Spring Spill Curtailed; Summer Spill Proposal Needs More Work
 Enviros Promise Motion To Head Off Potential Cuts In Summer Spill
 Umatilla Tribes Intend To Sue Over Summer Spill
 Summer Spill Plays Role In Setting Ocean Harvest Quotas For 2004 Fisheries
 Less Snow, More Climate Scientists Likely In NW's Future
 New Agreement Reached For Fish Protection In Hanford Reach
 SPRING SPILL CURTAILED, SUMMER SPILL PROPOSAL NEEDS MORE WORK
With Northwest precipitation running normal through the beginning of the new year, hydro operators were breathing easy until February, when things began to dry up. March weather turned out even worse, and by April 1, operators were nearly hyperventilating after snowpack in the Columbia-Snake Basin dropped to 70 percent of average.
The drying trend whetted appetites for a debate between fish managers and hydro operators over curtailing spill at Snake River dams that ended only a few days ago when the Corps of Engineers decided to stop spring spill April 23 at two dams on the lower Snake, only letting it slide over the spillway at Lower Monumental for up to 18 days to help an inriver passage study.
If precipitation remains normal for the rest of the year, seasonal runoff will be at 77 percent of normal, or 82.8 million acre-feet (MAF) for the Columbia Basin at the Dalles, according to the mid-month January-to-July runoff figures released April 19.
The April numbers have led to a reduced estimate for seasonal average flows at Lower Granite Dam, one that dips below the 85 kcfs threshold the Biological Opinion uses for triggering curtailment of spring spill at lower Snake dams.
"We are looking at near-drought conditions again," said Ed Mosey, spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration. "We have the exact opposite conditions in March as we had last year."
"When flows go this low, we can barge 100 percent of the fish. That gives them the best survival rate," Mosey said.
But at the April 8 meeting of the Technical Management Team, NOAA Fisheries floated a proposal to hold off the early barging of spring chinook from lower Snake dams, citing new research that shows survival rates are lower than for wild fish barged in May. Paul Wagner of NOAA suggested ending spill and commencing barging when juvenile steelhead make up 50 percent of the smolt numbers at Lower Granite.
Wagner also cited an analysis by the University of Washington's Jim Anderson, who recommended that barging not begin until water temperatures reached 9.5 degrees C. to allow the smolts' immune systems to kick in.
Water temperatures were in the 10-degree range while the managers argued if the current hydro BiOp should be followed explicitly, since it calls for maximized barging if the seasonal average flow estimate at Lower Granite is below 85 kcfs. The Corps of Engineers' Cindy Henrikson said her agency pegs it now in the 72-77 kcfs range.
A strict interpretation would call for spill curtailment and maximized barging, Montana's TMT representative Jim Litchfield pointed out. He took issue with the possible changes in decision criteria, especially since the feds didn't bring any analysis with them to support their case.
No decision was reached by the TMT, but state and tribal salmon managers said they would get together and have a recommendation on barging ready by the afternoon of April 11. About the same time on April 8, BPA vice president Greg Delwiche was telling Power Council members that his agency was taking a serious look at curtailing spring spill and maximizing juvenile fish barging because of the deteriorating water supply forecast, citing the trigger for such action in the explicit language of the BiOp.
Fish managers submitted a request the following week to spill at three lower Snake projects until April 30, and continue other research spill operations, but NOAA Fisheries offered another proposal to spill until April 23, while continuing research spill at Lower Monumetal until the end of May.
BPA supported a proposal to end spill on April 22 at Lower Granite and Little Goose, and not implement the LoMo spill study at all this year. The agency asked the issue be raised to the policy level, and the Implementation Team met the next day to discuss the implications of various alternatives on the scheduled research. BPA's Suzanne Cooper told IT mermbers that by not spilling at the three lower Snake dams in question, the agency could save $400,000 a day.
With the Corps of Engineers ultimately responsible for making the operational decision, its representatives took the issue in-house and announced April 19 that they would only spill at the two dams for another four days, but might spill up to 18 days at LoMO for research purposes. They also said a study to test the behavioral guidance structure at Lower Granite would be postponed until next year.
The weather-induced curtailment of spill at federal dams comes on the heels of BPA's Mar. 30 announcement of its preliminary proposal to evaluate reduced spill on the Columbia River in July and ending it altogether in August. Since then, the power agency has received such a large number of comments, it announced last week it would postponed release of an amended version until April 21, with a final decision scheduled for April 30.
