BiOp Foes Square Off In Court; Decision Expected Soon
 Feds Say Proposed Summer Hydro Operations Will Kill More Fish
 BPA Outlines Limits To Its Future Fish Obligations
 Chinook Run on the Columbia Goes Up And Down; Harvest Managers Keep Most Fisheries Closed
 More Consumer Confusion Over Farmed, Wild Fish Safety
 House Told ESA Burdens Co-op Power Suppliers
 BIOP FOES SQUARE OFF IN COURT; DECISION EXPECTED SOON
Oregon District Court Judge James Redden heard oral arguments April 27 in two lawsuits that challenge the 2004 hydro BiOp and its no-jeopardy judgment for listed fish stocks in the Columbia Basin. Environmental and fishing groups are attacking the new BiOp mainly on procedural grounds, while two irrigator associations are focused on scientific matters.
Environmentalists successfully challenged the earlier BiOp in 2003 (NWF v. NMFS), when Judge Redden ruled the document illegal because it contained too many uncertain actions that made up for fish losses at dams--principally, offsite mitigation to improve fish stocks.
But the remand process created a new BiOp that the groups like even less, partly because it contains a jeopardy analysis that separates the fish mortality from the dams' existence and mortality from hydro operations over which the action agencies [BuRec, BPA, Corps] had discretionary control. Earthjustice attorney Todd True called the new methodology a "shortcut" and a "quick off-ramp" for the jeopardy analysis.
The issue of discretionary authority was one of three questions posed by Judge Redden before testimony began. He wanted all parties' views on whether ESA concerns can be parsed out that way, as the government contends, or whether non-discretionary actions should be included in the analysis to determine whether the total action jeopardizes listed fish runs.
Judge Redden also asked litigants to explain their views on whether the ESA and its implementation requires NOAA Fisheries to add baseline and cumulative effects to operations in their jeopardy analysis, as they did in the 2000 BiOp, but not in the new one. Attorney True said the government's analysis, which compared the proposed hydro operations to a reference operation maxed out for fish benefits, was an "abstract exercise" that excluded cumulative effects.
Judge Redden also wanted to know whether the government ignored the adverse short-term modifications to critical habitat by deciding the long-term effects would include improvements.
Justice Department attorney Fred Disheroon said the previous BiOp had been wrong to include so many recovery actions and include fish mortality from the dam's existence in its jeopardy analysis. He called the 2000 BiOp an anomaly, not the usual method used in 1,200 agency consultations, but the agency had enough information to conduct a "traditional analysis" in the latest BiOp.
Disheroon said the plaintiffs' challenge was based on misunderstandings and misstatements about the new BiOp, which has essentially adopted the alternative actions from the previous one that were designed to allow hydro operations to avoid jeopardy to fish. He said even more measures have been added to help salmon, and that the record shows careful consideration was given in developing them.
He said the plaintiffs were asking Judge Redden to endorse "a massive substitution of judgment" if the new BiOp is not upheld. But if the judge finds that NOAA Fisheries developed the BiOp in a rational way, Disheroon said Redden must OK it.
Attorney Jay Waldron, speaking for amici Inland Ports and Navigation Group, said the remand has led to better science. He told Redden that the judge's original ruling has improved the situation, but another remand would hurt.
Waldron said the environmental and fishing groups really want the dams removed and increased spill in the rest of the system. And while there is still a tremendous debate over whether more spill is good, the federal policy has met the standard of the Administrative Procedures Act, whether it turns out to be correct or not.
Idaho assistant attorney general Clay Smith supported the federal government's position, but Oregon and Washington representatives explained why they had issues with the federal agency's jeopardy analysis in the new BiOp. Disheroon said the two states liked the 2000 BiOp better because it called for the federal government to pay for recovery actions. The recovery plans now underway are expected to put more of a financial burden on states.
Bonneville Power Administration customers, represented by attorney Matt Love, called the new BiOp an upgrade from the previous one. Love also addressed Judge Redden's concern over what the new BiOp has left out--an analysis that addressed the likelihood of extinction of ESA-listed fish stocks over the next 100 years.
