NORTHWEST CELEBRATES BANNER WATER YEAR; MONTANA FIGHTS TO FORESTALL DEEP DRAFTS OF HUNGRY HORSE AND LIBBY :: The Columbia-Snake river basin has not seen a water year like this one since 1974. Still, the four Northwest states and federal agencies charged with fish recovery activities and hydro operations are jostling over water for salmon, recreation, navigation and power. The Implementation Team (IT), the mid-level policy body responsibile for negotiating conflicts over NMFS' Biological Opinion for endangered salmon, met on Thursday, July 11. On the agenda was Montana's request to retain 400,000 acre-feet of water behind Libby and Hungry Horse that the BiOp allows to be drafted--a request on which the weekly hydro operating committee, the Technical Management Team, had been unable to reach consensus a day earlier. The IT also considered a Fish Passage Center request for a spill test for migrating fish at Little Goose Dam, a collection project on the Lower Snake.
But first, how good is the water year? Though memories of last winter's dull gray skies and endless storms may have faded, finally, the water the winter produced is still very much with us. The first part of June brought warm temperatures and corresponding snowmelt. As the month wore on, cooler temperatures and rain arrived in many parts of the region, while snowmelt slowed. June rainfall was a scant 40 percent of average on the Snake River above Ice Harbor. On the Columbia above Coulee, June rainfall was 79 percent of normal, and at the Dalles, 71 percent of normal. For the season (October -June), the Snake basin received 127 percent of average precip, the Columbia above Coulee, 129 percent, and the Columbia above the Dalles, 131 percent.
Observed streamflows in June were 116 percent of normal at Grand Coulee, 126 percent of average at Lower Granite, and 116 percent of normal at The Dalles. For the year so far (January-June), streamflows at Coulee have been 132 percent of average; at Lower Granite, 148 percent of average; and at The Dalles, 140 percent of average.
The current January-July forecast--which is now a short-range rather than a long-range wager--calls for 80.6 million acre-feet at Grand Coulee, or 127 percent of average; 40.9 MAF at Lower Granite, or 138 percent of average; and 138 MAF at The Dalles, or 130 percent of average. The July-to-September residual forecast calls for 30.4 MAF at Grand Coulee, or 138 percent of average; 5.1 MAF at Lower Granite, or 96 percent; and 36.8 MAF at The Dalles, or 122 percent.
The hydro storage system is essentially full, except in reservoirs at the highest elevations in Montana and Canada. Dworshak is full, and hydro operations this week call for increasing outflow to full powerhouse capacity in order to maintain flows of 53,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Lower Granite. The TMT will consider releasing more cool water from Dworshak if the water temperature at Lower Granite exceeds 68 degrees F.; in that case, the outflows at Dworshak may exceed full powerhouse capacity of 9,600 cfs.
The water level at Lower Granite itself will be allowed to rise one foot above minimum operating pool. Heavy sedimentation deposited during the last flood has raised the floor of the channel, and the additional foot is needed to maintain the required depth for navigation at Lewiston and Clarkston, explained Bolyvong Tanovan, chief of fish and water quality for the Army Corps of Engineers.
At the request of Idaho Power, the TMT agreed to reduce outflows at Milner dam on the Upper Snake from 2,600 cfs to 1,500 cfs at a rate of 200 cfs day, Tanovan said. Milner is an upstream storage projected operated by the Bureau and is a source of flow augmentation. Brownlee, Idaho Power's storage project, is downstream of Milner.
On the Columbia, Grand Coulee is operating within the top two feet of its range, and passing inflows. Far upstream on the Kootenai river, "pulsing" flows are being released for a second time at Libby dam in an attempt to encourage the endangered Kootenai sturgeon to spawn. (The first pulse operation was conducted during the first few days of July.) On July 10, outflows from Libby dam, which had been reduced gradually to the 14 Kcfs level, were rapidly restored to 25 Kcfs. After three days of this simulated freshet, flows will be reduced to 20 Kcfs on July 13, and to 17 Kcfs on July14. The hydro operating strategy, which heeds the Biological Opinion flow requirements, calls for keeping flow at the 17 Kcfs level throughout July, according to Tanovan.
The state of Montana, however, would like to turn down the spigot at both Libby and Hungry Horse to allow the reservoirs to fill and stay full throughout July. In August, Montana proposes, the draft of the reservoirs should be limited to 10 feet, and that water should be drawn down at a steady, predictable speed. The Biological Opinion allows a 20-foot drawdown of both reservoirs, and NMFS, which has been sued over its implementation of the BiOp, has not taken a position on Montana's request.
In June, Montana submitted a 10-foot split-the-difference drawdown proposal to the Executive Committee, the top policy level committee on the Biological Opinion--the Executive Committee essentially deferred a decision to later in the year. At the TMT meeting last week, Montana NWPPC biologist Mark Reller resubmitted the compromise proposal. "We think a 10-foot drawdown is incredibly generous in a wet water year like this," said Reller. "They're exceeding the flow targets in the BiOp. Yet US Fish & Wildlife, Oregon and Washington all said there needed to be make-up water if we retained 400 thousand acre-feet in Montana." Make-up water, if it is available anywhere, comes at a price that may break BPA's fish cap budget, and at any rate drives up the cost of salmon recovery.
