A NW EnerNet News Service of Energy NewsData
NW FISHLETTER
NWF.008/May.03.96
***Fish News***
Reports on Fish Policy Development

[1] SNAKE MAINSTEM FLOWS DECREASE, UPPER COLUMBIA FLOWS AND GAS LEVELS SOAR :: Flow volumes were down last week on the Snake River, but Mid Columbia projects and Lower Columbia sites posted record highs. The high flows sent gas levels soaring at Mid-Columbia sites, bringing a high incidence of gas bubble trauma among migrating fish. At Rock Island, on April 29, the Fish Passage Center's smolt monitoring program found 98 fish out of 100 checked had signs of the potentially lethal disease. (See story No. [2].)

But flows tapered off considerably on the Snake, so much so that the Technical Management Team agreed to draft Dworshak to meet flow targets of 100,000 cfs at Lower Granite. In addition, Idaho asked the Army Corps of Engineers to consider voluntary spill at several federal projects, to meet the 80 percent fish passage efficiency called for in the biological opinion.

The decreased flows also brought down the incidence of gas bubble disease at many federal mainstem projects. FPC data showed a range of between 5 percent and 15 percent of the fish with signs of GBD at the eight projects, compared to 30 percent in mid-April. The highest incidence was at Ice Harbor, which continues to have one turbine out, and at Bonneville [Lynn Francisco].

[2] FLOWS AT MID-COLUMBIA DAMS REMAIN HIGH :: Dams along the middle reach of the Columbia River continue to experience high flows as fish migration gets underway. At Douglas PUD's Wells Dam, the daily average flows for the past week have been more than 200,000 cfs. That's equivalent to 1.5 million gallons per second, or Seattle's total daily water supply every 50 seconds, according to Douglas PUD general manager Eldon Landin. Flows at this time of year normally range from 80,000 cfs to 120,000 cfs, Douglas fisheries biologist Rick Klinge adds.

Wells implemented its surface flow attraction system for juvenile fish on April 1 this year, about two weeks ahead of schedule, in anticipation of poor runs of spring chinook. Klinge said outmigration so far has been moderate--and perhaps a bit better than anticipated, given the poor brood population last year. At the same time, gas levels of 115 percent to 125 percent were recorded in April; at levels above 120 percent, "people can become cautious," Klinge said.

Wells' surface attraction system is the model for the prototype bypass systems being tested at Rocky Reach and Wanapum Dams. The geography of the Wells site led designers to put the dam's spillway on top the turbine generators, rather than alongside; that means the strongest currents are in the top portion of the flow, where the fish congregate--sending most of the migrating juveniles through Wells' spillways rather than its turbines. Klinge said 90 percent of the juveniles typically opt for the spillways rather than the turbines; with the high flows this year, he expects more than 95 percent will pass Wells Dam.

Downstream at Rocky Reach, flows are also high, according to Chelan PUD spokesman Jeff Smith. Chelan reported 200,000 cfs on May 1 and an average of 185,00 cfs in April, compared to the 110,000 cfs average for last April. At Rock Island, Smith said the high flows have prevented Chelan from opening the notched gates. The resulting high gas levels are afflicting fish with the potentially lethal gas bubble disease. Statistics from the Fish Passage Center show that monitors found 98 out of 100 fish checked on April 29 had signs of the disease.

Similar conditions are reported at Wanapum Dam. Flows on April 30 hit 226,000 cfs, according to Grant County PUD spokesman Gary Garnant. Flows for April averaged 194,000 cfs; typical average flows are closer to 150,000 cfs, Garnant said.

Douglas is seeing fewer fish at Wanapum than last year at this time; and tests at Priest Rapids show more indications of gas bubble disease than last year. Balloon testing at Wanapum has been delayed due to the high flows, Garnant added [Jude Noland].

[3] SCIENTIFIC REVIEW GROUP SAYS SALMON COULD BE GONE BY THE 21ST CENTURY :: In a report that could rock the foundations of salmon recovery, the Independent Scientific Review Group has warned the Northwest Power Planning Council that without dramatic changes in Columbia River operations, salmon will be extinct by the next century. The group's "new vision" of the Columbia system includes such potentially controversial recommendations as drawdowns and new flow regimes, all to restore and enhance habitat and promote genetic diversity. The key to saving salmon, said the report, lies in habitat restoration, a strategy that demands returning the river to a more normative state. That doesn't mean turning the river into a pristine, pre-dam waterway, said ISG member and Montana fisheries professor Jack Stanford, but it does mean vast changes in the way the river is run. "The history of salmon restoration is rooted in technology, such as by-pass facilities and hatcheries. [We recommend] keeping the salmon in their habitat and letting the river do the work," said Stanford.

