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NWF.174/Feb.06.2004
[1] Feds Spell Out Proposals For Summer Spill Operations
[2] BPA Gets Little Support From Salmon Managers For Reduced Spill Proposals
[3] BiOp Judge Wants Feds To Pay More Attention To State, Tribal Input
[4] Removable Spillway Weir At Ice Harbor A Top Priority For 2004
[5] Attorneys Promise More Lawsuits Over Northwest Salmon Issues
[6] Danielson Elected To Chair Power Council For Second Term
[7] PGE Announces Agreement To Improve Fish Passage At Sullivan Project

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[1] FEDS SPELL OUT PROPOSALS FOR SUMMER SPILL OPERATIONS

A new federal analysis of summer spill options released at the January meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council supports an earlier council study that estimated trivial adverse impacts on ESA-listed fish from reducing BiOp-mandated spill levels at four federal dams.

And even better, members heard that costs to mitigate losses of other stocks, like the healthy and hard-fished Hanford Reach run, would only be a fraction of the amount saved by the spill reduction.

Cutting all spill in July and August could save the Bonneville Power Administration an average of $77 million annually, but was estimated to reduce numbers of returning adults by about 19,000 fish, less than 5 percent of the 11 stocks included in the analysis.

Most juvenile losses that translate into fewer returning adults would occur to upriver brights from the Hanford Reach, which were expected to dip to 195,000 from about 205,000 fish.

Since most ESA-listed Snake River fall chinook are barged, any change in spill regimes would have little effect. No spill in July and August would reduce their numbers by about 24 fish. (The estimate was made using a generous 2 percent smolt-to-adult return rate, about twice the rate seen in recent years for fall chinook).

Cutting spill in August alone could save ratepayers $42 million and reduce future adult numbers of all stocks by only 6,000 fish. The effect on the listed Snake fish would be minimal--only six fish were expected to be lost.

Another option calling for no spill at Ice Harbor Dam, no August spill at Bonneville Dam and 30 percent spill at John Day, was expected to save $54 million and reduce ESA Snake fall chinook numbers by only 12 fish over BiOp conditions. This, in turn, would reduce overall adult-equivalents by about 9,000 fish for all 11 stocks modeled.

Estimating Adult Returns

The collaborative effort between NOAA Fisheries, BPA, and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers marks the first time all three agencies have agreed to look beyond juvenile survival data and estimate adult returns. The modeling effort used a full range of smolt-to-adult returns [SARs] from 0.5 percent to 4 percent, which was plugged into five other spill scenarios that ranged from no summer spill to the full BiOp-spill option.

State and tribal fish agencies hadn't seen the federal analysis before the council meeting, and said nothing after the presentation. Staffers at the Columbia Basin Inter-Tribal Fish Commission had completed their own analysis using the same basic model [SIMPAS], and announced findings at a Jan. 15 meeting of the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority. They reported that ending summer spill Aug. 1 would reduce future adult fall chinook numbers between 652 and 9,673 for Snake, Hanford and Deschutes stocks, and would also adversely affect other basin salmon and lamprey as well.

However, to head off criticism by states and tribes, along with addressing previous concerns by some council members, the feds have developed a suite of potential offsets to make up for any fish losses.

To mitigate impacts to ESA-listed fish, the analysis showed that a smallmouth bass management program might add another 20 to 50 adult-equivalent fall chinook.

Other fish enhancement strategies included beefing up the pikeminnow predation program, which could add another 7,000 to 56,000 adults annually after being in place for eight years, and would cost another $1 million a year.

Another area with a large potential payoff is to further reduce flow fluctuations in the Hanford Reach during spring operations, a strategy that's already in place to boost fish survival. The feds estimate that 30 million fry could benefit from the action in 2004, which adds up to 50,000 more returning adults. The cost for such added protection was pegged at only $100,000.

Other potential offsets included paying harvesters a total of nearly $300,000 to reduce their catches, though politically that seems to be a long shot, especially since the spill-reduction proposal has already generated a negative response from the state of Alaska.

Boosting research into avian predation might ultimately save another half million young fall chinook a year for an annual outlay of $300,000. Removing 18,000 pilings at $70 apiece was also a potential offset. Such a strategy would remove perches for foraging cormorants.

Several million dollars could be earmarked for habitat improvement, though there was no quantitative benefit estimated for this activity.

BPA's Greg Delwiche said the spill proposals would be sent for discussion to the technical management team that governs weekly hydro operations at their Feb. 4 meeting, with more debate the following day by policy makers at the monthly Implementation Team meeting.

