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[1] Columbia River Water Supply Improves: Flows, Spill Boosted
[2] The Mystery Of The Missing Steelhead
[3] Fall Chinook Season Gets Under Way
[4] PacifiCorp, Yakama Nation Will Apply For Priest Rapids License
[5] Court Dismisses Rest Of Skokomish Claims Against Tacoma
[6] More Emergency Fish Mitigation Recommended

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Citing a January-to-July water supply forecast that BPA now says proved to be a bit low, the agency has boosted flows in the hydro system and bumped up spill for fish as well, along with getting back in the power market.

The agency announced the boost at the Technical Management Team meeting in Portland Aug. 8, but the word was out a little before that. "That's why I didn't go to the meeting," said consultant Jim Litchfield, who represents the state of Montana. "It was a done deal."

BPA's Therese Lamb announced that flows would go up to the 90-100 kcfs range at Bonneville Dam--up from around 80 kcfs--and the 45 kcfs that was spilled for fish passage for five hours every night was going up to 50 kcfs that would be spilled around the clock. She said the 24-hour spill at The Dalles was increasing from 30 percent to 40 percent. This optimistic turn of events had to do with the actual amount of water measured past The Dalles from January through July--58.4 MAF--about 3.5 MAF above the last forecast issued in early July.

The spill program could still end early if the agency's financial situation changes or the outlook for system storage worsens, said Lamb. Later, she told NW Fishletter that it's the financial situation that's been so hard to pin down, factoring in the uncertain impacts of the West Coast power price cap, new loads and effects of the pending rate case.

For now, everything's rosey, said BPA spokesman Ed Mosey. The hydro system has built up more than 33,000 MW-months of storage, already surpassing the 28,000 MW-months of storage the agency was targeting to reach by Oct. 1. Because the forecast came in on the low side, Mosey said power purchases made to build storage while the hydro system has been operating at "minimums" have paid off this summer more than expected.

He noted that the NWPPC's reliability study shows little benefit from storing more the 28,000 MW-months because of the limitations of regional generating capacity. With that much storage, the study figured the loss of load probability at 12 percent.

Others have pointed out that the study may be a bit dated already, since diesel generation that had been added to regional capacity has since been sidelined by low prices. Also, the NWPPC study didn't account for transmission constraints in the Northwest, especially between Montana and Eastern Washington. A BPA document handed out at the July 18 TMT meeting brought up these issues and said internal studies indicated that more storage may improve loss of load probability more than the Council's analysis suggested. But that same document had expressed concern over reaching the 28,000 MW-month target, which has moderated considerably since then.

Lamb explained that the forecast model had used three scenarios to look at probable runoff, with low, medium and high stream flows. "It turned out that stream flows were medium to high for the period," she said. And she also noted that the standard deviation for the model was 3.5 MAF--which was exactly how much it low-balled the Jan.-July water supply.

So, the agency finds itself with a little more flexibility, she said. "We don't need to operate at minimums," she added, noting that the system is being drafted from both Coulee and Canadian reservoirs to boost flows, increase spill and allow for some power sales to cushion the uncertainties of the financial picture.

By the end of August, the system will have spilled about 350 to 400 MW-months' worth of water for summer spill, said Mosey, with a value of about $7 million, in addition to the $5 million worth of spring spill. As of last week, about 400-450 MW was being spilled daily.

The biological benefits for the increased spill weren't quantified, but neither were they penciled out when the limited summer spill effort commenced on July 24. Discussion at the time found fish and hydro managers at odds, as usual, but it was generally accepted that spill at The Dalles could boost survival by about 3 percent, while the Bonneville spill might result in no net survival gain. Later, a NMFS analysis estimated that the benefit of spill at The Dalles was a 4 percent survival improvement, and 6 percent at Bonneville.

Fish managers were relatively happy. CRITFC's Bob Heinith said any increase in flows and spill would be helpful. But BPA biologist Bill Maslen said about 80 percent of the fall chinook run had already passed John Day Dam.

Doug Arndt, chief of the Corps of Engineers' fish management division, said he had fielded a few calls critical of the expanded flow program, including one from Congressman Butch Otter's (R-ID) head staffer Todd Ungerecht.