While the group was short on specifics, drawdowns were touted as one way to restore a more river-like habitat. Drawdowns expose shoreline, allowing the river to redistribute gravel and nutrients, and eventually restore habitat that salmon need for feeding, resting and spawning. Equally important, the group said, are changes in reservoir releases, replacing the frequent peaks and valleys caused by power operations with flooding that resembles the spring freshet. Dramatic change in water levels raises havoc with shallow water habitat, where juvenile salmon food is produced. The more natural flooding, known as scouring, moves gravel around and reworks river channels, restoring habitat complexity.

The more natural river system helps promote genetic diversity, another key to salmon survival, according to the panel. Habitat destruction has isolated many stocks, leaving them more vulnerable to environmental or other problems. "We need population diversity to cope with habitat change such as a poor ocean environment," said Stanford. The strategy also makes techniques such as transportation and hatcheries "irrelevant." Both came in for sharp criticism because both reduce genetic diversity by selecting for the average.

Council chairman John Etchart called the proposal "a new paradigm, a new way of thinking about salmon survival...[which] calls into question many of the present management practices for the Snake and Columbia rivers." The panel reviewed more than 4,000 articles and studies to prepare its report. It has promised to have the document peer reviewed when it is final. [Lynn Francisco/Bill Bakke].

[4] AL WRIGHT RESERVOIR REPORT SUGGESTS $17 MILLION SAVINGS TO HYDRO SYSTEM :: A lengthy report prepared by consultant Al Wright suggests that the Columbia River hydro system could save between $14 million and $17 million a year by eliminating fall and winter reservoir storage requirements in wet years. The storage requirements, mandated to provide flows for migrating fish, supply only 500,000 more acre-feet of water for fish, even during dry years, according to Wright. His report recommends looking for other, cheaper ways to achieve flow targets, such as obtaining water from Canada when April flows need to be augmented.

The National Marine Fisheries Service asked Wright to find a better, cheaper way to implement the biological opinion. His report, compiled after months of meetings with state, tribal and federal hydro and fish agencies, recommends specific reservoir operations and strongly suggests that political issues, such as competing species protection measures, be resolved soon. He also urged the region to beef up its ability to analyze the impact of different operations, to facilitate better decision-making. And, he made it clear that flow targets, under any scenario, are "difficult to meet."

The key recommendations include:

The report also contained specific recommendations for reservoir operations:

[5] CLINTON LIFTS MORATORIUM ON ESA LISTINGS :: In an executive order signed April 26, President Clinton lifted the moratorium Congress imposed last year on adding new species to the endangered species list. Saying the moratorium "reflected a philosophy of disregard for the environment," Clinton said his action would allow the listing process to proceed on more than 400 species. Brian Gorman, spokesman for the Northwest office of the National Marine Fisheries Service, said the president's action allows NMFS to re-initiate work on coastal coho and coastal steelhead petitions. The agency proposed a threatened status for coho last summer; a final decision could be made in the next few months. Steelhead remain under review for a potential listing. In addition, the agency has promised to do status reviews of all salmonids, a job that had been abandoned under the Congressional moratorium. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also expected to reconsider listing bull trout [Lynn Francisco].

[6] KEMPTHORNE STILL HOPES TO INTRODUCE ESA LEGISLATION THIS SESSION :: Senator Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID) apparently hasn't given up on his efforts to revise the Endangered Species Act during the 104th session of Congress. In October 1995 Kempthorne introduced a measure--the Endangered Species Conservation Act--to revise the ESA; staffer Mark Snider said the Senator's goal "from day one" was to get a bill passed this year. To that end, Snider said Kempthorne is "in the process of negotiating with" Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), John Chafee (R-RI) and Harry Reid (D-Nev) and has been for several weeks. The negotiations apparently led to agreement on at least one part of the act--the section that deals with "conservation plans" that provide legal protection to property owners who propose ways to preserve endangered species on their lands. A draft of that section is being circulated while negotiations continue. Snider said Kempthorne recognizes that any revision of the ESA must have bipartisan support if it's to pass, and he's pleased that Baucus, Chafee and Reid have come to the table. Baucus is chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works; Chafee and Reid, like Kempthorne, are committee members [Jude Noland].

