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NWF.157/Feb.21.2003
[1] Scientists Take Issue With Old Flow Augmentation Paradigm
[2] Steadier Flows May Be Key To Improving Fish Survival
[3] Locke Talks Money With Puget Sound Salmon Troopers
[4] Colvilles Submit $950 Million Claim Over Wells Dam
[5] Tribes Complain About BPA Budget Cuts, Call For Audit
[6] ISAB Responds To Question Of Excess Hatchery Fish
[7] BPA Plans Rate Increase As Last Option

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[1] SCIENTISTS TAKE ISSUE WITH OLD FLOW AUGMENTATION PARADIGM

New information no longer supports the prevailing flow-augmentation paradigm in the Columbia Basin "that in-river smolt survival will be proportionally enhanced by any amount of added water," according to the Northwest Power Planning Council's Independent Scientific Advisory Board.

The assessment was included in the ISAB's update and clarification of an earlier review it conducted for the council. As part of its continuing dialog on mainstem operations, the Power Planning Council had given the science panel a list of questions on the topic last November. Fish agency managers later added a few questions of their own.

Old-line fish managers probably won't like what the ISAB has to say. "Incremental flow augmentation of the magnitude presently mandated within a year is not likely to have a dramatic beneficial effect on inriver smolt survival of outmigrants," the ISAB said in the Feb. 10 report. Its conclusion "most likely" holds for spring chinook and maybe for fall chinook as well, "particularly if the water is provided by intermittent dam discharges, rather than provided as steady flow," the ISAB said.

The panel also seemed to support Montana's position that BiOp flow mandates shortchange the state's resident fish populations. The council's preferred alternative called for steadier water releases from Montana's federal projects in most years than those included in the BiOp.

The group focused mainly on fish survivals in the lower Snake, saying no flow-survival relationship was evident from data in the upper Columbia River. In the Snake, the ISAB said the latest data from the National Marine Fisheries Service showed no benefit from added flows above 100 kcfs. Below that level, steady flows or other alternatives "may be needed to avoid deleterious effects."

The panel's conclusion is fairly consistent with the current BiOp's 85 kcfs spring flow target for the Snake, but conflicts with the council's preferred alternative, which calls for doing away with BiOp flow targets. Decreases of 10 percent in spring and summer flows in the lower Snake weren't likely to have "deleterious effects" on juvenile fish survival, provided flows were around 100 kcfs, the scientists said.

However, the council asked the group if augmented flows would produce the same fish benefits as higher flows under natural conditions. The scientists said not necessarily.

The ISAB said the correlation between gross measures of smolt survival and flow "remain unexplained" and that "we have no way of knowing whether the flow increments that are provided by the present flow augmentation policy will or will not induce conditions that enhance smolt survival."

The panel seemed to make more inferences from data federal scientists released in December than the feds did themselves, when the ISAB embraced a graph of several years' worth of flow and survival data first exhibited by NMFS scientists during a power council presentation. The ISAB called it the "broken stick" model, referring to the shape of the graph when the feds plotted 1995-2001 fish survivals. With the drought year 2001 included, when juvenile chinook mortality in the lower Snake more than doubled from other years in the period, the plot angled steeply downward, hence the appearance of a "broken stick."

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

At the December council presentation, NMFS scientist John Williams said that "above some threshold average, [spring chinook and steelhead] survival appears to vary little, is relatively high and does not correlate with flow." Below that threshold, as indicated by data from the extremely low flow year of 2001, fish survival is a good deal lower, Williams said. But even at the lower levels, the relationship between flow and survival "is not strong," he said.

Williams' take-home message was that most juvenile mortality occurred at the dams, not in the reaches between dams, so flow improvements might have little benefit for riverine survival. But he suggested that since fish travel times through the hydro system are much longer than in the pre-hydro era, increased flows might reduce travel times and improve survivals to the estuary and ocean. But Williams also said the impact of travel times was still largely unknown.

The ISAB panel said the idea that faster migration improved smolt survival needed evaluation, though they noted increased migration rates in the higher reaches didn't ensure survival in the lower reaches.

Panel Puzzled

The independent science panel admitted it was puzzled that a "significant" relationship had been found in analyses of annual average estimates of survival and flow, since only one year demonstrated a clear "within-year" relationship. "Continuing observations are necessary," the panel said.

