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NWF.030/MAR.18.1997
[1] Power Council Wades Into Deep Drawdown Issues
[2] River Managers Cope with Big Water Year
[3] Oregon Coho Plan Fails Scientific Review
[4] Environmental, Fishing Groups Say No to Barging Salmon
[5] American Rivers Left Out of Settlement Talks in BiOp Suit
[6] CBFWA Managers Recommend Cuts to Balance '97 F&W Budget
[7] Some Bull Trout Warrant Listing
[8] New Species Muscling into Northwest Waters
[9] Spill Costs Up For Hatchery Chinook
[10] F&W Program Review Slated For March 25-27

[1] POWER COUNCIL WADES INTO DEEP DRAWDOWN ISSUES :: The Northwest Power Planning Council listened to representatives of the Corps of Engineers, BPA and private consultants last week to get a better idea of possible downsides to drawdown strategies being contemplated by the region. Undeterred after considerable testimony about projected costs and potential impacts, Council members suggested the region study a modest drawdown behind McNary Dam as well as deep drawdown at John Day pool.

The Corps' Witt Anderson reviewed his agency's interim status report of Snake River alternatives and explained why, both cost-wise and for biological reasons, a year-round natural river drawdown is their preferred drawdown alternative. He said the 1996 Harza Report reached the same conclusion.

Anderson said the Corps is trying to determine the design of such a drawdown that would include costs of the strategy. He told the council that a natural river drawdown would call for breaching the earthen portion of the Snake dams, and the Corps was looking into designing powerhouse units to perform as low level outlets for water. But other elements of the drawdown strategy were unclear, he said, including the effect on reservoir embankments where highways and railway tracks were at risk, as well as bridge piers. "Modeling is critical," said Anderson.

The region must also ask how much it can afford, he added. With 90 percent of the debt on the lower Snake dams still unpaid, it may not make fiscal sense to take them out of the power loop. But he did say we haven't paid more on them "because they got a good interest rate."

One Barge At A Time
Anderson said after talking to barge operators who worked the area before John Day pool was inundated, he's concluded a drawdown to spillway crest would probably make it impossible to take more than one barge at a time through the lock at McNary Dam.

Anderson also said a drawdown to spillway crest at John Day could have the same fish passage problems as lower Snake spillway crest drawdowns. With no schedule yet, he said that it was beyond 2007 before any sort of deep drawdown could possibly occur.

Anderson cautioned the council to look at the potential spawning and recovery benefits to salmon before they really get going with the idea. He told them that if the flood control option was kept open for the reach, any habitat gains could be lost any time water had to be held in the pool.

Consultant Russell George pointed out the potential loss of $255 million in annual power revenues if the natural river option were adopted, along with 500,000 acre-feet of flood control, and he described how important a role John Day played in averting a flood last year in Portland. Grand Coulee is the only other project operated for flood control. George told them that a spillway crest operation would not necessarily allow for much flood control as it depended on how rapidly the pool could be filled because embankments and levees could wash out from increased pressure.

George said a deep drawdown would end the 14-foot navigation channel, closing area ports, causing a large loss of wildlife habitat and major costs for irrigators who water 155,000 acres from John Day reservoir.

BPA's Phil Thor said the region is operating "close to the edge" as far as power production goes. With about 1200 MW produced by lower Snake dams and approximately the same amount from John Day, Thor said it costs BPA five mills/kWh to generate power on the Snake, half that at John Day.

At this point, Washington council member Ken Casavant said "we need another panel" to study the economic feasibility of navigation, one that specifically included barge operators.

No More MOP
Members decided to draft a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on Energy and Water Development to express support for funding more Corps studies. Then it was generally agreed to forego any more studies to minimum operating pool. Anderson told the Council the Corps had decided that the action would have no significant biological benefits, and any measurable improvement was "noise level." The council was advised that the Implementation Team policymakers had decided John Day drawdown to MOP was not going to happen in 1997 because mitigation for the strategy was not in place.