Love said the 100-year analysis was part of the earlier BiOp's basinwide recovery plan, while the new BiOp stays out of the recovery arena. But that doesn't mean it's a retreat from the salmon recovery effort begun in 2000, he pointed out. Love said the new BiOp has the same performance standards, some even more stringent than before, such as the flow augmentation action outlined for Dworshak Reservoir.
The proceedings included remarks from irrigators' attorney James Buchal, whose lawsuit was consolidated with the environmentalists' challenge. Buchal called the federal analysis "junk science" and argued that the feds were wrong to include future in-river harvests (mainly tribal) in the baseline analysis because they had not yet been the subject of consultation. The feds had earlier argued in a brief that Indian fishing rights have special status because they are guaranteed by treaty. Buchal said by adding the 30-percent harvest rate into the baseline, the feds had put their thumbs on the jeopardy scale.
Buchal also claimed the BiOp does more for fish than legally required because federal biologists have underestimated the survival value of current actions like barging fish and use a bogus flow/survival relationship to justify expensive flow and spill strategies.
Documents from the supplemental record supplied by the feds shows that the benefits of barging are much greater than the BiOp admits, Buchal said. One of NMFS' own tables shows that the agency estimated higher system fish survival with spring barging in place than likely occurred before any dams were built, he said.
Buchal also said the feds refused to use temperature effects in their modeling effort, which is more evidence that the agency did not use the "best, available science called for by the ESA." In his view, the federal analysts also excluded important data when they developed a flow/survival relationship for fall chinook.
Federal attorney Disheroon didn't address Buchal's arguments directly, other than saying that parties should defer to the agency's expertise in these matters. While some documents pointed out by plaintiffs may show the agency had information that was not mentioned in its final determination, it nevertheless shows the data was included in the overall analysis.
Idaho tried to challenge the irrigators' standing, but Buchal protested, rising to address the judge and point out that the state of Idaho wasn't even a party to his lawsuit and therefore couldn't comment on it. The judge agreed.
Judge Redden set no date for his opinion, but said he expected it to be completed by early May. It should be out any day.-Bill Rudolph
 FEDS SAY PROPOSED SUMMER HYDRO OPERATIONS WILL KILL MORE FISH
In recent filings made in Oregon District Court, federal officials have blasted a proposal by environmentalists, fishing groups and lower Columbia tribes to change summer fish operations in the hydro system.
By adding more spill, flow and reservoir drawdowns to help migrating fall chinook, the feds stated, the changes could add another $150 million to the Bonneville Power Administration's fish costs, and possibly raise power rates by 8 percent next year.
In a series of declarations filed April 22, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' biologists and engineers challenged every point in the written testimony of two retired fish managers from IDFW and USFWS, whose declarations were filed in support of a motion for preliminary injunction before the BiOp judge James Redden.
Redden is expected to rule soon, possibly this week, on the enviros' challenge to the 2004 BiOp (NWF v. NMFS). If he rules the BiOp illegal, then the plaintiffs' motion for changing summer operations will come before the court. But if Redden rules that the new BiOp is lawful, the motion for changing operations would likely no longer be entertained by the court.
The proposal to add more spill at dams and to boost water particle time [WPTT] by 10 percent would likely kill more juvenile fish than planned BiOp operations in 2005, which is turning out to be the fifth lowest water year on record, the feds said. And they chided proponents for not quantifying any potential benefits.
"Plaintiffs provide no quantitative demonstration of whether, or to what extent, the plaintiffs' recommended alternative operations will improve either smolt survival through the FCRPS [Federal Columbia River Power System] or the survival rate of returning adults," wrote Corps biologist Rock Peters. He said the proposal would have less benefit to salmonids than the planned operation to maximize barging at lower Snake and McNary dams.
Peters also said the two declarations filed by plaintiffs failed to mention possible risks to fish from increased spill, noting recent studies have shown higher survivals for subyearling chinook from lower rates of spill at both The Dalles and John Day dams. Peters said in the case of John Day, higher spill created an eddy in the tailrace of the dam that kept fish from making a quick exit and therefore rendered them more vulnerable to predation.
The plaintiffs are calling for all water at lower Snake and McNary dams to be spilled except for the amount needed for station service.
