NW Fishletter #323, October 14, 2013
  1. Council OKs Next Step In Walla Walla Hatchery Construction
  2. Columbia Fall Run Tops One Million Fish When Jacks Included
  3. Steelhead Expectations Drop; Fall Chinook Numbers New Top
  4. Some Agencies Want 10-Year Spill 'Test' In Next F&W Program
  5. BPA Customers Call For Maintaining F&W Program Focus
  6. Niners Uphold Lethal Removal Of Sea Lions At Bonneville Dam
  7. Niners Rule 6th Power Plan Gave Due Consideration To Fish
  8. B.C. Takes Comments On Columbia River Treaty Consultation Draft

[1] Council OKs Next Step In Walla Walla Hatchery Construction

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council has approved construction of a $12-million Chinook hatchery on the Walla Walla River.

The funding will expand a facility operated by the Umatilla Tribes that now traps and spawns returning spring Chinook to one that also raises and releases smolts.

The approval came after the Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) signed off in September on the scientific merit of the proposal after several years of wrangling with the Umatillas over the value of supplementation and questions of how suitable the Walla Walla River was for such a project.

But achieving the ultimate goals of the program -- eventually producing several thousand spring Chinook for harvest by both tribal and non-tribal fishers, and developing a self-sustaining natural population -- may also require a major effort to restore habitat in the Walla Walla and Touchet rivers, estimated to cost $157 million over the next 10 years.

The new facility will produce 500,000 yearling spring Chinook smolts annually for release into the Walla Walla River Basin, 400,000 into the South Fork of the Walla Walla and 100,000 into the Touchet River. The first fish are planned to be released in 2017 and adults should return in 2019.

The tribes' proposal calls for developing a natural population of 1,100 spring Chinook, and a hatchery return of 2,750 that's based on a smolt-to-adult return rate of 0.55 percent -- goals the ISRP earlier said were not supportable from the limited empirical evidence. The panel had said the return rate was more optimistic than the rate used in planning Chinook reintroduction into the Hood River, and larger than seen in the Umatilla reintroduction work and initial work in the Walla Walla.

In a 2012 presentation at the NPCC, Gary James, Umatilla fishery program manager, said the nine-year geometric mean for natural spawners was about 142 fish, and the six-year mean for returning hatchery adults was 288 fish. The best return occurred in 2010, after migrating smolts found exceptional ocean conditions in 2008 when they went to sea. About 1,200 fish returned to the Walla Walla that year, and about 80 percent were hatchery fish. James said current smolt-to-adult return rates were about 0.24 percent. That's less than half the SAR projected for future operations.

After a three-year running average of returning hatchery and wild fish reaches more than 1,000 fish, the second phase of the proposal will begin, with the transition to an integrated harvest program.

When natural-origin adults reach a three-year running average of more than 750 fish, and a 5,500-fish total, the third phase will begin after proposed improvements to the basin are expected to be completed and provide returning fish with enough habitat to maintain themselves.

It was reported that BPA has not approved the $157 million in estimated restoration funding for the Walla Walla subbasin, and some say this amount is wishful thinking, but costs might actually be considerably lower than that, with much emphasis on improving spawning and rearing conditions in the Mill Creek area. When natural-origin returns of spring Chinook average 5,000 (five-year geometric mean), then smolt releases would be terminated at the Walla Walla facility.

That 5,000-fish goal may also be wishful thinking, since the stock being used to build up the population is a mixture of Columbia Basin fish called the Carson stock. It was originally derived from about 500 spring Chinook salmon, a mix of upper Columbia and Snake fish, trapped annually from 1955 through 1964 at Bonneville Dam on the Washington side of the Columbia River, then moved to holding ponds at the Carson Hatchery.

Since then, the Carson stock has been used throughout the basin, with mixed success. In places like the Methow and Grande Ronde rivers, it has been phased out because of its low productivity and non-native, non-ESU status. But the remnants -- a Carson/Methow composite -- will be used to reintroduce Chinook into the Okanogan. Genetically, it's about 40-percent Carson origin.

The Carson fish were used to help reintroduce spring Chinook in the Umatilla River. About 50,000 spring Chinook smolts from the Carson hatchery are used in a program in the Hood River, but most are released on site, more than one million smolts every spring. Carson lineage fish are still being used to produce fish for harvest at the USFWS facility at Leavenworth in the Wenatchee subbasin, and the new Colville Hatchery below Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia is expected to release about 900,000 Carson stock spring Chinook smolts every year for future harvest opportunities.