Donna Darm of NMFS later confirmed it. "Without mitigation, the issue was a non-starter," said Darm. It was not only mitigation for irrigators that had not been implemented, she said, but so far, there has been no provision to provide for new wildlife habitat that would replace the wetlands lost by the strategy.

Modest Proposal
Montana's Stan Grace suggested the council may be overlooking something by not considering McNary pool for future drawdown. Council chair John Etchart used the term, "modest manipulation of McNary," and Oregon's John Brogoitti said the pool should be taken down a couple of feet to see how much new habitat could be gained." They decided to include language in their letter that recommended the Corps look at McNary as well as John Day and the lower Snake in the agency's feasibility study.

But consultant Darryll Olsen said residents around the Hanford Reach would not be happy. "Anything below two inches would be considered a deep drawdown in the Tri-Cities," Olsen said, while a two-foot drawdown would dry up the marinas in the region.

Later, the US Army Corps' head of reservoir control Cindy Henriksen said a two-foot drawdown would impede navigation and make it difficult to satisfy an obligation to the US Navy to keep the port of Benton open to unload decommissioned submarine reactors for disposal at Hanford. She also pointed out that some obstructions in the navigation channel have been reported with a one-foot drop in the reservoir.

The Council is trying to follow the tenets of their own ISG report, which calls for creating connective environments of a "normative" river, and Washington member Casavant invoked the report at this stage of the discussion, reminding fellow members that the report "is a new way of looking at things." -Bill Rudolph

[2] RIVER MANAGERS COPE WITH BIG WATER YEAR :: With no one sure just how fast the past winter's snowpack will melt, river operators are scrambling to develop this spring's strategy by studying the past 60-year record. The power council was briefed on this year's tentative water plan by the US Army Corps of Engineers' Cindy Henriksen, head of the region's reservoir control office. She stressed the unpredictability of the situation, but said there could be some "pretty frightening scenarios," pointing out that flooding may occur at Vancouver, where the forecast calls for a possible peak of 22 feet, six feet above flood stage. That's if the Willamette, the Snake and the Columbia all peak about the same time.

Henriksen said that the end of March forecast shows 123 percent of normal snowpack volume above Grand Coulee and 151 percent of normal above Lower Granite on the Snake, where the big focus will be this year. She said the region expects peak flows in the Snake to reach 206-304 kcfs at Lower Granite, and 453-533 kcfs at the Dalles. She said the highest flow recorded last year at the Dalles was 460 kcfs on June 10.

She said that April flows are expected to go up since the 60-90 day forecast points to above normal precipitation. She said all storage reservoirs were being drafted to flood controls levels and it was possible that Lower Granite may be taken down to eight feet below minimum operating pool which would stop navigation and cause problems for fish entering the bypass systems.

John Day could be drafted down as well, according to Henriksen. She told the council that Grand Coulee is expected to be at elevation 1215 by April 30, slightly higher than originally reported due to an updated forecast. She said the system is being readied for maximum power generation, but high spills will occur anyway and that dissolved gas levels at Lower Granite would probably be over 120 percent in the forebays from April through June. At McNary, where maximum flows are expected to peak at around 600 kcfs, Henriksen said gas levels will be "far in excess of 120 percent," and could reach 140 percent. By April, all but five of the hydro system's turbines should be online.

She told the council that high navigation could be impeded by high river currents and lock sill restrictions, and that irrigators could be faced with water shortages for several weeks if John Day pool is lowered for flood control.

She said that flip lip construction to reduce dissolved gas levels from spill at Ice Harbor and John Day has been already delayed or suspended due to high flows. Four out of eight flip lips have been completed at Ice Harbor and none finished at John Day, but two or three are expected to be completed by May 1, where 18 are slated for construction.

Once the spring runoff is over, she said the situation changes drastically. Asked if BiOp flow objectives will be met this summer on the Snake, Henriksen said summer objectives on the Snake are always difficult to reach. -B.R.