Arndt said the Corps is prepared to do what it can to meet BiOp spills, "as long as it doesn't threaten short- or long-term reliability of the power system." He said BPA has assured them that "worst-case hydraulics" won't mean that flows could dip below 70 kcfs at Bonneville--the minimum required for powerhouse operation. But Arndt said it's possible that more water could come from Idaho's Dworshak reservoir, even though it's expected to be drafted to its lowest level of the summer, elevation 1520 feet, by the end of August. Using more could risk not reaching BiOp-mandated levels by next April, Arndt explained.

"Come September, if we have to dig into Dworshak...just watch the finger-pointing." He did note that the new BiOp calls for an experimental drawdown of Dworshak to 1500 feet to study effects on migrating adults in late summer, but he cautioned that this might not be the most prudent year to try it out.

BPA's Lamb sounded more positive about the possibility of using additional Dworshak water, but was still pretty sure that the system would be able to add five more feet to Coulee next month and maintain flows without it.

Arndt also pointed out that if the region experiences a cold snap this winter, the first place it goes for more power is Dworshak--which could make it even tougher to reach BiOp levels next spring. And don't forget, Arndt, added, chum issues will be coming up for discussion pretty soon. He said without a rainy fall, it may be hard to deliver any extra water to aid ESA-listed chum spawning this year if they settle in the same shallow spots below Bonneville Dam as they did last fall, when an extra 10 kcfs was added to flows most of the winter and early spring to keep redds covered until fry emerged. -Bill Rudolph


With the lion's share of Snake River chinook and steelhead getting a free barge trip to the ocean, inquiring minds still want to know how the rest of the run fared on the inriver journey during a spring that turned out to be heading for the second lowest water year on record.

Despite the rhetorical exuberance of some fish advocates who said the region was writing off this year's migration by not spilling or augmenting flows, it is likely that about 25 percent of the inriver spring chinook migrants made it below Bonneville Dam. Only about 5 percent of the inriver steelhead run, however, was estimated to have made it below the dams.

But the steelhead may not be in such dire straits. Some think that large numbers of them may have "residualized," or stayed in the river to wait out the year and finish their migration next spring. It can happen when the fish encounter unusually warm water during their migration (above 53-54 degrees F), a topic that was the subject of some study in the 1970s.

NMFS has not yet made any official predictions, but the agency is close to going public with its estimates. And the word is they will basically track with estimates released Aug. 10 by the Fish Passage Center that showed about 57 percent survival for spring chinook from Lower Granite to McNary Dam and about 17 percent for steelhead, "the poorest since PIT tag survivals have been estimated (1993)," according to the FPC's memo to the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority.

The Center said that survival in the late 1990s was over 70 percent for chinook and about that for steelhead. It also found that the run began later than normal and didn't last as long, noting that travel times were some of the longest in the last 20 years of data collection--spring chinook were taking twice as much time to get from McNary to Bonneville as in past years--nearly 11 days this year for chinook and 10 days for the steelhead.

The memo suggested that low flows slowed development of the migration, with lower survivals to Lower Granite, "so that the migration ended earlier despite slower travel times. This truncation of passage is likely due to increased mortality in the case of chinook, while it may well be due to both mortality and residualism in steelhead."

Independent biologist Al Giorgi told NW Fishletter that steelhead have the ability to "de-smoltify" if they encounter water temperatures of about 53 degrees during their migration, which took place in early May this year. There is no evidence yet that this has occurred, but PIT tag survival studies from earlier years have shown that chinook and steelhead survivals are generally pretty close.

In 1994, when flows were fairly low, there were several hundred PIT-tagged steelhead that were not detected until the following year, which suggests a residual effect. Reportedly, there was excellent rainbow trout fishing in the Snake River that year--lending credence to the notion that many steelhead, basically an ocean-going rainbow, stuck around through the winter of 1994. Consultant Charlie Paulson said more could be learned about the steelhead if PIT tag detectors are kept on at dams this fall to track fish movement.

WDFW biologist Glen Mendel said it seems that large numbers of steelhead residualize in low flow years. This June, he said sport anglers reported large numbers of young steelhead in the area.

Doug Arndt, chief of the Corps of Engineers' fish management division, said this year's maximized barging policy has put more than 90 percent of the spring chinook and steelhead into the barges. Without spill, collection at Snake Dams and McNary was very high. The Corps barged over 4 million spring chinook and nearly 7 million steelhead this spring. "There were only about six fish left in the river," he said, tongue-in-cheek. -B.R.