Meanwhile, an alternative to these analyses has just gone public. The Idaho Water Users Association has released a study by Prof. Jim Anderson of the University of Washington, who claims to demonstrate that any relationship between reduced water transit time, a surrogate for flow, and survival of spring chinook is driven by the 2001 data. "Excluding the warm low-flow year 2001 from the group, results in the relationship disappear," Anderson said. "Thus, 2001, with its high temperature and correspondingly low flow and survivals, drives the regression." He said the high temperature of 2001, not flow, was enough to "explain the survival pattern between years and within each year."

The panel also reviewed analyses by the Fish Passage Center, which has been a longtime advocate of flow augmentation. The ISAB concluded that the FPC reviews of data are substandard, saying that the FPC's "basic model and methods of presentation are now inadequate to make confident predictions for management, and other interpretations of the accumulated data are needed."

As part of its review, the panel speculated that higher flows with frequent hourly interruptions from power operations could lead to decreased smolt survival. They included a long appendix that outlined their alternative hypotheses "for Explaining Current Data on Smolts and Flow," which had one longtime river watcher, who wished to remain unidentified, highly irritated.

"I think they stepped way outside the box that they're supposed to be operating in," he told NW Fishletter. "They're supposed to be helping the region identify what the scientific information is telling us, what are the key messages, what do we know and not know, where are the legitimate uncertainties." He said it certainly wasn't their role to advise NMFS "and come up with recovery measures that they promote and advocate with no data to indicate that their measures would, in fact, be successful."

The Power Planning Council is accepting public comments on the ISAB flow augmentation review until Feb. 25. -Bill Rudolph


[2] SCIENTISTS SAY STEADIER FLOWS MAY BE KEY TO IMPROVING FISH SURVIVAL

Two representatives from a panel of independent scientists told the Power Planning Council this week that hourly fluctuations in hydro operations may impact survival of juvenile salmon in the Snake River more than changes in flow itself. The scientists' hypothesis was contained in a report released earlier this month
[see story 1]
that was commissioned by the council last November to help evaluate elements of their mainstem amendment process.

The Independent Scientific Advisory Board was charged with answering a spate of questions about the value of flow augmentation, but they seemed more interested in advancing their own theory about fluctuating flows and fish survival. They did say that the council's mainstem amendments were unlikely to have major effects on yearling chinook when flow were above 100 kcfs, but fall chinook could suffer when flows were below 50 kcfs in July and August.

Montana member John Hines said the ISAB report backs up what his state has been saying for years, "that yo-yoing reservoir fluctuations is not good." Pointing out that most fish were barged from the Snake, he asked the scientists about the benefits of adding more flow in low flow years.

ISAB member Charles Coutant said there didn't seem to be enough water available to add in low flow years to make a difference, "so stable flows or barging is a good solution in an 'ambulance' sense." Citing work by University of Washington professor Jim Anderson, he said that that by simply adding more water to lower Snake flows from the already warm Brownlee reservoir could compound temperature problems for summer migrants.

Most spring and summer migrants are barged out of the Snake to below the last dam on the Columbia River. According to data posted on the University of Washington's DART [Data Access in Real Time] website, about 80 percent, or 1.1 million juvenile fall chinook were barged last year out of the 1.39 million estimated to have migrated from the lower Snake.

In 2001, the second-worst water year on record, over 99 percent of the more than 600,000-plus fall chinook in the lower Snake were barged or trucked downstream, leaving less than 4,000 in-river migrating juveniles to cope with the extremely low flows.

"But flow might be important for a lot of other reasons than just survival in the Snake," Coutant cautioned, though he did not enumerate. NMFS scientists have suggested that flow augmentation may play a role in estuary and near-ocean survival of juvenile fish, as well as timing their entry into the ocean.

Sloshing Bathtub Theory Explained

The council's preferred alternative calls for changing operations mandated in the hydro BiOp to reduce flow augmentation in the spring, but add more water in late summer for fall chinook migrants in the Snake, with the overall effect of draining federal reservoirs more slowly and evenly in Idaho and Montana to benefit of resident fish species in those states.

The new ISAB report does say the "prevailing rationale for flow augmentation is not supported by the present evidence," and they suggested that a management alternative that stabilized within-day flows when overall flows were low "may be more important than simply adding water," although they offered no direct survival data to back up their hypothesis.

"Maybe we stepped outside our bounds a bit," said Dr. Charles Coutant, who cited some recent radio-tag studies that showed fish wandering back up reservoirs during periods of low flows at dams.