That got independent Idaho-based consultant Don Chapman fired up. In his declaration filed by the BPA Customers Group, Chapman, who has spent 50 years working with salmon and hydro issues and co-authored two National Research Council studies on salmon ecology and management, said the proposal didn't even demonstrate whether its practical implementation would achieve a 10-percent reduction in WPTT. Even if it did, Chapman said, that's far below what state and tribal fish managers regard as the minimum flow for adequate migrating conditions.
"It is therefore illogical to entertain expanding and intensifying spill operations (as the Plaintiffs propose), thus forcing fish to remain in-river and encounter suboptimal and likely hazardous migratory conditions," said Chapman in his declaration.
He also noted that any relationship cited by plaintiffs that correlates flow with increased survival of fall chinook is confounded by several factors, including the overwintering of many fall chinook that has compromised current estimates of fish survival. Also confounding the correlation is the failure to include the adverse impacts of high water temperatures found in the lower Snake and Columbia rivers during the migration season.
With such low flows predicted this year, Chapman said, the measures in the plaintiffs' proposal won't moderate temperatures.
"They are essentially and practically unsolvable and will become worse with a warming climate," Chapman said, who added that even free-flowing rivers like British Columbia's famed sockeye producer, the Fraser River, have been plagued in recent years by high rates of pre-spawning mortality from rising temperatures.
Chapman said that accusations made by retired USFWS biologist Fred Olney that NOAA Fisheries was relying on "faith-based decision-making" could be applied to Olney himself for making "the jump from confounded correlations of flow, temperature, and turbidity to a conclusion that flow increases subyearling survival in and of itself." Increased flow, he said, would force most fall migrants to pass through "a hostile water temperature regime" in the mainstem Columbia this year.
Miniscule Survival Benefits Modeled
An analysis by Columbia Basin Research principal Jim Anderson that was submitted to the court by two irrigators' associations reported that inriver subyearling survival would increase from 18.2 percent to only 18.3 percent. If increased predator density from reservoir drawdowns was factored in, CBR's latest model predicted "essentially no survival change at all."
The independent consultant also noted that both the plaintiffs and their experts have tried to take data from spring chinook and steelhead studies and apply them to fall chinook, when survival and ocean behavior vary widely between chinook types.
In his own declaration, Corps' biologist Paul Ocher pointed out that plaintiffs' expert declarations failed to consider the impacts of temperature, and called it a "flaw" in their argument for boosting flows. He said that the plaintiffs' call for more spill would not spread the risk to migrating chinook as they claim, since few fish would then be collected for barging at all.
Ocher also said research to date shows no definite benefit for one strategy over the other, with inriver migrators showing modest survival benefits over barged fish in 2000 and 2003. But a huge benefit was seen in subyearling survival--nearly 300 percent improvement--with transport factored in during the extremely low flow year of 2001.
The Corps had "reservations" about a recent analysis by the Fish Passage Center that raised uncertainties over the benefits of transport since small sample sizes may not have allowed much statistical precision, Ocher said, and fish may have been handled differently from the normal transported ones. He pointed to the recent findings that show an unknown number of fall chinook hold over to migrate the following spring, and how this may underestimate current survival results.
Current inriver/transport results show a clear benefit for the barged fish in low flow years like 2001, Ocher said. Spring chinook showed 25 times the survival of inriver migrators that year, with wild springers exhibiting better than a 9:1 advantage, with the caveat that applying the data to fall chinook is not "fully applicable."
If spill were maximized, Ocher pointed out, most holdover fish would likely be flushed out of the reservoirs they would normally inhabit through the winter. Fish that hold over are returning at much higher rates than subyearling migrants.
In a memo attached to NOAA regional administrator Bob Lohn's declaration, his agency's scientists in Seattle said efforts to increase migration rates of subyearlings "might actually lead to lower overall return rates than would occur if large numbers of fish were allowed to reside in reservoirs and migrate as yearlings."
COE engineer Dave Ponganis said in his declaration said it was "specious" for plaintiffs to suggest that the 10-percent increase in WPTT is "modest" because the actions needed to increase water particle travel time during summertime low flow conditions are much harder to achieve than during spring high-flow conditions. Such changes, said Ponganis, would have "significant impacts and unintended consequences affecting the congressionally authorized project uses, and compliance with other statutory responsibilities and agreements."