In its latest review, the ISRP asked if the Carson stock was the most appropriate one to use for the project. The panel had other issues as well, pointing out that "weak adult returns and low SAR values in 2011 and 2012 (about 0.23, well below the 0.31 value assumed for Phase 1) from previous experimental hatchery releases indicate that it may not be easy to meet program goals with artificial production (especially production of a local stock, and ultimately, sustainable harvest from a local stock).

These poor returns merely reinforce the perspective that this program needs to be undertaken in an experimental fashion and with rigorous measurement and evaluation of benchmark indicators." -Bill Rudolph

[2] Columbia Fall Run Tops One Million Fish When Jacks Included

By Oct. 9, the blowout fall Chinook run edged past 911,000 fish at Bonneville Dam. With 105,000 fall jacks added in, the run has topped a million fish, which is by far the largest return since the dam was built in 1938.

The 10-year average of 372,000 was surpassed over a month ago, with most of the run's strength coming from the upriver bright segment, which had been predicted preseason to return at a strong 435,000 fish. By Sept. 13, the record 2003 run of 610,000 upriver brights had been eclipsed.

The run has slowed, but several thousand fish are still passing the dam every day. By Oct. 7, when managers released their last inseason run update, they kept their latest revision of the upriver run size from the previous week -- 832,500.

According to preliminary numbers compiled by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, about 42 percent of this year's upriver run is made up of fish that have spent the past three years in the ocean -- fish that went to sea in 2010. That's a big difference from 2012's return, when 3-ocean fish made up only 18 percent of the return.

Tribal fishers have caught more than 227,000 fall Chinook above Bonneville Dam. By Oct. 7, it was reported they had maxed out on their allotment of B-run steelhead, whose poor returns this year were unexpected.

Managers had recently downgraded the B-run steelhead to about 10,700 from a preseason prediction of about three times that. According to preliminary figures released Oct. 7, the tribal fishers had actually caught 47 more steelhead than the 1,391 allowed this year by ESA-management guidelines. -B. R.

[3] Steelhead Expectations Drop; Fall Chinook Numbers New Top

Columbia River Basin harvest managers heard some bad news Oct. 2, after their technical committee announced an even further downgrade of the region's ESA-listed B-run steelhead stock that spends two years at sea and is headed for Idaho.

The latest estimate calls for 10,700 of the fish to enter the Columbia River this year, down from a preseason forecast of 31,600, and only 2,500 are expected to be wild.

The A-run steelhead stock -- smaller fish that tend to spend one year in the ocean -- was projected to return at a level of 213,400 fish, including 88,000 wild. That is down significantly from the preseason estimate of 291,000 fish.

The Columbia coho return was coming up short as well. Early returns added up to only 33,000, just a third of what was expected.

But the huge fall Chinook run is still showing signs of life, with close to 5,000 fish a day climbing Bonneville Dam fish ladders. The upriver bright run estimate was maintained at 832,500 adults, (compared to 434,600 forecasted) and 69,000 Bonneville Pool tules (compared to 36,300 forecasted).

Meanwhile, the fall Chinook return on the Snake has shattered the old record. By Oct. 14, more than 53,000 hatchery and wild fall Chinook were counted at Lower Granite Dam, beating the 2010 return of almost 42,000, the largest return since the dams were constructed on the Snake.

At one point, the wild run was down to 78 fish. This year's return of natural-origin fish will likely beat 1963's total, when nearly 14,000 fall Chinook were counted at Ice Harbor -- then the only dam on the lower Snake. -B. R.

[4] Some Agencies Want 10-Year Spill 'Test' In Next F&W Program

Although NOAA Fisheries has already explained why it's not interested in adding more spill at federal dams, several other federal and state agencies in the Columbia Basin are calling for just that -- a 10-year spill "test" that would considerably boost dissolved gas levels at Columbia and lower Snake River dams, and fish returns as well, according to the analysis they are using to peddle the proposal.

The so-called spill test was included in a group of proposals from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, part of their contributions to the ongoing process of amending the Columbia Basin's F&W program that is being overseen by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

The spill test was described at the September Council meeting by USFWS biologist Steve Haeseker. He presented the CSS [Comparative Survival Study] analysis developed by some tribal, state, and federal scientists that suggested boosting spill to a level that produced 125-percent total dissolved gas could increase smolt-to-adult returns for ESA-listed salmonids to recovery levels of around 4 percent.