His enthusiasm was shared by fellow scientist, retired University of Washington professor Richard Whitney, who told council members "this is the first time you'll ever see anything like this, maybe the last."

The two exhibited NMFS graphs that showed higher fish survivals during years of higher flows, and much lower survivals in 2001 when flows were extremely low, which gave the plot the look of a broken stick. They said the complex pattern suggests "a different rationale than just flow for the smolt survival and behavior data."

Radio telemetry studies from 1995-2001 show that fish behavior changed at low flows, they said. Migration rates of spring chinook declined to near zero in Lower Granite Pool around 100 kcfs, and smolts wandered in the dam forebay and swam upstream many kilometers. Fall chinook experienced the same sort of behavior in Little Goose Pool. The ISAB said reduced migration rates at a certain "threshold" agree with the NMFS data and "broken stick" graph.

Coutant and Whitney spent the next half-hour explaining their idea that daily flow fluctuations could have adverse effects on juvenile migrating salmon. They said when overall flows were below 100 kcfs, the frequency of flow fluctuations increased, mostly at night, averaging five to six hours. Such fluctuations induce complex reservoir hydraulics, which could create large waves in lower Snake reservoirs much like water sloshing in a bathtub. When a wave reversed, it could change the current in the river and cause smolts to become disoriented and slow their migration.

"Actually, you're seeing science at work here," said Coutant. "Because we began to realize that looking at the survival data something was happening about 100,000 cfs that implied one different mechanism at one side of the break point and another different mechanism at the high side."

"If you were a smolt trying to migrate through a reservoir," Coutant said, "where the flow was actually reversing on you every two hours, it could be pretty confusing." He said the idea of pulsing flows to move fish "is pretty much discredited" and contributed to fish declines rather than improvements in survival. He said it would be difficult to find enough water to flush the fish successfully. "The time you've got the problem is when you don't have the water."

When asked if these reservoir waves could actually help the fish when they were traveling in the same downriver direction, Coutant said "it might," but there wasn't enough data to make that fine a distinction.

Idaho member Jim Kempton said there was no reason not to look at the ISAB hypothesis and investigate the possibility that power peaking operations in the Snake may be hampering fish migration and survival.

Washington council member Tom Karier said the report focused debate on low water years, but showed there is still "great confusion how flows make a difference." -B. R.


[3] LOCKE TALKS MONEY WITH PUGET SOUND SALMON TROOPERS

Speaking earlier this month, Washington Gov. Gary Locke said his new budget would have less impact on fish restoration efforts than most other state activities, as he pared $2.4 billion from state spending to balance the books for the next biennium. Locke announced the good fish news at the Feb. 5-6 Shared Strategy Conference in Tacoma, where about 300 natural resource agency employees, tribal representatives, property owners, business representatives and watershed planners met to hear about progress in recovering ESA-listed stocks in Puget Sound.

Locke said the state can't afford to back off after the last two years of good fish returns and focus more on the needs of people, because the investment in wild salmon recovery is an investment in people and jobs. "An investment in salmon is an investment in the quality of life," Locke said, noting that such efforts must continue since most of the returning salmon were hatchery fish.

He said the region can't be lulled into complacence by the numbers of returning salmon "because it will take several generations to know if we have reversed the downward trend." He told the group that third-party lawsuits filed over ESA issues are a constant reminder that "if we don't fix it, the law will."

Locke said he has allocated $8 million less for salmon restoration funding than in his earlier budget, a modest cut compared to those proposed for other state programs. He called for $43 million to pay for salmon programs over the next two years, another $8 million to address fish-related water issues and several million more to pay for watershed planning.

Overall, natural resource spending by the state amounts to only about 2 percent of Locke's proposed $23 billion budget for 2003-2005, with about half of the total funding basic education needs.

"We're making a significant investment, but we need more," Locke said. He added that state and federal relationships need to be strengthened and called on the feds to improve the regulatory framework by developing clear standards to guide state and local recovery efforts.

With federal money paying nearly twice what the state ponied up for fish recovery efforts in the 2001-2003 fiscal period (more than $68 million), such largesse may not be forthcoming in the new federal budget.

OMB Takes Salmon Spending To Task

Regional NMFS Administrator Bob Lohn said Pres. Bush's budget drafters are not impressed with the results from federal spending through the Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund, which has provided the state about $30 million a year for fish recovery efforts. It's part of a larger program to improve the lot of salmon in coastal states including Alaska, and grew out of the renegotiated fish treaty with Canada a few years ago.