But federal execs didn't reach agreement at a morning meeting on the 21st and cancelled an April 23 meeting while their staffs continue to refine potential offsets and analyses in the proposal. The states or Washington and now Oregon are weighing in with their own views on how to make up for fish lost from any spill reduction. WDFW compiled a wish list of $14 million in hatchery improvements, increased flows, and habitat restoration that the agency believed had a "realistic probability" of offsetting survival losses. --Steve Ernst, Bill Rudolph
 ENVIROS PROMISE MOTION TO STOP SUMMER SPILL PROPOSAL
At the April 16 meeting to update federal Judge James Redden on the BiOp remand process, Earthjustice attorney Todd True said he would file a motion in Redden's court to stop any attempt by action agencies to cut spill this summer. If NOAA Fisheries OKs the spill proposal, True promised a motion within a week to10 days. He promised even more litigation if federal agencies stay on track with a tentative proposal to change the way they will analyze dam operations and fish survival as they re-write the old hydro BiOp.
BPA customers were not surprised by the threat, said PNGC Power's Scott Corwin. "This was an expected part of the process," he said. "But, the federal agencies are on strong legal ground. They are finding better ways to do more for fish just as the biological opinion outlined."
Of the summer spill issue, Judge Redden said he had "read a lot in the newspapers," including a recent op-ed piece in The Oregonian that supported BPA's proposal by the judge's brother-in-law Wayne Thompson, a retired associate editor of that newspaper. Redden told the steering group that what Thompson wrote about baseball and basketball, "you could take to the bank," but when he wrote about fish? The judge left it at that.
Attorney Tim Weaver, representing the Yakama Tribes, asked if NOAA was also judging effects of the proposal on non-listed fish, and suggested further litigation may be brought in "other fora." Some participants thought Weaver meant he would bring up the spill issue in the ongoing U.S. v Oregon process, presided over by federal Judge Garr King.
Weaver also complained to Redden about the collaboration over the BiOp rewrite between the federal defendants and the state and tribal agencies ordered by the judge. The tribes and environmental groups were unhappy that NOAA Fisheries recently announced that it might change the environmental baseline in the new BiOp to include dam operations in its base-case analysis, which has the potential for reducing estimated adverse impacts of the hydro system on ESA-listed populations.
Justice Department lawyer Fred Disheroon said the plaintiffs were mis-characterizing the situation. He said NOAA was not developing a new jeopardy standard. "The question is how you apply the standard," Disheroon explained.
But tribal attorneys called the new wrinkle a "sea-change."
"There ain't a whole lot to collaborate about," said Weaver, who softened his criticism by admitting that he didn't know if that perception was correct, "but its the way it looks from our side of the table."
Others, Like Clay Smith from Idaho's Attorney General's Office, advised the judge to keep on track with the meeting agenda and not worry about state and tribal concerns.
Earthjustice attorney Todd True called the situation "a fundamental fork in the road," noting there was "not a chance in the world the federal family will change their approach." True said if plaintiffs end up with fundamental disagreement over the new framework, "then collaboration has run its course."
Judge Redden said he hoped the parties could work around these differences. Others, like attorney Jay Waldron, representing defendant-intervenor Inland Ports Association, said there may be differences among parties over the framework proposal, but the tribes have provided thoughtful analysis in other collaborative efforts taking place to discuss hatcheries, harvest, habitat, and estuary effects.
Federal attorney Disheroon said he totally disagreed with True's characterization of the talks, noting that the feds have made no final decision on the way they will analyze effects of the dams. "We think collaboration is working," he told the group.
True didn't see it that way. "The government has made a choice that will lead us into court on the next biological opinion."
Oregon representative David Leith said his state would stay in the collaborative process, though the government delivered a "bombshell" when it proposed its new analysis and "threatens to render irrelevant scientific issues we have been working on."
Judge Redden issued a continuance on the federal motion to extend a June deadline for completing the new BiOp, to allow for the ongoing collaboration between feds and co-managers over scientific issues, and counseled all parties to stay the course, hoping they could work around their differences over the new analyses.
NOAA Fisheries submitted its third status update on April 1, suggesting that a draft BiOp could be out by August if the collaborative effort winds up by the end of May. The update said NOAA would also be willing to give states and tribes a second round of collaboration after the draft comes out, which they said would allow the final BiOp to be issued in early November. The action agencies promised to provide NOAA Fisheries with a revised implementation plan for intended 2004 and 2004-2008 operations. The update says these revised plans will also serve to "identify the appropriate proposed action for the purposes of this remand, so that NOAA would analyze the effect of those proposed operations instead of that proposed in the 1999 Biological Assessment." -B. R.