After this year's record-setting runs of spring chinook and steelhead in the Columbia River, fall chinook returns are a bit more ho-hum, although they'll track pretty close with returns from recent years. But with the non-Indian commercial season already under way and the tribal fishery to commence Aug. 28, fish managers are still not sure how many ESA-listed fall chinook came back to Idaho last year.

WDFW biologist Glen Mendel, who has the tough job of trying to count the wild fish from the mish-mash of tags and clipped fins on fish passing Lower Granite Dam, said last year's run likely came in around 900 fish, pretty close to the year before. He admitted it's tough to sort out the wild from supplemented hatchery fish because so few hatchery fish sport a clipped adipose fin.

To complicate matters, the technical advisory committee (TAC) of state and federal agencies that estimates run size for managing harvests, has just issued a report that says the wild run over Lower Granite will be about three times the size of last year's run. At about 2,700 spawners coming back to the area above the dam, that's actually more than the number that NMFS once considered to be a recovered population.

This week, NMFS technical folks were still wrestling with last year's estimate. One analysis suggested that the run was only about 560 fish, but it's more likely the agency will eventually settle on the 900-fish number. The difference is due to sorting out jack and adult size differences, said WDFW's Debbie Milks. Adults are considered any fish whose fork length is 49 cm. and above. Jacks fall between 31 and 48 cm., with mini-jacks exhibiting fork lengths 30 cm. or less. Mini-jacks are precocious, usually hatchery males that migrate as far as the estuary but return the same year as they are released.

That handful of wild Snake fish is miniscule compared to the total fall run, estimated by TAC at 292,000 chinook entering the mouth of the Columbia, up nearly 40,000 from last year. But the upriver component is estimated at about 133,000 fish, down a bit from last year's return of 155,000 and only 75 percent of the original forecast. In 1999, the TAC underestimated the upriver bright run by 163 percent.

As for the Snake River component of the run, Milks said she was not sure how TAC came up with the nearly 2,700-fish estimate. She, along with Mendel, said they felt this year's wild run would follow a similar pattern as the past couple of years. The wild run hasn't topped 1,000 fish since 1975, when Lower Granite Dam came on line, the last of the four projects on the lower Snake.

But TAC chair Cindy LeFleur from WDFW said the increasing number of wild jacks counted at Lower Granite last year (2,700 out of a 7,500 total wild plus hatchery, according to Mendel) bumped the estimate of this year's run size up. Estimating the wild run in the Snake has not been easy--the 1999 TAC forecast underestimated the 905-fish run by 250 percent. In 1998, TAC estimated that 900 wild fish would return when only 306 showed up.

The TAC report projects 7,600 Snake River wild fall chinook will enter the Columbia, with 2,378 of them harvested in the mainstem at a rate of about 31 percent. They expect 2,529 to die en route, leaving nearly 2,700 fish to be counted over Granite. Though new recovery goals have not been established, the proposed recovery plan published by NMFS in March 1995 called for de-listing criteria that included a numerical escapement goal of 2,500 natural spawners annually over eight years.

The strength of this year's return is tempered by a WDFW report released Aug. 21 that calculated 1.6 million fall chinook fry died last spring from stranding in the Hanford Reach. Water fluctuations from dam operations during the drought year caused the strandings.

"Actually, fluctuations in water levels from dam operations were much less than in previous years," said WDFW's Rod Woodin, the agency's Columbia River coordinator. "The problem is that any variation during a low-water year dewaters a much greater area than when the river is at a normal level," Woodin said.

Grant PUD biologist Joe Lukas told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that water taken from Grand Coulee over the winter to keep listed chum redds covered below Bonneville Dam gave them less water to work with than otherwise.

The loss amounts to about seven percent of this year's fry production, which is estimated at 23 million fry, up a few million from last year. But the effects of the drought may not be as bad as some people think. The Hanford fall chinook run is one of the healthiest and most exploited runs in the basin. This year's inriver harvest rate is about 31 percent on the stock, 23 percent going to tribal fishers and the rest split between non-Indian sports and commercial fishermen. Ocean fisheries from Alaska to the mouth of the Columbia, which once accounted for more than half the harvest of the upriver fall run, now only catches about 25 percent, following a huge reduction in ocean effort, mostly by Canadian fishermen.