He pointed out that if the reservoir behind Lower Granite Dam were dropped five feet below minimum operating pool (MOP) to boost flows, both the adult fish ladder and juvenile bypass system would be inoperable.
Lowering the other reservoirs in the lower Snake by the same amount would keep barges from moving up or down the river. He also noted that adding the amount of water need to boost flows in the Columbia by 10 percent would take nearly 1.5 million acre-feet. This would change operations significantly, "potentially impacting water temperatures, dissolved gas levels, refill, pool elevations, treaty considerations, listed and resident fish and wildlife, and other resources." He said such changes needed to be evaluated by both the public and tribes before such a big decision is made.
Ponganis said if John Day Pool was dropped to MOP, reduced cross-sectional area of the reservoir would increase flows by 9 percent, effectively reducing the 16 days it takes a water molecule to travel from the confluence of the Snake to Bonneville Dam by a day and a half. However, both adult and juvenile passage would be compromised, and 20 of 21 irrigation pump stations would have to be modified. Such a drop would block migrating adult salmon from entering the Umatilla River as well, and reduce the 8,400 acres of shallow water habitat found in the pool.
Other declarations by BPA analyst Roger Schiewe and Geoff Carr, assistant director of Northwest Requirements Utilities, said the summer proposal could cost BPA up to $150 million to implement and could raise power rates by 8 percent next year. The cost estimate is more than three times the estimate reported by the NW Energy Coalition at last month's meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. -B. R.
 BPA OUTLINES LIMITS TO ITS FUTURE FISH OBLIGATIONS
BPA's high level bean counters have finally responded to claims by some fish agency folks that the power marketing agency is on the hook to the tune of $12 billion or so for fixing all the fish habitat in the Columbia Basin and responsible for doubling the fish runs to 5 million. They say such claims, including huge dollar estimates for fixing subbasins "are unrealistically broad in scope," and reflect an incorrect presumption that BPA should foot the region's entire mitigation bill.
In late January, a Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority workgroup charged with developing future fish and wildlife costs came up with those preliminary numbers, along with the recommendation that BPA should spend an extra $300 million a year over the next 10 years to pay for implementing the subbasin plans being completed with the help of the Northwest Power and Planning Council.
BPA's latest proposal calls for $143 million in annual spending for the direct F&W program, up from the 2001-2004 average of $139 million, but it's still $100 million a year short in CBFWA's eyes.
One Step Beyond
In a formal response released April 22, BPA VP Greg Delwiche countered many of the claims made by Yakama tribal consultant Ed Sheets and others over the past few months during the slew of meetings held to hash out various budget elements involved in BPA's next rate case. The CBFWA cost estimates, developed by a group of fish managers and consultants to help BPA develop its rate case, did not include any attempt at prioritizing actions to improve subbasin habitats. BPA officials see that as a major sticking point. They say the estimates go "way beyond" the tenets of the NW Power Act and that the workgroup "appears to assume that BPA must restore all of the fish and wildlife affected by the development of any hydroelectric project."
The BPA response says that after the agency explained to the workgroup that the CBFWA draft went beyond the federal responsibility, CBFWA representatives sought to "mollify this concern" in early March by noting that the subbasin plans call for actions by other agencies as well and that BPA should not "shoulder" all the costs. But BPA notes that the latest budget proposal "has retained dramatic funding increases on the same scale it had prior to that acknowledgement."
The CBFWA cost estimate for subbasin funding deflated considerably after Oregon's CBFWA representative Tony Nigro pointed out that some of the actions in the original estimates did not necessarily have the support of all co-managers. Their latest revision to those estimates calls for ramping up fish and wildlife funding from $186 million in FY 2006 to $240 million by FY 2009, if the region plans to implement the subbasin plans over the next 10 years. That includes another $300 million or so in future hatchery costs that were not added to the group's original January estimate. This puts the latest CBFWA estimate for full implementation of the subbasin plans (including wildlife mitigation) at between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. The estimators also note that even with this expenditure, only about one-half or less of the needed tributary habitat work in the basin would be completed.
The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission sent an April 28 letter to BPA supporting the CBFWA estimates and the notion that federal agencies that operate the hydro system are obligated to double fish numbers to five million.