Other groups that supported the spill test in their recommendations to the Council included the Pacific Fishery Management Council, American Rivers, Save Our Wild Salmon, The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, and the Nez Perce Tribe.

NOAA took a dim view of Haeseker's spill analysis in its draft BiOp released Sept. 9. The feds said the data used to construct his spill model used a timeframe that captured only one year of increased spill. Since then, spill levels have increased at some projects and its efficiency has improved with the addition of spillway weirs.

The agency also said its own unpublished data showed conventional and surface spill passed a larger portion of fish for a fixed spill percentage at lower flows than at higher flows. And the agency pointed to a recent analysis (Skalski et al.) of the Haeseker study that suggested the correlation between higher spill levels and better adult returns was highly suspect, since the spill percentage also correlated with increased adult returns of transported fish, which didn't benefit from it.

The feds also pointed out that the CSS model left out a variable for total dissolved gas, which would not include higher levels of fish mortality at higher levels of spill. But they also said more years of operation under the current system will add enough data to determine if the CSS hypothesis is right.

In the last amendment process, completed in 2009, the Council voted 6-2 against adding more flows or spill provisions to the F&W program. Only Oregon members supported it. But this time around, the vote could be different.

Council watchers say Montana members seem more closely aligned with Oregon's two members, who will likely vote pro-spill. Washington's own representatives could split on it, and the state would have to amend its current dissolved gas waiver that allows tailrace TDG levels of 120 percent, before it could go forward. But there is little chance that NOAA would approve such a change in operations.

Washington member Tom Karier said the Council was going to take some time to consider it all, and did not want to speculate on the future of the spill recommendation. Karier had asked Haeseker some tough questions about his spill analysis at the September Council meeting.

Idaho members are not expected to favor the spill test either, so it may be tough to get it into the next F&W program, since such amendments require a supermajority -- a majority of the members, including at least one member from each state, or the affirmative vote of at least six members.

It was reported that representatives of American Rivers have approached Council members on the spill issue and suggested that if they supported the spill recommendation, plaintiffs in the ongoing hydro litigation might not haul federal agencies back into court over the newest BiOp, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

If the spill recommendation does become part of the new plan, then BPA would likely have to give it serious consideration. If it doesn't get into the new plan, then plaintiffs could sue the Council, or Action Agencies, or the National Marine Fisheries Service if it isn't included in future dam operations. -B. R.

[5] BPA Customers Call For Maintaining F&W Program Focus

BPA customer groups -- the Public Power Council, Northwest RiverPartners, PNGC Power, and Northwest Requirements Utilities -- are recommending policymakers maintain their focus on the financial bottom line when it comes to amending the Columbia River Basin's fish and wildlife program.

While many groups are calling for studies on whether salmon could be reintroduced above Grand Coulee Dam, what would happen if the lower Snake River dams were breached, or pushing expensive spill regimes of questionable benefit, Bonneville customers say the $260-million annual program is already big enough and costs should not increase.

"It is a mature program with a breadth that is appropriate for its purpose," said the customers, in their recommendations to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which is in the process of amending the basin's F&W program, funded by BPA. They want the focus refined and improved, not expanded to include newer issues like invasive species and toxic contaminants -- which they say are far beyond the scope of the fish and wildlife program.

"The Council must resist pressure to move beyond the scope of funding in the NW Power Act that is focused on mitigating the effects of the [Federal Columbia River Power System]," said the customer groups. "The Program needs to be focused on the mandates in the Act in order to achieve what have become increasingly significant mitigation goals."

They also called for more scrutiny of research, monitoring and evaluation (RM&E) efforts, and ensuring the program doesn't conflict with legal and contractual obligations in the hydro BiOp and Fish Accords. "The Council needs to also recognize its responsibility to oversee the management of the program and critically evaluate scientific recommendations that have a tendency to recommend more study and ever increasing budgets for research, monitoring and evaluation."

They also want the Council to "establish a methodology to prioritize potential projects and reach agreement on the projects of highest priority prior to recommending them to BPA."

Regarding harvest issues, they said the Council should get more involved in them by only supporting hatchery production that doesn't conflict with conservation objectives. They also called for the implementation of recommendations from the Hatchery Scientific Review Group review several years ago. The recommendations got significant blowback from tribes and states, which said some of them were at odds with legal mandates.