[3] OREGON'S COHO PLAN FAILS SCIENTIFIC REVIEW :: In 1996 Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber promised that his Coastal Salmon Restoration Initiative (CSRI) would be peer reviewed and if it didn't pass he would seek a federal listing of the coho salmon as a protected threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Soon after, he told environmental groups that timber interests in Oregon would do more to protect coho salmon habitat as long as the state of Oregon would not seek a federal listing of the species. Oregon Trout released its own review of the coho initiative conducted by Dr. Mark Powell. Powell gave CSRI a D grade. After Powell's assessment hit the press; Gov. Kitzhaber walked out of a meeting with environmental groups and Geoff Pampush of Oregon Trout was so upset with Powell's analysis they sought to withhold payment of his fee.

Since then, the CSRI has been peer reviewed by other scientists. The Governor invited an independent scientific review from 34 scientists from Oregon State University, the American Fisheries Society, Oregon Chapter, and eight individual scientists. This independent peer review found Oregon's coho restoration plan was not sufficient to recover the species. However, Kitzhaber is seeking $30 million in public money from the Oregon legislature to fund his coho salmon recovery effort. In addition, the Oregon governor has tried to get the Clinton administration to come to Oregon and bless the CSRI to build political support for a salmon recovery plan that cannot pass scientific review.

In January, the Oregon Democratic Caucus issued a memo to build support for the coho recovery plan. The message from the Governor's office has changed from one of building a strong salmon recovery plan based on the best science to one that would prevent a federal listing of the salmon by the National Marine Fisheries Service. To that end, the caucus collected information from Kitzhaber's architect of the salmon plan, Jim Martin and Ono Husing, of the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association.

The memo, hoping to raise fears of a salmon listing among Democrats and get their votes to fund the $30 million project, said listing implicates that "Private landowners could be served a search warrant to allow federal consultants to walk their land and implement a mandatory program of land use restrictions including fencing along streams." This month, Oregon Trout's Geoff Pampush withdrew his group's support for listing coho salmon as a protected species. Since Oregon Trout is a petitioner for listing the salmon in Oregon, this action raised eyebrows among other environmental groups.

A few groups visited Pampush after he announced his defection, but he would not change his mind, and though he tried to enlist the support of other environmental groups and key scientists such as Jim Lichatowich, of the region's Independent Scientific Advisory Board, he failed to get their help. Now Oregon Trout is rethinking its decision to not list the salmon, saying the Oregon legislature has failed to pass out of committee a bill favorable to coho recovery.

In the meantime, the independent scientific peer reviewers of the Governor's Coastal Salmon Recover Initiative maintain that the state's first draft plan and the revised 5-inch-thick 15 pound revised draft plan are still not enough to recover the species.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has tried to work with the state of Oregon in developing a state generated salmon recovery plan, but the federal agency is under a court order to stop delaying action on the listing and either list or not list the coho salmon as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act. This decision will come near the end of April.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is laying the groundwork for a commercial coho season in 1998. The fish agency has reduced the spawner escapement goal constraint on harvest in order to shorten the time needed for recovery and allow fishing to take place at an earlier time. -Bill Bakke

[4] ENVIRONMENTAL, FISHING GROUPS SAY NO TO BARGING SALMON :: Fourteen environmental, and commercial and sportfishing groups have proposed a fish management plan for 1997 that says it is critically important to maximize in-river survival to help the handful of wild fish leaving the system this year. With less than 100,000 wild spring-summer, and fall smolts coming out of the Snake, along with 600,000 wild steelhead and hatchery fish as well, the total migration from Idaho and eastern Oregon adds up to nine million fish.

They may get their wish because with the high flows and spill expected this spring, less fish enter dam bypass systems and end up in barges. In fact, some barge loading facilities could be under water during peak flows. But with high levels of uncontrolled spill, hydro managers expect potentially lethal gas problems for fish in the river.