However, BPA sees it a bit differently. In their April enclosure which utility wonks are already calling a "manifesto," the agency says the Power Council's goal to double the runs by 2025 was based on a 1986 council study that was never formally adopted, included 136 dams in its impact analysis, as well as ten projects in Canada, but never teased out adverse hydro impacts. BPA also said the analysis used a baseline of 1987, a very good salmon year, and the 87 years before Bonneville Dam was built.
A May 6 draft CBFWA response to the BPA manifesto calls the 5 million-fish goal "an interim estimate" of the hydro responsibility adopted by the Council in 1987.
BPA also made it clear that the agency doesn't intend to foot the entire bill for the subbasin plans, after already spending $15 million to develop them. The agency notes other sources for funding could include FERC, the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Land Management. BPA also said that it should only be obligated to restore habitat for improving fish numbers that offset adverse hydro impacts that cannot be remedied by improvements to the hydro system.
The power agency also said it was unreasonable to expect BPA to pay for mitigation efforts that address habitat blocked by tributary dams built a hundred years ago or even earlier.
BPA's Greg Delwiche explained the particulars of the agency's proposed fish and wildlife budget on May 11 at this week's Power Council meeting in Walla Walla. Delwiche said the new budget calls for shifting some research, monitoring and evaluation funding into other categories to pay for more habitat restoration and hatchery bills. Council staffer Doug Marker said his staff had some concerns about BPA's proposal and assumptions they had made to reach the $143 million in annual spending for the direct program.
Consultant Sheets presented the CBFWA estimates of subbasin spending, which he said were drawn from planners in 30 subbasins. With inflation figured in and assuming that future budgets won't shift funding as Delwiche hoped, Sheets said CBFWA figured it would take 84 years to implement the subbasin plans using BPA's budget numbers. To go with CBFWA's $240 million a year in annual F&W spending by 2009, Sheets said it would cost the average residential ratepayer only about $1 a month, claiming that BPA is the only federal agency of the four involved in the federal Columbia River hydro system that has authority to pay for offsite mitigation.
"We think Bonneville should fund the program goals," said Sheets, after citing that part of the Power Council's 2000 F&W program that called for creating a 5-million fish goal by 2025. He said the Council's 1986 study said five million fish was the low end of the hydro responsibility. "Clearly an ambitious goal," said Sheets. "But we have a ways to go."
Sheets also knocked BPA's proposed funding for hatchery reform. He said the $250,000 delegated for that action is well below other estimates.
Kevin Banister, an attorney with the Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative, who spoke as a representative for BPA customer groups, said he disagreed with CBFWA's characterization that the expensive fish mitigation effort would cost the average residential ratepayer only $1 month. Banister said the customers support a cost-effective mechanism to maintain rate stability in the region, along with performance-based goals that are based on fish numbers, not dollars spent.
Banister also supported BPA's proposal to reduce spending on research and monitoring that would put funding more in line with other large conservation and recovery efforts around the country, and agreed with BPA's position that subbasin plans cannot be used to explain the scope of BPA's obligation. He said it was not correct to expect BPA to pay for everything, but their past mitigation efforts should be counted and funding should be prioritized by biological outcomes, instead of putting the budget ahead of the objectives as CBFWA has done. -B. R.
 SPRING CHINOOK FINALLY SHOW, BUT HARVEST MANAGERS KEEP FISHERIES CLOSED
Harvest managers finally threw in the towel last week and downgraded this year's spring chinook run on the Columbia River by more than half of their pre-season estimate of 254,000 fish. Their revised numbers pointed to the likelihood of a run in the 70,000-100,000 fish range. This week, they narrowed their forecast down even more, to a range of 74,000- 89,000 chinook.
On May 5, just a day after the managers' first official downsizing, more than 6,000 chinook poured over the dam, nearly three times the daily numbers earlier that week. It turned out to be the best day since the spring run got off to the slowest start in memory. However, two days later, the run was back in the daily three-digit range where it has been ever since.