 UMATILLA TRIBES INTEND TO SUE OVER SUMMER SPILL
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation announced April 19 that they intend to sue BPA and the Corps of Engineers to block any reduction in the summer spill program at federal dams.
"Our policy has always been to negotiate rather than litigate, but this time our hand has been forced," said Antone Minthorn, chairman of the Umatillas' board of trustees in an April 20 press release. "Our only option is to enjoin the federal government to stop this action before it harms our fish, our efforts, and substantial public efforts. Hopefully, their delay in deciding to end spill means they are re-examining the political and legal implications of their proposal because we think they will lose in court."
Jay Minthorn, chair of the Umatillas' fish and wildlife committee and vice-chair of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said BPA has misled the public by saying that the summer spill reduction would save $77 million and kill only 24 fish. "Both those numbers are wrong," Minthorn said. He said the action would cause the deaths of tens of thousands of fish across the region.
The Umatillas' press release said BPA and the Corps chose not to tell the public that ending summer spill would impact Umatilla River fall chinook. According to their press release, "Bonneville conveniently omitted that the federal government, which has poured more than $100 million into salmon recovery in the Umatilla River, was responsible in the first place, some 90 years ago, for the salmon's extinction when a federal irrigation project pumped all of the water out of the river for crops."
But the action agencies' analysis of the biological effects of the reduced spill proposal does include the Umatilla fall chinook. In their Mar, 30 assessment, it clearly shows that 10,000 smolts, or nearly 5 percent of the hatchery fall chinook released from the Umatilla would be killed by the proposed action.
However, as noted during discussion at the April meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's fish and wildlife committee, the affected number of smolts is expected to be reduced significantly since half the fall smolts from Umatilla facilities are actually released in February and March as yearlings (to improve survival to adulthood) and would not be impacted by spill in July or August. They are produced from eyed eggs from fish returning to the Umatilla and raised at Bonneville Hatchery to yearling status, then hauled to the Umatilla for release.
But the subyearling fall smolts, which are typically released in late May, would be impacted from a reduced spill scenario. These hatchery fish all come from eggs of upriver brights returning to the Priest Rapids Hatchery in the upper Columbia. However, monitoring in recent years has shown much better success with the earlier released fish; the yearling releases from the Umatilla have a return rate about four times higher than from subyearlings, or about .5 percent. In 2001, the Umatilla recovery effort showed its largest return on record, when about 1,000 adult fall chinook of hatchery origin returned, about five times the number of naturally spawning falls. -B. R.
 SUMMER SPILL PLAYS ROLE IN SETTING OCEAN HARVEST QUOTAS FOR 2004 FISHERIES
Commercial fishermen who ply Washington's offshore waters expressed disappointment last week over new Pacific Fishery Management Council ocean harvest quotas for chinook and coho that give them significantly fewer fish to conk than last year. The fishermen had hoped the council would pick the most generous of three options under review.
However, the council was dealing with a somewhat smaller chinook harvest to divvy up this year than in 2003, said NOAA Fisheries harvest guru Peter Dygert, who also noted that Canadian fishers are back in the ballgame after a few years' hiatus. During that absence, British Columbia fishermen faced heavy restrictions and significantly reduced chinook harvests off Vancouver Island aimed at improving their weak stocks. The Vancouver Island fishery has now been restructured, Dygert said, with more effort targeted during winter and spring months, which means they are catching more U.S.-bound fish.
This year, the council was faced with overall spring chinook predictions higher than 2003's led by a strong return expected for the Columbia River, but a fall chinook prediction below last year's estimate. They decided to pick a middle-range harvest option to manage waters north of Oregon's Cape Falcon.
The trollers had pushed for an option that would have been only a 17-percent reduction from last year's catch of nearly 70,000 chinook, but instead they got a nearly 35-percent cut, to 45,000 chinook. Tribal ocean fishers got a 40,000-chinook quota this year as well.
Recreational fishers in Washington's coastal waters were allocated 45,000 chinook themselves, down from last year's quota of 59,600 fish. For a variety of reasons, the sporties didn't come near to reaching last year's goal, landing only 36,500 fish in 2003.
Regional fishing groups said the cuts would mean a direct loss of half a million dollars to commercial and charter fishermen. In an April 9 press release, they blamed the cuts on NOAA Fisheries planners "who decided the increase wouldn't work with the BPA plan to reduce or eliminate spills on water over Columbia River dams in case of drought conditions this summer."