The environmental groups, including American Rivers, the Sierra Club, Idaho Rivers United, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, outlined their strategy to BPA head Randy Handy in a letter that called for the federal hydro system to be managed to provide the maximum benefit for in-river migrating fish. They also said the 1997 migration should be guided by the "authoritative" conclusions" of the Independent Scientific Group.

They cited the ISG's recommendation that "juvenile fish barging be employed only for experimental purposes, that spill be the primary means of passing fish across dams, and that gas abatement be a primary goal of dam operations."

The groups say the "best recent science concludes that years of high flow and spill, with most fish in the river, produce the best adult returns." The Sierra Club's Jim Baker said the "best recent science" comes from the ISG report, specifically in the ISG's chapter on hydropower, but he was unable to cite any specific reference.

ISG chair Rick Williams was unavailable for comment, but one regional biologist who peer-reviewed the document said the conclusion cited by the Sierra Club spokesman is definitely not in the ISG report.

The report does state that "a clear flow-survival relationship adequate for defining flow requirements in the system has yet to be demonstrated," and on the subject of spill, the ISG says "uncontrolled spill at levels of the 1970s is well demonstrated to cause high risk of fish mortalities." And they said the smolt monitoring for signs of gas bubble disease "may be inadequate (usually underestimate effects) because of changes in signs in bypasses, loss of debilitates fish in reservoirs between dams, and other untested critical assumptions."

Other elements of the groups' plan focus on keeping fish out of barges as long as flow targets are being met, unless fishery agencies and tribes say otherwise.

Keep Turbines Turning
They recommend that all mainstem turbines be in operation to keep gas levels in the river as low as possible, and call on the Clinton administration to quit tolerating the Corps of Engineers' inability to keep turbines in service. They say neither mechanical failure nor non-production of energy should be allowed to remove mainstem turbines from service this spring. But BPA may have a problem selling the power generated from all those turbines. The agency announced on Mar. 7 that it was having limited success lining up "displacement" power to operators of thermal generation this spring.

BPA said many thermal plants are expected to continue operating through the spring since they are operated at higher rates during peak demand hours, but at lower levels during off-peak hours. The agency is trying to raise the rated capacity of transmission lines to California to sell surplus power. The capacity was reduced after two power blackouts last summer.

Shut Down Coal Plants
The Sierra Club's Baker said Montana's Colstrip plants should be shut down and power supplied by the Northwest to keep mainstem turbines turning, but Scott Bettin of BPA's power scheduling office said it's not that simple. "We can't supply the peak loads that Montana supplies in the spring," he said, and keeping all turbines online won't help much when spring flows are peaking, when gas levels are expected to be over 130 percent at McNary Dam. "It all depends if the Snake and Columbia peak at the same time," Bettin said. Keeping all turbines in business could reduce gas levels by five to seven percent, he said, but that would only make a difference at the beginning and end of the involuntary spill season when overall gas levels are less than at the spring peak.

The environmental and fishing groups also recommended that the BiOp's flow and spill targets should finally be met, after the region has failed to meet them for the past four years.

The plan says that dissolved gas levels should be allowed up to 130 percent instantaneous levels and 125 percent for the 12-hour average, or 120 percent in forebays and 125 percent at tailraces. That's five percent above this year's variance. They do recommend barging if gas levels or temperatures become lethal, that is, if juvenile fish show significant effects from the smolt monitoring program.

Immediate John Day Drawdown
Another controversial element is their call for immediate drawdown of John Day reservoir to minimum operating pool and maintaining this elevation year round. "Moving John Day to MOP," says the document, "is an intermediate step towards a deeper, year round drawdown." The cite the BiOp and the power council's 1994 fish and wildlife program calling for the drawdown to MOP. As for deeper drawdowns, they say it is one of the recommendations of the ISG report. The region's policymakers have already ruled out a drawdown to MOP this year, but they will hear from the groups on March 24 at the Implementation Team meeting. -B.R.