Corps of Engineers' spokesman Witt Anderson said the feds want regional input by the middle of February, pointing out the need to engage the states and tribes at "the highest levels" in order to get a final decision on the matter by early March.

Montana council member Ed Bartlett asked about progress on evaluating potential changes to operations at federal reservoirs in his state, which is part of the council's mandate to look at flow and spill regimes. NOAA representative John Palensky said the proposal was being reviewed by CPFWA's resident fish committee.

Utility folks seemed especially pleased with the direction of the latest spill analyses. Scott Corwin, representing the Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative, said the proposal indicates "we're entering a new era of salmon recovery," one that's based on performance rather than prescriptive rules. -Bill Rudolph


[2] BPA GETS LITTLE SUPPORT FROM SALMON MANAGERS FOR REDUCED SPILL PROPOSALS

The Bonneville Power Administration found regional fish and wildlife managers generally unsupportive and suspicious of the agency's new summer spill analysis after explaining its new proposals at two meetings this week.

It was the same basic message BPA delivered via Powerpoint two weeks ago at the January meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, along with the same presentation of potential "offsets," strategies to make up for juvenile fish numbers lost from any reduced spill at federal dams.

But Columbia Basin salmon managers had plenty of technical questions regarding the passage model used to estimate juvenile survival from different spill scenarios, along with the extra step that BPA staffers took to peg adult-equivalents. The analysis found that the healthy fall chinook run from the Hanford Reach, which makes up about 70 percent of the summer migration, would take about a 5 percent hit from a no-spill option in July and August, cutting returns from 205,000 fish to 195,000.

Since most ESA-listed fall chinook from the Snake are barged, a no-spill option was expected to reduce their numbers by only two dozen fish (This part of the analysis used an extremely generous smolt-to-adult return rate of 2 percent, but results were estimated with SARs that ranged from .5 percent to 4 percent).

The difference in juvenile survival for the Snake fish between a no-spill option in July and August and full spill was estimated at only .13 percent (from 12.69 percent to 12.82 percent), with the full-spill option expected to cost BPA $77 million to make up for lost generation.

So how did such an expensive strategy find its way into the BiOp? Ex-BPA Administrator Randy Hardy told NW Fishletter that he was running the agency when the 1995 BiOp was completed.

"My strong impression was that summer spill was only marginally related to saving Snake River fish and had much more to do with improving harvest opportunities on Hanford Reach fish," Hardy said. "It seems that recent analyses by Bruce Suzumoto of the Power Council and BPA bear out that observation."

BPA's Suzanne Cooper and Kim Fodrea fielded questions about the efficacy of the model at a Feb. 4 meeting of the Technical Management Team.

"It may not be perfect, but it's the best we have," Cooper told the technical management team at their Feb. 4 meeting in Portland, noting it's an updated version of the SIMPAS juvenile survival model used by NMFS in the 2000 BiOp.

The salmon managers also had questions about how the offsets were calculated for estimating the benefits from increasing the pikeminnow predation bounty program and reducing stranding of Hanford Reach juveniles. The BPA analysis estimated that enough more pikeminnow could be killed to eventually add another 7,000 to 56,000 returning adults fall Columbia chinook runs. Reducing stranding could add another 50,000 adults or even more, the analysis suggested.

NOAA Fisheries' spokesman John Palensky said the agency had not yet judged the offset analysis and hoped the co-managers would send in comments by Feb. 13. He said a decision on the spill evaluation by federal agencies was likely to occur in March. Most river watchers say it's likely agency heads will support the evaluation of an option that calls for ending spill in August, a strategy that could save BPA over $40 million a year.

Oregon Fish and Wildlife biologist Ron Boyce expressed concern that the evaluation was likely to go ahead whether or not an offset program was in place. BPA had earlier said it was willing to pay for more tags to test a spill scenario at Bonneville Dam with more fish to satisfy criticism of the original proposal.

The next day, mid-level policy managers from other federal agencies, states and tribes took a few more potshots at BPA's proposal when the BiOp's Implementation Team met in Portland.

Some, like Howard Schaller of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, questioned the numbers used in the SIMPAS analysis. He said the analysis needed to include the range of probabilities in the results to reflect variabilities in inputs, such as estimates of migrating smolts from different stocks.

But BPA's Kim Fodrea said her agency felt that the range of results calculated under different return rates had captured the variability in the analysis. Still, Schaller wasn't satisfied.