By May 11, 53,000 chinook had been counted at Bonneville Dam, less than half the 10-year average. Based on the 10-year average, the managers say over 70 percent of the run has usually passed by now, but in 1996, another extremely late-run year, only about 64 percent had passed the dam by now,
"My answer is that I have no answers," said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Cindy LeFleur, after last week's meeting of the technical committee that helps manage inriver harvests. She said some new peaks may show, but managers were still pretty pessimistic about the size of the overall run. However, they actually re-opened several areas in the lower river for commercial gillnetting for a few hours, in so-called "select areas," outside the mainstem passage route of upriver spring chinook, but kept all mainstem sports fishing closed from the estuary at Buoy 10 all the way to McNary Dam. On May 10, they recommended more limited fishing for commercials in some select areas, but wanted to delay the mainstem steelhead sport fishery until further notice.
This year's jack counts are worrisome, too. As a clue to next year's run strength, they seem dismal so far, with only 904 jacks counted by May 11, when the 10-year average has been running more than 4,600 by this date.
The spring run in the Willamette is also way behind last year's return. ODFW's Curt Melcher told NW Fishletter that 70,000 fish are expected over Willamette Falls this year. By May 6, about 17,000 chinook had been counted at the falls, about 24 percent of the expected return. By this time last year, about 47,000 chinook had been tallied there, about 50 percent of the return. But Melcher was still optimistic. He said May is usually a big month for chinook to show at the falls.
With last year's spring run in the Columbia nearly 75 percent over by early May, computer models are having a hard time catching up with this year's poor show. Columbia Basin Research's inseason forecaster has digested the recent numbers and reduced its pre-season estimate of 212,000 fish to a mere 77,000. Last week, it had offered a reduced forecast of 105,000 fish, and predicted the run was 45 percent over. Its latest prediction now pegs it at 69 percent completed.
Some sportsfishing industry spokespersons have been quick to blame the hydro system for the lack of spring chinook, and Yakama tribal attorney Tim Weaver even used the low counts as evidence at the April 27 BiOp hearing in Portland to argue that the federal fish recovery plan isn't working. But the fact that the Willamette run seems to mirror the late and low numbers on the Columbia has put poor ocean conditions on the list of possible causes for the paltry showing.
Others say the fish may be holding over another year and may show up as 3-ocean fish because slow growth at sea has kept them from maturing enough to return to the river. And both ODFW's Melcher and NOAA Fisheries' technician Jerry Harmon, who runs the adult trap at Lower Granite Dam, mentioned that chinook which are returning this year seem a bit smaller than average. Harmon also said that 40 percent of his adult samples have shown evidence of seal bites, with 16 percent showing gillnet marks. Only about 7,600 adult chinook have been counted at Granite, less than one-third of the 10-year average and only about 16 percent of last year's number by this date. Only 43 jacks have been counted, less than 10 percent of the 10-year average. -B. R.
 MORE CONSUMER CONFUSION OVER FARMED, WILD FISH SAFETY
A recent report on dioxin levels in wild and farmed salmon has generated more confusion in the marketplace and media over the relative safety of eating the two types of salmon. The report, published in the May 2005 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives, was written by most of the PEW-funded scientists who generated quite a bit of controversy last year when they published a study in Science on PCB levels in farmed and wild salmon.
In their latest article, they say by using a cancer risk assessment in the middle range of the EPA's acceptable range, they have concluded that "consumption of farmed Atlantic salmon must be effectively eliminated and consumption of wild salmon must be restricted generally to less than one meal a month."
But when they used a less drastic measure to assess risk, when salmon are eaten at meal (.5 lb./meal) frequencies that limit DLC (dioxin-like compounds) intake to 20 percent above background exposure, they say wild West Coast chinook could be eaten more than four times a month, while farmed salmon from Europe should be eaten less than once a month.
They said even more fish of both types could be eaten if one followed the lower end levels of DLC intake developed by the World Health Organization; fewer than ten meals a month for some farmed salmon, less than half that for European farmed salmon, while wild salmon could be eaten more than once a day.
The authors say that the FDA has not developed any guidelines for commercially sold fish, but has used 1 ppt (one part per trillion) as a level of concern in eggs, chicken, and catfish. However, they report that a European food safety committee has created a "temporary tolerable" intake that is similar to the lower end of the daily intake levels developed by the World Health Organization.