[5] AMERICAN RIVERS LEFT OUT OF TALKS IN BIOP SUIT :: Lawyers for the Legal Defense Fund have sent a letter to the Department of Justice that complains of being left out of settlement discussions with federal authorities in the American Rivers v. NMFS litigation over the 1995 Biological Opinion.

American Rivers spokesperson Lori Bodi said, "we're pretty upset we are not included."

The letter says that the feds have been meeting with the states of Washington and Oregon for several weeks "without including, or seeking to include, the plaintiffs." American Rivers and the Sierra Club are two of the original plaintiffs. Oregon was recently granted intervenor-plaintiff status in the case.

The letter calls for an end to "the current piecemeal, process oriented discussions" and says if federal agencies are serious about making the substantive changes to FCRPS operations that are necessary to protect salmon, they should engage all the plaintiffs in genuine and substantive negotiations.

Bodi said NMFS is looking for a way to slow the case down. She said she was sick of games. "For lack of an agreement, the Corps of Engineers is spending vast amounts of money on everything." Oral arguments in the BiOp suit are scheduled for March 31 in federal court in Portland. -B.R.

[6] CBFWA MANAGERS RECOMMEND CUTS TO BALANCE 1997 F&W BUDGET :: Fish managers of the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority sent their recommendations to the power council for more than $12 million in FY 97 cuts to stay within the $90 million budget for anadromous fish. In a letter to the council, Fred Olney, chair of CBFWA's Anadromous Fish Managers, said the task was even harder because of increased project costs that were up 12 percent for this fiscal year.

In addition to reductions in some programs, the managers called for spending $3.4 million of reserve funds held by BPA to help fund the final phase of the Yakama Hatchery construction, and other projects. They also call for spending more than $1 million in interest accrued on FY 96 funds budgeted but not yet spent.

The fish managers have reviewed funding reductions with project sponsors, but BPA has said that where cuts are made in already awarded contracts, these funds would not be available until a contract deobligation can occur.

The largest single saving comes from applying $4.4 million in unspent construction money for the Nez Perce Hatchery to help balance the budget. -B.R.

[7] SOME BULL TROUT WARRANT LISTING :: Following a court order, The US Fish and Wildlife Service has taken another look at bull trout populations in the West and found that two "distinctive population segments" warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act. The Oregon district court order stipulated the federal agency could only make the finding by considering information that was available through 1994, the year the agency's made its first decision. That finding concluded all bull trout did warrant listing, but due to limited resources, other species had priority. Three environmental groups, The Friends of the Wild Swan, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and the Swan View Coalition sued, culminating in the re-examination of the trout.

Regional director Michael Spear said "more current information is available in 1997, and we would like to be able to use that information in taking action to protect the fish." The Fish and Wildlife Service will ask the federal district court in Oregon to give them until Aug. 15, 1997 to come up with a new finding that's based on the latest information available.

USFWS biologist Ron Rhew said that distinct populations in the Columbia and Klamath River basins are in pretty bad shape, with leftover wild bull trout backed up into high altitude streams in wilderness areas. Rhew said the introduction of brook trout in some places, has decimated bull trout populations because interbreeding between the two species creates a sterile hybrid. In northern California, bull trout have already become extinct.

According the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Columbia River segment includes 386 bull trout stocks in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and additional stocks in British Columbia. The agency said 33 percent were declining, 15 percent were stable, three percent secure, two percent increasing, and 47 percent unknown, according to the 1994 record.

The Klamath River segment consists of seven isolated stocks occupying only a fraction of available habitat.

The agency cited threats from habitat degradation, irrigation diversions, passage restrictions at dams and the introduction of non-native trout as reasons why the stocks have been rated at "moderate risk of extinction."

The agency found three other population segments were not warranted for listing, using the 1994 data; coastal/Puget Sound; Jarbidge River in northern Nevada, which is segregated from the Snake/Columbia stocks by a 150-mile stretch of unsuitable habitat; and the Saskatchewan River population, the only population east of the Rockies and almost entirely in Alberta, Canada. All three segments were found to be stable-to-increasing. -B.R.