But a PMFC draft assessment of the option favored by fishermen said that it would not meet conservation concerns of Snake River fall chinook. NOAA's Dygert acknowledged that the stock has improved dramatically over the past few years. But, he added, the summer spill proposal at dams on the Columbia River under review by federal agencies has brought into focus a broader policy context--should NOAA allow harvesters to catch a few hundred more ESA-listed fall chinook as part a larger quota this year, while still making sure BPA spends $77 million in summer spill costs to benefit only 24 listed salmon?
Dygert also questioned whether the PFMC fisheries should be the first place to acknowledge improvement in the Snake run, even though the stock's status has not yet officially changed from its "threatened" designation. He said the fall run size of wild Snake River chinook has improved from about 1,150 counted in 2000 to 5,200 in 2001 and 2,100 in 2002, with 2003's numbers still under review, though the total wild plus hatchery count at Lower Granite dam last year was nearly 12,000 fish.
And with Canada now fishing again up to its allowable limits, Dygert said that "potentially puts the screws to the council's fisheries."
The draft assessment also said that the option favored by fishermen would not allow enough coho to reach areas above Bonneville Dam, based on the U.S. v. Oregon agreement. The option adopted by the council calls for commercial trollers north of Cape Falcon to catch 67,500 coho and recreational fishers will be allowed to land 202,500 coho.
Coho fishing will also be allowed for the first time in 11 years off southern Oregon, with a 75,000-fish quota for the area. Wild coho stocks are building up and down the West Coast, but fishermen will only be allowed to keep hatchery fish with clipped adipose fins.
Though a harvest regime has not yet been formally announced for Puget Sound, WDFW's Pat Pattillo said in March that state and tribal fisheries would likely bear the brunt of increasing Canadian interception of Puget Sound chinook.
Meanwhile, Southeast Alaskans got an 8,000-fish boost in their chinook quota this year that is set by abundance guidelines developed under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Southeast trollers will be allowed to catch nearly 280,000 chinook, with 70,000 fish allotted for sports fishermen and 25,000 for net fishermen. It's the highest quota since 1985 with abundance levels for West Coast stocks reported to be nearly twice those of the early 1980s. -B. R.
 LESS SNOW, MORE CLIMATE SCIENTISTS LIKELY IN NW'S FUTURE
The region took a break from the wrangling over summer spill earlier this month when the Northwest Power and Conservation Council tiptoed into the global warming debate after hearing a presentation by University of Washington scientist Phil Mote.
Citing evidence from tree rings and coral growth, Mote told the council that "it's pretty clear that temperatures in the last third of the 20th century are higher than they've been in the last thousand years." He noted the rate of temperature change is also increasing.
Mote said a UW computer model shows that flows in the Snake River at Ice Harbor will likely increase in winter and decrease during summer months because higher temperatures would mean less snow is stored in lower elevations. Peak flows in rivers will occur earlier, with the potential for more hydro operation in the winter, "and all sorts of problems with reduced flow in the summer--shortages for irrigation, fish and hydro."
June and July flows could drop 25 percent to 30 percent from base flows, he added, on the order of 25,000 cfs.
The global temperature analysis didn't prove humans were influencing climate, Mote said, but graphs of greenhouse gases like CO2 show a build-up with a similar shape and "should give us broad pause."
Climate models show that the troposphere is warming faster than the earth's surface, Mote said, but satellite measurements show no trend on the surface. However, balloon measurements show the possibility that a warming has been taking place since the 1970s. And the rate of warming, he said, exhibits a spatial pattern that scientists would expect from greenhouse gases.
Mote told the council that many scientists doubt this warming trend is coming from differences in energy output from the sun, which shows little variation in the two complete cycles that have been observed since 1978--only about 0.1 percent. Furthermore, since most of the change in the sun's energy is ultraviolet, it is readily absorbed into the stratosphere. "The amount of solar radiation reaching earth has not varied at all in the last 30 years," Mote said.
The UW scientist says evidence points to human influences affecting climate for the past 50 years, and indicates even more influence over the next 100 years. However, even if more sustainable energy choices are added in the future, and the developing world's growth slows, Mote said CO2 levels would double pre-industrial levels to about 550 ppm. A faster developing world still using lots of fossil fuels would boost CO2 levels to around 1000 ppm. For the Northwest, he said several climate models predict an average warming of 4 degrees Celsius.
Mote said a hydrologic model developed at UW using a moderate warming rate estimates 35 percent less snowpack in warmer areas like the Cascades and southern Idaho by the 2050s. By the 2090s, the model predicts 47 percent less snowpack, with very little snow left in the Oregon Cascades.
