth's letter indicates Idaho Power will operate the Hells Canyon Complex for power purposes this summer, but that the IOU still expects to release at least 100,000 acre-feet per month from Hells Canyon in July and August and could release as much as 400,000 acre-feet total.

Idaho Power's Beaman confirmed that potential. "If from a power production and economic prudency standpoint, it makes sense for it to flow, that could happen."

The June 22 meeting also reportedly led to agreements to keep discussing how the utility and federal agencies can coordinate on HCC power operations this summer to optimize, to the extent possible, fish migration and downstream passage benefits. IPC also "expressed a willingness to provide additional releases timed specifically to the needs of downstream migrants provided it is reimbursed for any energy losses it incurs as a result of these additional releases," Hogarth said in his letter.

The issue of reimbursement is one reason Idaho Power and Bonneville were not able to reach agreement on a new power exchange deal involving Brownlee. "We don't believe we should have to compensate them for water," said one BPA source. "They have a dam and they have the ability to [release the water]. What's their contribution to fish?"

But BPA's Rick Pendergrass, who has worked with Idaho Power on this issue, said BPA is still interested in signing a new power exchange agreement with Idaho Power "if a reasonable solution can be worked out." He expects discussions will renew in the near future.

Beaman indicated Idaho Power is still interested, too. He added that the utility hopes the end result of the letter exchanges and meetings will be a "long-term understanding on future operations" of the Hells Canyon Complex. -Jude Noland


[7] GOOD SALMON SHOW THROUGHOUT NW

The Lake Washington sockeye run showed up just in time for the tourist season. It's been giving Seattle visitors something to point at and locals more to crow about while 220,000 fish passed the locks on their way to spawning grounds in the Cedar River. That's about half the size of last year's run, but still well short of the 350,000 escapement threshold that would trigger a fishery.
Boy meets sockeye in Seattle

The sockeye run in the Columbia River, with the lion's share heading up towards Lake Wenatchee was large enough for managers to allow a day and a half commercial fishery for the tribes and slightly less for non-Indian fishers. More than 112,000 sockeye has passed Bonneville Dam by July 12.

Tribal fishers were allowed a 7 percent impact on ESA-listed Snake River sockeye, non-Indians up to 1 percent. Only non-Indian fishers were required to release adipose fin-clipped sockeye. Since all ESA-listed Snake sockeye are clipped, as well as fish from a supplementation program sponsored by Chelan PUD, it made for some head scratching by the few lower Columbia gillnetters who took part in the short fishery. One told NW Fishletter that he caught 23 sockeye, but had to release eight because of clipped fins. "Of course, they were all dead," he said. "This is a gillnet, you know."

Steelhead were showing strong at Bonneville Dam as well. The 68,000-fish count is three times the 10-year average, with several thousand passing the dam daily.

Off the Washington coast, coho were biting hard, part of a projected return of 1.6 million hatchery fish heading for the lower Columbia River, more than twice last year's return. Ocean sports fishermen will be allowed to allowed 225,000 coho and 30,000 chinook, up from 75,000 and 12,500 fish, respectively, last year.

The hypothesis that maintains changes in ocean regimes may cause a seesaw in abundance levels between Alaska and the West Coast got another shot in the arm. This year's sockeye run in Bristol Bay was the lowest in years--the 24 million-fish prediction--40 percent lower than the 10-year mean, was still 4 million shy by July 11. Harvesters had caught about 13 million sockeye by then. -Bill Rudolph

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