The article also acknowledges criticism of its earlier report on PCBs that focused on how much contaminant levels were affected by how the fish were cooked. The removal of skin and fatty tissue along the lateral line where contaminants are concentrated can significantly reduce risk factors. But the authors say studies to date that have looked into this issue haven't been rigorous enough to incorporate into their risk assessments.
Their 2004 report on PCBs was soundly trounced by many health professionals and the farmed salmon industry, who said the results were misleading and short-changed the health benefits of eating salmon. The levels of PCBs in samples were well within current FDA guidelines, but the authors used a more stringent risk assessment based on EPA research, and the report led to a media frenzy, a temporary drop in farmed fish sales, and consequent boost in wild fish prices.
The 2004 study said farmed salmon from Europe should only be eaten several times a year, using EPA consumption guidelines for potential cancer risks. Washington state and Chilean farmed salmon could be eaten once a month. But one relatively unnoticed element of the study showed that wild chinook from Southeastern Alaska should only be eaten once a month, while wild chinook, sockeye and coho from British Columbia, along with Oregon chinook, and sockeye from BC and Southeastern Alaska could be consumed twice a month. Sockeye and coho caught near Kodiak, Alaska, could be eaten four times a month, while chum salmon from both countries could be eaten up to eight times a month. -B. R.
 HOUSE TOLD ESA BURDENS CO-OP POWER SUPPLIERS
An effort to revise the Endangered Species Act picked up steam last week as the U.S. House Water and Power Subcommittee heard from rural cooperative associations that say species recovery is costing too much and producing too little.
Steve Eldridge, manager of the Umatilla Electric Cooperative in Hermiston, Oregon, cited soaring power costs that he said were driven in part by ESA mandates.
"Currently, 28 percent of our wholesale power bill is made up of fish and wildlife costs," he said. "New spending of an additional $300 million per year will soon be proposed. Even though we have 15 species of listed fish, we do not know what will constitute recovery. There is no end in sight."
The hearing followed a concerted effort by House Resources Chair Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) to revamp the ESA. Water and Power Subcommittee Chair George Radanovich (R-Calif.), taking up the gauntlet for Pombo, blasted the ESA as a law that has "spent billions of taxpayer dollars," and "made electricity more expensive and lined the pockets of many lawyers, yet . . . has a one percent success rate at best."
"Since these costs are passed directly to customers, it's safe to say that when many in the West turn on their light switches, the ESA meter is running," said Radanovich.
Scott Corwin, spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative, said the ESA "has had a large impact on our business because we buy almost all of our power from BPA." Citing figures showing that Bonneville will have spent $7 billion on salmon recovery by the end of this year, Corwin said PNGC customers are "struggling" with the level of rate increases.
"This is an enormous cost," he said. "It has a rate impact that has a harsh effect on our economy. At the very least we ought to have accountability."
Corwin maintained that PNGC's position "is not totally numbers driven."
"It's not a matter of whether the ESA should exist," he said. "We are all in agreement that we need to mitigate the impact of the hydro system, but the question is, are we doing it in a way that makes sense?"
Umatilla Electric, which belongs to PNGC, asked the subcommittee to add performance standards to the ESA, as a way to bring more accountability. The co-ops also argued that "the cost of recovery actions must be paid for by everyone, not just segments of society."
In addition, Eldridge said the federal government must stop allowing "non-selective harvest of endangered or threatened species."
But Olney Patt, with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, argued that the federal government brought on the decline in fish and wildlife when it decided to allocate scarce water resources.
"It is those decisions that put the long-term viability of the salmon resource in jeopardy. It is those decisions that set up a conflict between consumers of cheap hydropower and those that are dependent upon a healthy salmon resource," he said.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a member of the subcommittee, supported the rural co-ops' call for change in the ESA, saying species recovery decisions should be "driven by sound science."
"We need to ensure that the ESA and other federal protection laws do not strangle us by putting a chokehold on our ability to manage species recovery while also utilizing a river system that provides vital power, transportation and recreation to our region," said Walden.
The Oregon lawmaker has written legislation that would require the federal government "to give greater weight to scientific or commercial data that is empirical or has been field tested or peer reviewed." He promised to introduce the measure soon. -Lynn Francisco
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