"This is pretty much what we're seeing already," Mote said. "That the declines are happening faster in the Cascades and less fast in the colder mountains." Though the models all point to future warming in the Northwest, they can't tell whether precipitation levels will go up or down.
The council also heard from consultant Mark Trexler of Trexler Associates, who discussed implications of climate change on energy policy. "It probably makes sense for states to be thinking about those impacts," Trexler said, citing new CO2 siting standards in Oregon and Washington along with technological-forcing legislation in California with automobiles.
In the international arena, Trexler said it was about an even bet whether Russia signs the Kyoto Protocol for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The protocol calls for most countries to reduce greenhouse emissions by 5 percent from 1990 levels. One hundred parties have ratified the protocol so far, Trexler said, when only 55 were needed, "but without either US or Russian ratification, it won't come into force."
As for individual countries, he noted that Canada is working towards reducing emissions through negotiations between the federal government and individual companies to set targets, leading to possible domestic emissions trading.
Japan is also a strong supporter of the protocol. "But the Japanese are in a tough position," Trexler said, with a stagnant economy, "and also faced, in a sense, with becoming a province of the Chinese economy." He said Japan's original strategy called for building 13 new nuclear power plants by the end of this decade, which now won't happen, partly because of the recent nuclear scandal in that country. So far, Japan has instituted a small coal tax, about $2 per ton rising to about $7 per ton in 2007.
European nations are also strong supporters of emissions trading. Trexler said a $5 per ton CO2 tax on coal would add about half a penny to a coal-fired kilowatt-hour. "In a European context, that's viewed as totally acceptable."
Trexler said the CO2 "intensity" of the U.S. economy has been going down about one percent a year over the past 10 years without any incentives. That has occurred for a variety of reasons, including an overall trend in the economy toward more of a service orientation. More efficient appliances have also played a role.
West Coast governors are working on an initiative to reduce emissions, but it's still in a formative stage, Trexler said. New England governors have already established an official target of getting back to 1990 emissions level by 2010 and below 1990 levels by 2020.
However, to simply stabilize CO2 emissions (30 percent above pre-industrial levels), global emissions would have to be reduced by about 70 percent, said Trexler, who pointed out that the Kyoto agreement would not actually reduce emissions, but only slow their growth a bit. Even though industrialized nations would cut their emissions, developing countries would still be increasing their own levels.
"To talk about 70 percent reduction in global emissions . . . you don't even put it on the political plate very often because it's so far beyond the pale," Trexler said. Doing that would obviously revolutionize the world's energy systems, he told the council. As for future costs, he reported that modelers at Stanford University have estimated that it would cost about ten cents per KWh for a coal plant to reach this goal. -B. R.
 NEW AGREEMENT REACHED FOR FISH PROTECTION IN HANFORD REACH
Grant County Public Utility District announced a new agreement for protecting the famous fall chinook run in the Hanford Reach that expands on a 1988 accord establishing winter flow levels over salmon redds.
The new pact includes the winter flow requirements, while formalizing a previously voluntary effort between agencies to reduce flow fluctuations in the spring to improve juvenile fish survival after salmon fry have hatched.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife director Jeff Koenings called it "a huge step forward for fish protection in the basin."
With Grant's Priest Rapids project license set to expire in 2005, its relicensing effort spurred efforts to replace the earlier agreement. The PUD collaborated with the Bonneville Power Administration, WDFW, NOAA Fisheries, Chelan and Douglas PUDs, and Colville Tribes over the past few months to develop the new agreement, which will be submitted to FERC as part of its relicensing process.
Reducing flow fluctuations in the reach has been proposed by BPA as an offset to help reduce adverse fish impacts from reducing spill at Columbia River dams. But critics say the agency shouldn't be able to claim offset credit for an action it has already pursued for several years.
However, at the April meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, BPA VP Greg Delwiche said the voluntary nature of the earlier agreement made it different in previous years from the formal commitment BPA has now made.
In its March 30 spill proposal, action agencies suggested getting half the credit for fish benefits from reducing flow fluctuations in the reach, with Grant PUD getting credit for the other half. -B. R.
LINKS/DOCUMENTS FROM NW FISHLETTER 178:: Below are listed links and documents referred to in the text of NW Fishletter issue 178.
- Regional Comments on BPA's Proposal to Modify Summer Spill
- Summer Spill Proposal, March 30, 2004
- NW Fishletter, April 2, 2004
- 2004 Salmon Management, Pacific Fishery Management Council
- Is Our Weather Changing? Northwest Power and Conservation Council, April 19, 2004
THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.
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