Lohn said strong congressional support could keep the money available, and maybe even add some. But the federal Office of Management and Budget has rated the program lower in quality than others, because in many areas, results needed to justify sustained funding "are not yet showing up, at least on their radar," Lohn said. "They're seeing projects carried out; they're not seeing benefits correlated."

Lohn said one of the great challenges faced throughout the funding system is figuring out how to link various project activities to the more comprehensive question of "What is this delivering?"

Other panelists at the Thursday session offered their own perspectives on the recovery effort. Some called for tighter regulations. "If you're not regulating to keep more damage from occurring, then restoration won't be sufficient," said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People For Puget Sound. "We need more strategy and more shared," she told the conference.

She said watershed planning has been a big advance, "but it has also fragmented Puget Sound itself in the way we think about it, the way we decide how to end up being a whole system." She said more discussion of the marine and near-shore environment is taking place, "but we're not there yet in thinking about Puget Sound as a watershed and making our investments and regulatory decisions accordingly."

Tom Fitzsimmons, head of the state Ecology Department said his agency needs a longer-term planning horizon than the two-year rolling debates over regulatory regimes.

He said the region must decide where it needs to get fifteen to twenty years from now, "talk about the methodologies, make the investments across all cycles and get on with it and not re-invent the regulatory regimes every couple of years."

Fitzsimmons said other state industries and municipalities need the same kind of agreement that the timber industry hammered out with stakeholders in the recent Fish and Forests agreement to guide future timber management while satisfying ESA fish concerns.

But local governments are still in a big budget bind. Kitsap County commissioner Chris Endresen said county governments typically spend between 50 percent and 80 percent of their budgets on law and justice. She said officials must find a way to fund conservation at the local level along with better coordination with the Ecology Department over stormwater versus greenfields issues.

Seattle City councilwoman Margeret Pageler said the region was going to spend "millions, probably billions" to pay for complying with stormwater and water quality regulations without solving the problem until a national initiative is developed to start cleaning up cars similar to the nationwide push that got lead out of gasoline. "Right now we don't have a choice of driving clean cars because they're not produced, and we don't have lubricants and fuels that are not polluting..."

Pageler said she "didn't have a great deal of hope that we're going to have President Bush's hydrogen cars unless we start right now with those incremental improvements that will make a difference for salmon in this generation of families."

Her remarks drew loud applause from the crowd, who heard Shared Strategy chair Bill Ruckelshaus rally local watershed groups the previous day.

"In the watersheds in Puget Sound where people are listening to one another," Ruckelshaus said, " trying to understand what the world looks like to their neighbor, whether tribal member, farmer, forest owner, government official, fisherman, or just someone concerned about the future of the place where they live and where people are working together to ensure a prosperous future--when all this is happening--it's like magic. These magical moments are occurring all over Puget Sound." He said as the nation prepared for war, the salmon recovery effort in the Northwest could serve as a domestic example "of how problems can be solved peaceably and through cooperation."

Jim Waldo, the governor's water policy advisor, ended the conference on a serious note. He said good conditions in the oceans could help take salmon recovery efforts "to a whole different level." He said recovery folks could not simply do "good work," but would have "to communicate the value of what's being achieved, not just that projects are being completed, but what we believe the expected value is and how will we maintain that."

Waldo said it's not good enough to go to go to Olympia or DC and say salmon are important, "because they're dealing with lots of important requirements and they can't pay for them all. We need to be able to go to Olympia, DC, the local counties, the city councils, the foundations and others, and say not only is this important, but we know what we're doing is increasing value, so stay with us and we will succeed."

Attorney Waldo said after West Coast fish runs began crashing in the late 1980s, "society in one form or another, has been responding." He said the total array of things that have been done to improve fish stocks since then is the "equivalent of the Marshall Plan" for salmon. -Bill Rudolph


[4] COLVILLE TRIBE SUBMITS $950 CLAIM OVER WELLS DAM

The Colville Tribe has told Douglas PUD that it owes the tribe $950 million--compensation for inundating tribal lands when Wells Dam began operations on the Columbia River in 1967.

A stunned PUD director Bill Dobbins told NW Fishletter that the utility is committed to coming up with some agreement with the tribe, but he said the $950-million number "is certainly shocking." Dobbins said in the 1960s, the state of Washington and the tribe argued over riverbed ownership, but nothing was ever settled. Since then, he said Supreme Court decisions have come down that give more or less support to the tribe's claim, but he admitted that the original hydro license contained language about an annual payment to the tribes that was never instituted.