Fish Passage Center head Michele DeHart took issue with BPA's evaluation of potential savings from the different reduced spill options, saying that the analysis looked like the agency was maximizing revenue impacts while minimizing fish impacts. But BPA staffers said the pricing model used recent average summer prices across the last 50 water years, and computing the savings another way wasn't likely to make much of a difference.

Offsets Way Off?

Critics at the IT meeting also wanted more information from BPA to see how the agency estimated its benefits to fish from different offsets, especially those dealing with reducing predation and river fluctuations in the Hanford Reach.

When asked why BPA didn't start these offset programs sooner if they were so beneficial, Cooper said resources are limited. "We have to make choices on what we prioritize to do."

She said she understood there is a lot of uncertainty about the biological impacts of the summer spill options and the assessment of offset benefits, "but there are some policymakers in the region who are saying, 'So we've got a very expensive operation,' and when they are asking, 'What are the benefits of this operation?' they are hearing we have no data to tell you what the benefits of the operation are.

"So, they are asking, 'Well, maybe we could look at some alternative measures that are less costly and be able to implement those, and provide similar benefits." Cooper asked for feedback and promised more information for skeptics.

Corps of Engineers' spokesman Jim Athearn said policy discussions about potential offsets are already taking place at higher policy levels, namely, the "Three Sovereigns" level of federal, state and tribal governments. He asked for quick input to get offsets in place as soon as possible.

But some tribes already served notice that they won't support any changes to cut spill. "We are appalled by the continuing efforts of the Bonneville Power Administration, the Corps of Engineers and NOAA Fisheries to eliminate or reduce summer spill," said a Feb. 4 letter from the Nez Perce Tribe's executive committee to federal agencies. The committee said the proposals represented a direct infringement on tribal treaty fishing rights, a sentiment echoed by another letter from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission to the Implementation Team itself.

However, NOAA Fisheries spokesman John Palensky said any potential offset that dealt with a harvest buyout would only be directed at the non-Indian sector and not affect tribal fishermen.

Curiously, Washington state's representative failed to appear at the IT meeting, leading to speculation that the state may have begun to distance itself from critics of the summer spill proposal. -B. R.


[3] BIOP JUDGE WANTS FEDS TO PAY MORE ATTENTION TO STATE, TRIBAL INPUT

Oregon District Court Judge James Redden has told parties in the BiOp remand lawsuit (NWF v. NMFS) that federal scientists need to listen more to state and tribal fish managers as the BiOp is being rewritten. The judge, who expects a new BiOp by June, said he was willing to provide more time for consultation.

Redden also expressed concern at the Jan. 17 meeting of the remand steering committee that some fish recovery actions may not be adequately funded.

WDFW biologist Bill Tweit told the court that his agency is concerned about how NOAA Fisheries is gauging the strength of ESA stocks. "Do we protect them through their rebounding strength where right now they look pretty productive?" Tweit said. "Or are we building a system that still protects them through some of their worst time such as the '90s?"

Justice Department attorney Fred Disheroon told the judge he wasn't sure such a collaboration would work, since ultimately NOAA Fisheries has to issue the opinion.

But Redden said he wanted the key players to come up with a plan for state and tribal scientists to get together with NOAA scientists "and exchange their thoughts in an informal manner.

In a Jan. 23 letter to federal attorneys, the state of Oregon submitted a proposal on behalf of lower Columbia tribes, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the states of Idaho and Oregon that suggested a way to collaborate with federal scientists, including facilitation for discussion, "to ensure a candid discussion of the science." The letter also said that the contents of the discussions should not be used against any party in the current litigation, and would probably extend the current remand schedule by only 60 days. Judge Redden had earlier said he wanted a new BiOp by this June. -B. R.


[4] REMOVABLE SPILLWAY WEIR AT ICE HARBOR A TOP PRIORITY FOR 2004

The Corps of Engineers is nearly ready to call for bids to construct a removable spillway weir (RSW) at Ice Harbor Dam on the lower Snake River. If the new structure performs as well as its prototype at Lower Granite Dam, the new weir could save the Bonneville Power Administration more than $20 million a year in forgone power revenues.

At the January meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, Corps spokesman Witt Anderson said the new structure could be in place by spring 2005.

In the Lower Granite Dam test, juvenile fish passed the dam's spillway in similar numbers to the BiOp-mandated spill scenario, even though the RSW used far less water--in some cases one-tenth as much.