"When I run the numbers, the change of volume on the lower river (due to the release of 400,000 acre feet in Montana) is only 1.4 percent. The change in velocity is on the order of one or two hundredths of a foot per second," said Reller. "I would challenge anyone to say we could measure that kind of velocity change in the lower river. Yet we don't ever get to the biological discussion of what that means to fish--just the political discussion--and the decision gets bumped to the IT."
A second issue before the IT was a request from state fish agencies and the tribes to conduct a spill test at Little Goose dam, a fish collection site on the Lower Snake. Radio-tags would allow researchers to study whether spill affects behavior among subyearling migrating fish in the forebay behind the dam. The Fish Passage Center has made a system operation request that would allow the 50 percent spill to continue for six weeks, beginning in mid-July [Pamela Russell].
 FEDS, TRIBES AGREE ON MOST BPA FISH CAP ISSUES, BUT DETAILS STILL TO COME :: Tribal and federal agency representatives who have been negotiating the details of the Memorandum of Agreement on BPA's fish cap declined to discuss their agreements with the press last week. The federal agencies--NMFS, BPA, Bureau of Reclamation, Corps of Engineers and US Fish--had set a deadline of July 8 for sorting out issues with the 13 Columbia Basin tribes. Doug Marker, of the Northwest Power Planning Council staff, said the many participants had reached agreement in principle on how to proceed on July 8, but composing a draft of the agreement--and working out its finer points--absorbed the rest of the week.
The important point, Marker said, is that there was no bad news on July 8--i.e., negotiations did not break down. "Nobody is conceding they're happy with the agreement," Marker said. But as a result of the negotiations, "council staff certainly feel the MOA is a lot clearer and more workable [than it was], yet it remains within the spirit of the agreement that was reached last fall," he said [Pamela Russell].
 SHOULD U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVCE ADMINISTER BPA F&W ACTIVITIES? NO, SAYS NWPPC :: Since electric ratepayers are funding fish and wildlife mitigation, BPA should remain the federal agency with authority to implement the Northwest Power Planning Council F&W program, wrote the NWPPC to Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt on June 27. The Council's letter was intended to head off a U.S. Fish & Wildlife proposal to take over the administration of BPA F&W mitigation activities, now that a BPA budget cap has been agreed upon.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife raised the idea of its administering BPA programs in an internal document intended to brief Secretary Babbitt on the salmon issues in the Columbia basin, according to Bill Shake, USF&W assistant regional director for the Columbia Basin Ecoregion. "We were surprised when we found out the issue was going to be on the NWPPC's last meeting agenda because we don't have a formal proposal on the table to take over Bonneville's fish and wildlife program," he said. "But the Fish and Wildlife Service has supported the idea that has been proposed by a number of entities that someone other than Bonneville should administer the fish and wildlife program."
The Power Council argues that it has taken pains to include input from states, the tribes, and the Northwest's fishery managers in its formulation of a fish and wildlife program. BPA, by law, "must use its revenue fund and other authorities consistently with the fish and wildlife program. That is, the region's ratepayers pay for the region's fish and wildlife program through Bonneville power revenues," states the letter.
The council acknowledges that in the past it has been dissatisfied with BPA's performance in implementing its program. But BPA's administration of F&W programs has improved in the past two years. "Rather than second-guess policy decisions, as occurred in the past, Bonneville's fish and wildlife division operates more as a contract management entity and is continuing to improve its efficiency," states the letter.
The region's fishery managers, through the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority, are prioritizing projects for BPA funding, the Council notes. This gives both states and tribes important influence over the fish and wildlife program. "We see no reason to alter this developing process at this time," states the letter, which was approved by the Council at its June 26 meeting.
The idea of moving administration of BPA F&W programs to another agency has been discussed at least since 1994, when Rep. Peter DeFazio's (D-OR) BPA Task Force issued its report, Shake said. But, he added, Secretary Babbitt agrees this is not the time to address the issue. Congress still has before it the Council's report from the 180-day Review, which suggests that all affected federal agencies, not just BPA, should be required to act consistently with the Council's program. In addition, the Comprehensive Review of the Northwest Energy System, ordered by the Northwest's four governors, is midway through its evaluation. "These things together lead the Secretary to believe we shouldn't be addressing this issue at this point," said Shake [Pamela Russell].
DOCUMENTS FROM NW FISHLETTER 013 :: Below are listed available documents referred to in the text of NW Fishletter issue 013.
THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.
NW Fishletter is produced by Energy NewsData with grants from the Montana and Idaho offices of the Northwest Power Planning Council, the Bonneville Power Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service, Chelan County PUD, Douglas County PUD, Grant County PUD
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Last modified: July 12, 1996