"This is a real important negotiation to us," Dobbins said. With the Wells project's license up for renewal in 2012, he hoped an agreement could be reached long before then. He said the tribe has been an important partner over the years, noting the Colvilles recently signed the Douglas and Chelan PUDs' Habitat Conservation Plan crafted for ESA fish mitigation over the next 50 years.

Before the reservoir was completed in the early 1960s, said Douglas PUD lawyer Garfield Jeffers, the utility spent about $1 million to purchase about 120 parcels of tribal land on the east side of the Columbia River that would be affected by the project. The Colville Reservation's western boundary goes "to the river," Jeffers said, according to congressional language from the 1872 act that created the reservation. He said all pertinent deeds are filed with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Portland, showing that the PUD has clear title to properties, known as "freeboard land."

"The intent of Congress at the time needs to be determined," Jeffers said, to agree upon the boundary--whether it's on the east shore, in the middle of the river, or the west shore. He said a 1980 US Supreme Court decision (US v. Montana) favors the PUD position, but another ruling by the court less than two years ago favors the tribe. "Each position is legally debatable," he said.

The Colvilles settled with the federal government over compensation for tribal lands flooded by Grand Coulee Dam that took 42 years to finalize, with the tribe receiving a lump sum of $53 million. The tribe also receives $21 million a year from BPA, after another case was resolved in 1994, according to the Wenatchee World.

Dobbins said the PUD's annual maintenance and operating costs add up to about $33 million. According to the paper, tribal attorneys say the PUD payment for 2003 amounts to nearly $18 million. That estimate is based on the amount of their land the tribe says is affected by the project, about 27 percent.

If the claim is resolved giving the tribe only ownership of the riverbed, that would reduce the size of the affected land to about 8 percent of the project, said attorney Jeffers, and any potential annual payments in the future would by less than one-third of the $18 million annual payment claimed by the tribe for 2003. -B. R.


[5] TRIBES COMPLAIN ABOUT BPA BUDGET CUTS, CALL FOR AUDIT

Fifty-four Northwest tribes have called for a full audit of BPA's fish and wildlife program as the agency's budget-cutting exercise threatens some tribal programs, especially those not related to implementing BiOp mandates for improving ESA-listed fish stocks. A lengthy resolution passed by the tribes called for triggering a cost recovery clause "if necessary and appropriate" that would allow the agency to make its annual Treasury payment and still fully fund F&W efforts.

The announcement came as tribal leaders testified at a special Feb. 13 Northwest Power Planning Council session, during which BPA brass and NMFS representatives explained how they were prioritizing the fiscal year 2003 F&W budget.

The tribes' resolution claims BPA "has failed to reveal a truthful and accurate accounting of its expenditures" and, by threatening to reduce fish and wildlife funding, the power agency "risks setting back recovery efforts taken by the tribes, states, local governments and other stakeholders such as irrigation districts for years to come." The resolution also points out the "loss of economic activity associated with implementing restoration contacts."

BPA spokesman Ed Mosey said agency budgets are transparent and an outside audit of BPA conducted a few years ago by accounting firm Moss Adams recommended that fish and wildlife contracts be "scrutinized more strongly." (see NW Fishletter issue 53)

Mosey said BPA is committed to satisfying its obligations under the BiOp, and that the $139 million budget ceiling is still 39 percent above the F&W budget from the previous rate period.

Attorney Tim Weaver, representing the Yakama Nation, told council members that the tribe doesn't support amending the F&W program by cutting the budget to $139 million. He said BPA is cutting contracts already, so it's not just a "concept," as BPA officials have testified. He said the power agency was not waiting for the council to approve cuts "and we're feeling the pain."

BPA "can't explain it to you, you don't understand it, that's clear. We don't understand it. It's a shell game with no pea," Weaver told the council.

By this week, the budget crisis was not over, but power council members listened to F&W lead staffer Doug Marker explain updated cost estimates, which still left little room for expansion of mainstem/systemwide projects this year. He said council staffers are confident that the final number will come in below BPA's $139 million target.

Other council members expressed concern that costs of implementing proposals that satisfied BiOp mandates would still shortchange older, established council programs that focused on non-listed fish species or wildlife. -B. R.