The Lower Granite weir is a huge 1,000-ton steel contraption bolted to the back of one of the ten spill bays at the dam. When in use, the weir sits high in the water and allows fish to pass into the spillway on a giant waterslide. Under normal spill conditions, migrating fish must swim 40 feet below the surface to make it through the spillway gates under higher pressures and water speeds.

The RSW is also engineered to fold beneath the spillway gate, allowing the gate to open fully during extreme flood conditions.

Studies have shown that fish survival averages about 98 percent with the RSW in operation, 5 percent better than the BiOp configuration.

Anderson said the Corps' budget is stretched thin for the coming fiscal year. The agency expects to get $66 million for dam-related projects, but needs another $2 million to start the RSW for Ice Harbor. The weir is expected to cost about $13 million, with another $5 million to $8 million budgeted for testing over several years.

The budget crunch means the Corps must prioritize their proposals, a job that is under way by the Systems Configuration Team, a committee of state, tribal and federal fish managers.

Anderson told NW Fishletter that the Corps was suggesting to forgo research this year at Lower Granite that would test the Behavioral Guidance Structure and defer the purchase of equipment involved in estuary survival studies to keep the Ice Harbor RSW proposal moving along as a high priority. After a recent meeting with co-managers of the system configuration team, no budget changes had been finalized.

Most state and tribal salmon managers, except for Idaho's, support putting RSWs in at Little Goose and Lower Monumental dams before Ice Harbor. They say benefits to inriver fish would be greater, since fish numbers are greatly reduced by the time the runs get to Ice Harbor because many are collected and barged at the three dams upriver of the site.

However, fewer fish are collected for barging when an RSW is operating, so salmon managers support a position that would significantly reduce the number of spring and fall chinook barged from the Snake.

A recent study of the potential cost-effectiveness of RSWs performed by an independent economics panel said weirs at Lower Monumental and Little Goose dams were a wash in terms of cost compared to benefits of some other ways to improve salmon survival. On the other hand, RSWs at Lower Granite and Ice Harbor made both biological and economic sense.

Anderson said recent survival studies at Ice Harbor have shown that spillway survival has been less than the generally accepted 98 percent level. Though not proven, it's likely that modifications to the spillway designed to reduce gas supersaturation levels in the river have increased fish mortality when flows are relatively low. In the spring, juvenile survival has ranged as low as 89 percent and summer survival has averaged around 87 percent. Most salmon managers feel the Ice Harbor RSW project should be held up until the exact cause of the fish injuries is found.

Though a modified spill pattern boosted juvenile survival at Ice Harbor to 96 percent, the Corps says an RSW could probably reduce spill levels enough to save BPA $13 million to $22 million a year.

Anderson said NOAA Fisheries regional administrator Bob Lohn and BPA head Steve Wright were briefed on the RSW situation Dec. 19, and both were very supportive of the effort. -B. R.


[5] ATTORNEYS PROMISE MORE LAWSUITS OVER NORTHWEST SALMON ISSUES

One message came out loud and clear from a recent two-day session that updated ESA issues for Northwest lawyers--don't expect any letup in salmon litigation anytime soon.

In fact, Peter Goldman of the Washington Forest Law Center promised another lawsuit once Washington state's Forest and Fish Agreement is crafted into a habitat conservation plan for state's timber industry that's designed to satisfy ESA requirements for fish protection, along with federal and state obligations for timber harvest on private lands,.

Goldman said the buffer zones along salmon streams do not offer enough protection for fish. He said when trees fall across creeks, improving riparian habitat, a stream may flood outside the buffer zone into areas of less protection.

Some environmental groups had already taken the Forest and Fish Agreement to federal court, but their lawsuit was ruled premature because NMFS had not yet reviewed the state board's final rules.

Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman was beaming from a recent win (Washington Toxics Coalition et al v. EPA) in Washington District Court, where federal judge John Coughenour signed an order establishing interim no-spray zones for pesticide (containing any of 54 different ingredients) applications along streams home to West Coast salmon populations listed under the ESA (20 yards for manual spraying, 100 yards for aerial spraying, with some exceptions). The judge issued the order while EPA consults with NMFS over the use of certain pesticides near streams inhabited by listed fish populations.

Coughenour's ruling also called for labeling certain pesticides as "salmon hazards" at points of sale in urban areas.

Former NMFS regional administrator Will Stelle, who now practices law in Seattle, sparred with Earthjustice attorney Todd True over the Redden decision (NWF v. NMFS) last May that invalidated the biological opinion that governed the Columbia River hydro system.