[7] NWPPC READY TO FINALIZE THE 180-DAY REPORT TO CONGRESS :: The Northwest Power Planning Council is nearly ready to give Congress its 180-day report on fish and wildlife governance. At the Pasco council meeting, set for May 15 and 16, the council will approve a final version, expected to contain elements of the three proposals outlined in a paper titled "Proposals for Fish and Wildlife Governance in the Columbia River Basin." Councilmembers discussed the proposal May 1, agreeing to add several elements, including economic considerations and support for on-going efforts to restore salmon to the Columbia basin. Spokesman John Harrison said the council will ask Congress not to consider legislative changes until all current salmon recovery efforts have been given a chance to work. Specifically noted were the prioritization process begun by the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority and the new decision-making structure set up by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"The best hope for quick action is to encourage processes that are already underway," said Harrison. The panel also will likely ask for an executive order bringing all the sovereigns -- tribes, states and federal agencies -- together to reconcile the various salmon recovery plans. And, councilmembers will emphasize that the region should explore using the current flexibility within the Endangered Species Act to resolve differences in salmon recovery strategies [Lynn Francisco].

[8] JOHN DAY PIT TAG DETECTORS WILL BE INSTALLED, BUT SCHEDULE SLIPS ONE YEAR :: In spite of an infusion of cash from Bonneville, installation of a smolt monitoring system known as a PIT (passive integrated transponder) tag system at John Day Dam will be delayed one year. An announcement in February that budget cuts would force a one-year delay in the system brought a storm of protest from the Northwest Congressional delegation, sending the Army Corps of Engineers scrambling for more money. Bonneville agreed to supply the additional $6 million needed to get the project back on track, from its Endangered Species Act funds. But the Corps now says that construction problems are forcing yet another delay. In a press release, Corps officials said that speeding up construction to meet the original 1997 completion date would cost several million dollars more. As it is, the project's cost will go up $3 million, to a total of $24 million [Lynn Francisco].

[9] ALASKA WILL JOIN SALMON LAWSUIT FILED BY ENVIRONMENTALIST/FISHER COALITION :: Alaska is joining a lawsuit challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Army Corps of Engineers with failing to implement salmon recovery measures--including flow and spill targets--called for in the hydro biological opinion. Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles said the federal government is not living up to its conservation responsibilities. In reaction to previous restrictions on Southeast Alaska fisheries, the state has said that Columbia River dams kill far more endangered fish than Alaska fishermen. The state filed a friend of the court brief on April 26, stating that NMFS and other federal agencies failed to operate the dams in a manner that will help the salmon survive [Lynn Francisco].

[10] KITZHABER LAUNCHES COHO SALMON INITIATIVE :: Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has launched a coastal salmon initiative aimed at restoring coho salmon. The governor hopes to prevent listing by the federal government as a threatened species. The restoration plan will be given to the National Marine Fisheries Service by October 1, 1996. The initiative is intended to show NMFS that Oregon has a management plan for coho salmon that is sufficient to protect the species and negate the need for federal protection.

To begin implementing the coho restoration plan, Gov. Kitzhaber has asked ten state agencies to develop action plans for coho, using existing policy and laws. The agencies must meet with him every two weeks to show progress. This is the first time Oregon has pulled its agencies together to solve a salmon crisis.

Gov. Kitzhaber has asked President Clinton to provide the "active support and commitment of federal agency staff to assist in the development and recovery standards and a restoration plan." The governor also asked for a "partnership that involves no last minute surprises," adding, "The pattern that concerns me is getting...agreement among regional executives, only to find -- late in the process -- that someone in D.C. or in the Department of Justice cannot make the commitment." Governor Kitzhaber said to President Clinton, "I have made this coastal salmon recovery strategy a top priority in my administration."

The Oregon Legislature, however, did not provide the support the Governor asked for, turning down a request for $2 million to launch the coho salmon restoration initiative. The Governor plans to resubmit his funding request to the legislature later this year [Bill Bakke].

[11] NWPPC APPROVES $7.5 MILLION TO FUND HABITAT RESTORATION PROJECTS :: The Northwest Power Planning Council has asked Bonneville to fund $7.5 million in habitat restoration projects, with at least $6 million going to projects proposed by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. The work focuses on restoring stream systems, reducing sediment flowing into salmon spawning streams, planting new streamside vegetation and increasing stream flows. "It is hard to overstate the importance of the projects to people who have already invested their own sweat equity, and, in some cases, their own money to get these projects on the ground," said CRITFC watershed coordinator Mary Lou Soscia. The 23 projects proposed by CRITFC are located in subbasins of the Columbia, upstream of Bonneville Dam. Money to pay for the watershed projects will come from BPA funds targeted for Endangered Species Act obligations [Lynn Francisco].

***Document Annex***
Works Cited

DOCUMENTS FROM NW FISHLETTER 008 :: Below are listed available documents referred to in the text of NW Fishletter issue 008.

THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.


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NW Fishletter is produced by Energy NewsData with grants from the Montana and Idaho offices of the Northwest Power Planning Council, the Bonneville Power Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service, Chelan County PUD, Douglas County PUD, Grant County PUD
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Publisher: Cyrus Noë, Editor: Lynn Francisco,
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