[6] ISAB RESPONDS TO QUESTION OF EXCESS HATCHERY FISH

The panel of independent scientists that reviews salmon recovery efforts in the Northwest says the recent large returns of hatchery fish may create big problems for ESA-listed salmon. The group explained their position and made recommendations in the December 2002 issue of Fisheries, a journal published by the American Fisheries Society.

Their review was prompted by a request from NOAA Fisheries. The agency was concerned about effects on ESA stocks of large returns of non-native hatchery spring chinook to Columbia River tributaries like the Methow River in northeast Washington. Strong local support for allowing hatchery chinook to spawn naturally with ESA-listed wild chinook was a major reason for the requested review.

But the Independent Scientific Advisory Board didn't pull any punches. "We believe the available empirical evidence demonstrates a potential for deleterious interactions, both demographic, and genetic, from allowing hatchery-origin salmon to spawn in the wild."

A plan to limit the natural spawning of hatchery spring chinook with wild spring chinook in the Methow was "protested by basin tribes and others who believed that allowing these hatchery-origin fish to spawn would help recover listed populations," say the authors, who also mentioned earlier public opposition to clubbing hatchery coho at an Alsea River hatchery in Oregon that led to several lawsuits and an effort to repeal the wild fish policy in Oregon.

The authors also noted the concern of Klamath River tribes and watershed groups over the straying of hatchery salmon after too many fish returned to California hatcheries. The tribes and public were concerned that the huge numbers of hatchery fish would swamp restoration efforts of the wild stock. The state responded by killing the excess hatchery fish.

"The scientific evidence does not support indiscriminately permitting hatchery-reared salmon to spawn naturally throughout the Columbia River Basin," said the ISAB after a careful and extensive discussion of the literature.

Though some groups support using hatchery salmon to rebuild wild salmon populations, the ISAB found little support for such strategies. "We are not aware of studies that demonstrate that reproduction by stray adult salmon from conventional hatchery programs makes meaningful contributions to the abundance of naturally spawning salmon populations," they said, noting also that they were not aware of peer-reviewed studies that demonstrated successful supplementation efforts.

The life history variation among populations of salmon is the result of the genetic structure of a population affected by natural selection in a constantly fluctuating environment. When salmon from two genetically divergent populations interbreed, their progeny could have lower survival fitness than the parents through the loss of local adaptations to the environment. It's a factor called "outbreeding depression" and the authors said "it could happen when hatchery salmon of non-local source spawn with local wild salmon."

The paper also discussed domestication selection, where hatchery salmon are selected for traits that fit the hatchery environment, making them less fit for survival in the natural environment. The ISAB authors said, "...domestication selection within hatcheries can lead to genetic divergence of wild and hatchery salmon from the same ESU [Evolutionarily Significant Unit]." They noted the considerable variation among salmon culture programs in the past and that present hatchery stocks "likely vary widely in their degree of domestication."

The authors reviewed a number of studies that indicated a change in reproductive success in hatchery salmon compared to wild salmon. "...These experimental results," said the ISAB, "...provide convincing evidence that (1) Domestication selection can genetically alter hatchery populations in a relatively few generations; (2) Hatchery-reared adults returning from the ocean and spawning in the wild generally produce progeny that do not survive as well as progeny from adults of wild origin; and persuasive indication that (3) Interbreeding between hatchery-reared adults and wild fish can reduce the fitness of wild populations."

In response to the scientific evidence at hand, the ISAB recommended that a precautionary approach be taken. They suggested that "management actions be reversible if found to yield unintended results. Because it is virtually impossible to undo the genetic changes caused by allowing hatchery and wild salmon to interbreed."

The Methow River has two distinct populations of wild, ESA-listed spring chinook. One is found in the Chewuck River and the other is found in the Twisp, but the Carson stock of spring chinook used in the hatchery program is not native to the Methow River or its tributaries and is not included in the spring chinook ESU for these rivers. Even though the ISAB opposed letting the Carson spring chinook spawn naturally in the Methow, a negotiated compromise was made with interest groups and fish managers to allow these hatchery fish to spawn in the mainstem Methow River.

"We allowed fish that were not necessary for brood stock to spawn naturally in the river, but took steps to reduce risk by releasing Carson Hatchery spring chinook juveniles into the Okanogan River," said NOAA Fisheries' Kris Petersen. In addition, NOAA Fisheries, along with the management agencies, are building a local brood stock using Chewuck and Twisp stocks for the hatchery program.