Meanwhile, the summer steelhead run has been nothing short of phenomenal--and TAC bumped the run estimate up to 500,000 fish yesterday from their original estimate of 249,000 fish. -B. R.


PacifiCorp and the Yakama Indian Nation have decided to compete with Grant County PUD for the FERC license for the PUD's Priest Rapids hydro complex. The IOU and the tribal nation have signed a preliminary agreement to jointly file a competing license application for the two-dam project.

"Our purpose in joining up with the Yakama Nation is to find a way to more broadly share the benefits of the project with the region," said PacifiCorp spokesman Dave Kvamme. "We have already had fruitful discussions with others, as well as the Yakamas," regarding the output from the project, which includes the 923-MW Priest Rapids and 1038-MW Wanapum facilities. PacifiCorp and the Yakamas will likely form a joint venture that would actually file the license application.

"Our life would be easier without competition, but we're not surprised," Grant County general manager Don Godard told NW Fishletter. "We'll go forward with our license application." The PUD issued its initial consultation document almost a year ago, Godard said; its final application--like PacifiCorp's and the Yakama's competing document--is due by Oct. 31, 2003.

Grant County PUD has operated the Priest Rapids project since it was built in 1956. Grant now receives 36.5 percent of the output; the other 63.5 percent is sold under long-term contracts to the Grant Purchasers Group, whose 12 members include the region's four investor-owned utilities, the cities of Seattle and Tacoma, Eugene Water and Electric Board, Cowlitz and Kittitas PUDs and three small Oregon munis. But their contracts expire when the current license expires, and under an October 1999 DC Appeals Court ruling, the PUD will have title to 70 percent of the project's output upon relicensing. FERC allocated the other 30 percent to a group of regional utilities that also includes four Idaho co-ops.

PacifiCorp "is interested in preserving the benefits [of Priest Rapids] that our retail customers have had since the project was built," Kvamme said.

Wanapum and Priest Rapids were built on land the Yakama Nation ceded as part of its 1855 treaty with the United States; the tribe retained some rights to those lands. The tribe and PacifiCorp are still developing the initial licensing consultation document, which will be filed this October, and will hold public meetings in conjunction with the consultation, a tribal spokesman said. The tribe hopes to see broader benefits from the dams, including a broader regional sharing of the low-cost electricity from the projects and some increases in output. Also on the Tribe's agenda are economic development, improvement of fish and wildlife protection and enhancement of cultural and recreational values.

At the same time, both PacifiCorp and the Yakamas recognize the importance of the Priest Rapids project to Grant County. Under their license application, a portion of the project's output will be set aside for consumers in Grant County. In addition, PacifiCorp and the Yakamas will reimburse Grant PUD for the remaining debt on the project and continue paying all local taxes.

Last year FERC ruled that entities other than Grant County are eligible to file a license application for the Priest Rapids Project. The FERC decision was in response to an April 2000 request--filed by PacifiCorp and two other Northwest IOUs, three Oregon munis and four Idaho cooperatives--that FERC issue a declaratory order asserting their eligibility to file such a competing license application. In its July 14, 2000 order, FERC also said Grant has "marginal incumbent preference" for the relicense under the Electric Consumers Protection Act.

Calling eastern Washington farmers the spiritual equivalent of the 1776 Minutemen, Grant County PUD has vowed to fight hard against European tyrants--ScottishPower-owned PacifiCorp--to hang onto its FERC license for the Priest Rapids project. But Grant GM Don Godard told NW Fishletter the PUD has offered those utilities--including PacifiCorp--long term contracts at cost. "PacifiCorp is turning down a sure thing and taking the risk they won't get anything," he said.

PacifiCorp doesn't see it that way. The IOU and other members of the purchasers group have been in negotiations with Grant over Priest Rapids power allocations for some time, and PacifiCorp decided "it wasn't going to work," said PacifiCorp hydro manager Terry Flores. Grant's proposal offers less power and "clearly diminishes over time," as Grant's own loads increase, she said. The utility decided to work with the Yakamas to file a competing license application that Flores said will enhance the output of the project, which includes Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams.

"When FERC evaluates our and Grant's applications, one thing they will look at is improvements to the project," Flores said, such as turbine upgrades, efficient use of water and overall efficient operation. "We need to and will be looking at these," she said.