[8] NEW SPECIES MUSCLING INTO NORTHWEST WATERS :: A tiny, dime-sized mollusk called the zebra mussel, whose larvae probably hitched a ride across the Atlantic in the bilge water of a European freighter in the 1980s may become a major headache in the Northwest. The little invader has already caused millions in damages to power plants and civic water systems in the Midwest. The US Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that the little pests will have done $5 billion worth of damage by the year 2000, and they say it's only a matter of time before the zebra mussel shows up here. It's their prodigious capacity for reproduction that has plugged fresh water intakes throughout the Midwest, where they can form colonies of 750,000 mussels per square meter. They have also been found 25 feet up intake pipes on Mississippi River towboats. The alarm bells have been sounded and zebra mussel Web sites have taken off as well.

Colonies of zebra mussels coat intake pipes at industrial plants and will do the same thing to fish screens, dam turbines, and irrigation systems on the Columbia River. Jim Athearn, biologist for the US Army Corps of Engineers, said that everyone agrees they will eventually show up in this part of the world.

At a conference in Portland on March 10, West Coast scientists were told be their Eastern counterparts they had better take steps to prepare for the invasion. BPA biologist Scott Bettin said that more turbines will have to be built at dams so some can be shut down for cleaning without disrupting power production. The costs could add up to more than $1 billion to prepare for the invasion.

Zebra mussels haven't been found in waters west of Oklahoma, but two years ago live adults were found at the California border, attached to the hull of a boat on a trailer that had returned from a voyage to the Great Lakes. They have been detected at the California border seven times now. It would be difficult for the mussels to travel to the West Coast by ship because salt water in bilges will kill them. However, the mussels came originally from Europe, and it is possible they could make it to the West Coast from increased seagoing traffic from the East Coast of Russia.

BPA biologists say the mussels would love to colonize the smolt bypass systems at Columbia River dams, where low flows and small pipes make for their perfect habitat. Extended length screens in front of turbines would be another likely spot for colonization. With such screens slated for installation at John Day Dam in the near future at a cost of millions, the mussel question is being taken seriously.

The Corps of Engineers has produced a CD-ROM about zebra mussels that is available free by contacting: Michael J. Grodowitz, US Army Engineers Waterways Experiment Station, CEWES-ER-A,, 3909 Halls Ferry Road, Vicksburg, MS 39181, phone (601) 634-2972, email growdowm@ex1.wes.army.mil. -B.R.

[9] SPILL COSTS UP FOR HATCHERY CHINOOK :: The cost of spilling water at Bonneville Dam to aid fall hatchery chinook has gone up significantly from earlier estimates, from a few hundred thousand to possibly more than $1 million for the ten-day effort.

More than seven million smolts were released from the Spring Creek hatchery on March 12, about 20 miles upstream from Bonneville Dam. A waiver was granted by the state of Oregon to exceed dissolved gas standards in the river. The spill was designed to improve survival past the dam by only .3 percent, but was still recommended by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who operate the hatchery. They feel the fish will add to ocean catches, possibly reducing the catch of endangered Snake River fall chinook.

The strategy is expected to add around 1,000 more adult salmon to the fishery, but the early release may produce far less in adult returns, because of extremely low smolt survival in the estuary and ocean this early in the season. But that hatchery must release these fish now because of the large numbers of fall chinook produced there.

Bruce Lovelin of the Columbia River Alliance said the spill had inflated the cost of these fish to almost $1,500 apiece. -B.R.

[10] F&W PROGRAM REVIEW SLATED FOR MARCH 25-27 :: The Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority(CBFWA) has announced a review of projects in the region's fish and wildlife program that is designed to provide information, educational outreach and provide scientific peer review by CPFWA members.

The agency is attempting to have all BPA-funded projects presented and open for questions in three concurrent sessions to be held at the Holiday Inn at the Portland Airport. A final schedule is expected to be available by March 19. Call CBFWA at (503) 326-7031 for more information. -B.R.

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