"After 2001," Petersen said, "Carson spring chinook were not released into the Methow, but returning adults were allowed to spawn in the mainstem Methow, but not in the tributaries where they would interbreed with ESA-listed spring chinook." This year will be the last year where Carson spring chinook will return to spawn in the mainstem Methow.

Monitoring and evaluation are necessary to provide the means by which changes in management actions are accomplished, but monitoring alone is not sufficient. The ISAB cited two documents that identified monitoring problems: the 2000 Biological Opinion and the Basinwide Recovery Strategy from the Federal Caucus. "...both conclude that they are unable to assess the impacts of hatchery releases on wild populations because of insufficient monitoring and evaluation of past activities. Given this problem, the authors said a "well-designed, large scale experiment designed specifically to assess the effects of hatchery-derived spawning on wild populations is needed. It is time to implement such an experiment."

"There are still several outstanding questions about hatcheries that need to be answered," said co-author Jim Lichatowich, "and the fact that they have not been answered after 126 years of using hatcheries is a sign of failure at several levels of salmon management. One key question is if it is assumed that hatchery and wild salmon are equivalent in nature, then that must be verified." He has said if they are not equivalent, then hatchery and wild salmon must be isolated in the ecosystem. -Bill Bakke


[7] BPA PLANS RATE INCREASE AS LAST OPTION

Billed at its creation as a "last resort" to which BPA would turn only in the most severe economic circumstances, the safety net cost recovery clause (SN CRAC) came to life last week.

The agency proposed adding another 15 percent to rates already hit by two ongoing CRAC surcharges. BPA said adding the SN CRAC at this rate for three years would raise $900 million and bring BPA's average priority firm (PF) rate to about $37/MWh. If approved after a rate case that is set to begin March 17, the SN CRAC would take effect Oct. 1.

Paul Norman, senior VP of BPA's Power Business Line, did not mince words about what the increase will mean for the region: "If it goes through, it will have damaging impacts on an economy that is already suffering." He said the agency has been "doing little else over the last few months than trying to stave this off," hoping the Northwest economy would begin to mend, "but we ran out of options. There will be economic impacts. Some businesses will find that this is the straw that breaks the camel's back."

Customers will be called to attend meetings over the next couple of weeks to address both cost and financial issues. BPA doesn't normally allow discussion of costs simultaneously with rates. It is taking a different approach this time in response to customers' strong desire to aggressively cut BPA's costs.

There is also a possibility that further progress could be made before BPA publishes an initial rate proposal March 17. There is a huge revenue gap, "but there is still an opportunity to reduce costs and make [the gap] smaller," Norman said. "We're trying to set it up so we can continue to make progress on costs."

The formal case is expected to end in mid-June , when BPA will issue a final record of decision and forward it to FERC for approval.

During the workshops prior to March 17, BPA will also discuss the rate design of the increase. Norman said it could be fixed at 15 percent each year or vary up or down, depending on water conditions or secondary power revenues. "All sorts of options are in play," he said.

Base rates are already burdened with extra charges under the load-based (LB) and financial-based (FB) cost recovery adjustment clauses. Under current rates, the safety net CRAC triggers only when the LB and FB CRACs have already triggered and the administrator determines that BPA has a less than 50 percent probability of being able to make its next Treasury payment. Norman said Treasury payment probability currently stands at 25 percent.

Last fall, Norman said, BPA identified a $1.2 billion gap over the remainder of the rate period, which ends in 2006. BPA cut a portion of that with $350 million in cost reductions and deferrals, although only about $300 million of that counts against the $1.2 billion. Adding revenue from the FB CRAC and Slice true-ups reduced the balance by another $550 million. Hydro operation changes BPA is considering could contribute another $100 million or so, bringing the gap to about $250 million.

"That looks promising," Norman said, until one folds in BPA's revised estimates of secondary power revenues. Those estimates have been reduced to $500 million per year from $650 million. That, plus the dismal water outlook for this year, with only 74 million acre-feet of runoff forecast, pushes the gap back up to about $900 million.

Norman said he thinks another $500 million in savings are possible, but they require the cooperation of parties outside BPA. The biggest is $200 million in payments BPA owes the investor-owned utilities as long as the litigation among customers stemming from the Subscription process remains unresolved.

BPA also hopes to extract more reductions in its fish costs while still meeting BiOp goals. Most of the prospects for those savings lie in the hands of the Northwest Power Planning Council, Norman said. -Ben Tansey

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