The Yakama Nation would receive some power by collaborating with PacifiCorp, but it is especially interested in fish and wildlife mitigation. The tribe brings a "more ecologically based approach to river management," said Yakama spokesman Ted Strong. "If we managed the project, we would make the ecosystem much more productive, just because of our familiarity with the Mid-Columbia region."

The disagreements over Priest Rapids power stem from an October 1999 DC Appeals Court decision that upheld a FERC order allocating 30 percent of the project's output to the purchasers group and four Idaho co-ops. But it also allowed the PUD to sell that power under market-based principles once the project is relicensed.

The ruling directed Grant to submit a marketing plan for that allocation as part of its Priest Rapids relicensing application, which is due Oct. 31, 2003. The court also allowed Grant to keep the other 70 percent of the output for its own needs.

That represents a big difference compared to current contract allocations, under which the Purchasers Group buys 63.5 percent of the output, at cost-based rates, while Grant keeps 36.5 percent (the PUD buys the rest of its power from BPA). According to Godard, Grant has created an offer that complies with FERC's order but tries to meet the current purchasers' needs at the same time. Grant will sell the 30 percent portion of Priest Rapids output at market rates, under the FERC order. But rather than keep the profits, the PUD will keep only what it cost to generate the power sold. "The rest of the money goes to the purchasers," he said. "They can take that money and buy replacement power." -Jude Noland


The US District Court for Western Washington has dismissed the Skokomish Tribe's remaining damage claims against Tacoma Power and the city of Tacoma, for operation of the utility's Cushman hydroelectric project. Judge Franklin Burgess' Aug. 9 decision followed a June 4 partial summary judgment that dismissed 20 of the tribe's 34 claims, including those with the largest dollar amounts of alleged damages. Last week's decision denied the tribe's 14 remaining claims and dismissed the entire cause of action.

The suit, originally filed in November 1999, claimed the Tribe has suffered $5.8 billion in economic damages as a result of Cushman's operation. The claims denied last week accounted for about $2 billion in damages. Some were dismissed because the statute of limitations for collecting damages had run out. Another, alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act, was dismissed because it did not allege violation of an effluent standard, to which the CWA section applied, and because damages were not among the potential remedies provided. Also dismissed were the Tribe's claims against individual Tacoma Public Utility board members; the judge ruled that state law provides them immunity.

"We felt that we broke no laws and followed the license as dictated," Tacoma Power superintendent Steve Klein told NW Fishletter. "To the extent the tribe was damaged, Tacoma was not to blame."

The court's two decisions indicate the Skokomish Tribe's treaty rights were "conditioned to the extent necessary to accommodate this dam," said Ron Leighton, Tacoma Power's attorney. "Congress for decades was the trustee of tribal rights, and the law recognizes that the government--Congress--has the ability to condition them. That's exactly what they did," he said. When Cushman was built in the 1920s, it was government policy to modernize and industrialize the country, partly by bringing electricity to more of the population. "The court was simply recognizing that the city and others were implored by the federal government to develop electricity for its citizens."

At the same time, Leighton expects the decision will be appealed. But "we have a good foundation for going forward to the Ninth Circuit."

The Skokomish are disappointed by the decision, said attorney Mason Morisset, but not surprised. "We planned to build a good record for appeal, and I am almost certain the tribe will want to appeal to the Ninth."

Morisset also believes the judge made errors in his decisions, including his ruling that the statute of limitations on damage claims has run out. "There are a number of documents on this," he said. "Parties alleging a continuing wrong can sue on it until it is made right." -Jude Noland


The Power Planning Council has recommended spending more than $7 million for projects designed to mitigate for emergency power operations during this drought year. Most of the funding would go to buy up spawning habitat along a tributary of the John Day River in Oregon, with $1.6 million to pay for irrigation screens in the Yakima River.

The $7 million is in addition to $24 million the council has already recommended to pay for projects designed to offset the emergency hydro operations that nearly stopped the spill program at mainstem dams. BPA had agreed to fund $9.3 million worth of the Council's list.

Other projects recommended include funding the monitoring and evaluation of a salmon production project in the South Fork of Idaho's Clearwater River, spending $300,000 to improve fish passage in a tributary of Oregon's Umatilla River, and installing stream flow gauges in the Entiat, Okanogan and Wenatchee rivers. -Bill Rudolph

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