Stelle said federal agencies took a creative approach to the Endangered Species Act, while the Oregon judge made "a fairly literal interpretation" of the law, finding fault with the government's reliance on future actions that either hadn't undergone consultation or were not reasonably certain to occur, namely off-site mitigation by states, tribes and private groups expected to improve salmon productivity enough to let the hydro system off the hook for jeopardizing endangered or threatened runs.

Stelle said the Redden decision revealed the flaws in the ESA , namely that most factors of decline can't be used when consulting over a single plan such as the habitat conservation plan completed by mid-Columbia PUDs. Screening out future federal efforts that haven't yet gone through ESA consultation leads to a highly distorted view of the future, Stelle said. He questioned who won and what did they win in the BiOp remand.

"Did good science win? No, not at all." Stelle said.

By sending the BiOp back for remand, he said the region does not have a robust risk assessment of trends in the future. According to the ex-NMFS official the fix is "quite simple," to change the ESA regulation that's based on a 1981 solicitor's opinion (Spradley).

Earthjustice attorney Todd True, who represented plaintiffs in the BiOp lawsuit, spoke at the same gathering. Politicians who drafted the ESA never thought it would be used to review something like the Columbia River hydro system, said True, but the law "can work in new situations."

True said the 2000 BiOp suffered from an excess of "bureaucratic creativity," noting that he didn't think the intent of the original law, for example, would have called for salmon mitigation "two states away" from the hydro system in another stage of the fishes' life.

Just a few weeks ago, True's group filed another lawsuit that deals with the hydro BiOp. After mediation led by Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo (R) failed to head off a threat by environmental groups to go after more water for ESA-listed salmon in Idaho, Earthjustice filed against NOAA Fisheries in Oregon District Court calling for an evaluation to determine how much water from the upper Snake is needed to help fish migrating past lower Snake dams.

NOAA Fisheries had earlier completed a separate biological opinion for the upper Snake projects, which are operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, and issued a finding that their operation did not jeopardize the listed species.

The hydro BiOp that governs operation in the lower Snake and Columbia rivers now calls for 427,000 acre-feet of water from Idaho on a willing buyer-willing seller basis, but environmental groups say that more water is needed to reach flow targets designated in the BiOp. Water users are concerned that if environmentalists prevail, farmers could be forced to take a million acres of land out of production.

Yet another water fight may be headed for the US Supreme Court. The Pacific Legal Foundation said it will ask the country's highest court to review a recent decision involving water users in northeast Washington's Methow Valley, who lost an appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court over an earlier decision that upheld the action of the US Forest Service to regulate water across federal land on its way to private ditches. Defendants had claimed that federal authorities were usurping water rights granted by the state. PLF attorney Russell Brooks said the ruling would upset nearly 200 years of Western water law if it is upheld. -B. R.


[6] DANIELSON ELECTED TO CHAIR POWER COUNCIL FOR SECOND TERM

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council elected Judi Danielson to serve another term as chairwoman at its January meeting at Skamania Lodge near Portland. The council also elected Melinda Eden, of Oregon, to serve as vice-chair, replacing Tom Karier of Washington. Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne appointed Danielson to the council in 2001. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber appointed Eden to the council in Jan. 2003. -Steve Ernst


[7] PGE ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT TO IMPROVE FISH PASSAGE AT SULLIVAN PROJECT

As part of its effort to re-license its 16-MW Sullivan facility on the Willamette River, Portland General Electric announced last week an agreement with federal, state, tribal agencies and conservation groups to make significant improvements to fish passage. Sullivan is one of the longest running hydro plants in the country, operating since 1895.

The modifications, which are expected to be completed by 2010, include construction of a flow structure at the top of Willamette Falls to move fish downstream, changing a water tunnel to bypass fish around the generating plant, and reducing predation in that part of the river. The utility will also fund a program to study lamprey, which are being investigated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for possible protection under the ESA.

PGE also purchased water rights to Blue Heron Paper Company's hydro plant at the falls to free up more water for fish protection and energy production. Ten new turbines will also be installed at the Sullivan plant, which has 13 generators.

Costs to improve fish passage could add up to $10 million and maybe more if the 98-percent juvenile fish survival goals are not met. Currently, juvenile fish survival is in the 95-percent range.

PGE spokesman Mark Fryberg said the agreement is unique because it is based on performance standards with an ultimate goal of achieving a 99.5-percent juvenile survival rate. If the planned measures don't achieve that goal, the utility will spend more to get there, Fryburg said.

PGE says it expects FERC to issue a new 30-year license for Sullivan by the end of the year -B. R.

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