The customer groups said the Council should support selective harvest methods that reduce impacts on ESA-listed and other naturally spawning fish, but increase the harvest of hatchery-origin stocks. "The Program should assess the extent to which harvest slows recovery of naturally reproducing populations and implement adaptive management strategies for harvest measures in the Program," they said.

The customers also said the Council should not establish "aspirational goals that lack scientific credibility," like the 2- to 6-percent smolt-to-adult return rates mentioned in the current program. The customers said SAR goals are beyond the scope of the Northwest Power Act because they include sources of mortality far beyond the hydro system. "The current SAR goals provide no function in the Program and are an inappropriate basis for the Council to base any decisions in the Program," they said.

The 2- to 6-percent recovery range SARs were borrowed from the contentious PATH process in the late 1990s, when regional biologists tried to figure out the major causes of fish declines in the Columbia Basin. The PATH people, in turn, had borrowed the 2- to 6-percent estimates of healthy returns from early National Marine Fisheries Service survival studies in the 1970s, involving freeze-brand studies that have never been successfully replicated. The original data from these studies, stored on IBM punch cards, was reportedly lost years ago after a warehouse flood.

In 2012, the region's independent science panel questioned whether that range of SARs was large enough to reach future recovery and harvest goals.

The customers also called the proposed spill "experiment" advocated by the state of Oregon, BiOp plaintiffs and the Nez Perce Tribe "illegal, inappropriate, and unnecessary," since current dissolved gas waivers would be violated to implement it. They said the Council and the program lack both authority and responsibility to recommend actions in violation of current Clean Water Act standards. They also noted that NOAA Fisheries has already judged that the spill proposal is based on a highly questionable analysis.

"The measured survivals of juvenile salmon and steelhead are at the practical upper limit and to achieve greater survivals will be well beyond the point of diminishing returns," said the customers. "This is why the program and the BiOp have extensive off-site mitigation as a very high priority."

The customers said the Council should keep the program within current budget limits, and if more spending is needed in some areas, then they could seek reductions in other areas "that may have outlived their purpose or usefulness within the program."

And since BPA is the final decider when it comes to the budget, the Council must coordinate with the power marketing agency on program planning and budgeting issues, they said. "The total budget for the direct program needs to be further allocated into broad funding categories such as RM&E, wildlife, anadromous and resident fish, etc."

Northwest RiverPartners specifically pointed to some current actions -- such as current ocean-based research, and the costs of coded-wire tagging programs for harvest management -- that it believes are outside the scope of the F&W program. NRP also called on the Council to support NOAA's position in the draft BiOp to increase fish transportation and use smarter spill, rather than the proposal by other stakeholders to simply increase it.

"The Council should reconcile the conflict between the Independent Science Advisory Board's recommendation and Judge Redden's prior spill orders in favor of utilizing best science, and follow the Draft 2013 FCRPS BiOp's approach to spill; when applied, the best available science would lead to 'smarter spill' at levels that better match the biological needs of the migrating fish."

NRP Executive Director Terry Flores said, "Based on a cursory review of amendment recommendations, it's clear many of the states, tribes and even some federal agencies, think that BPA's checkbook is the 'gift that just keeps giving.'

"Despite the $1 billion commitment to fish and wildlife made with the Fish Accords, many of the recommendations envision a huge expansion of the Council's program," Flores continued. "The Council has a tough job ahead and will need to be very disciplined and keep in mind its legal and fiduciary responsibilities as it sorts through them all."

RiverPartners told the Council not to readopt its prior spill regimes based on prior court orders because the "around the clock" four-month spill regime was a "blunt approach."

Instead, the group said, the spill should be "honed to balance both the biological risks and potential passage benefits of spill, to insure that unnecessary spill is not required when few fish are present at the hydropower projects, having already migrated past. This is particularly true in late August when juvenile fall Chinook from the Snake River are present in very small numbers and are generally not migrating past the hydropower projects."

The latest draft BiOp from NOAA Fisheries calls for this very strategy. -B. R.

[6] Niners Uphold Lethal Removal Of Sea Lions At Bonneville Dam

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it is OK for NOAA Fisheries to keep killing some California sea lions preying on ESA-listed spring Chinook at Bonneville Dam. The action had been challenged by The Humane Society of the United States, which had already lost in federal district court.

On Sept. 27, the three-judge panel sided with the feds and their interpretation of the term "significant impact," as in what effect the marine mammals have on the spring Chinook run, compared to dams and human harvest.

In 2011, when the Niners reversed the feds' lethal authorization, the court had asked the feds to explain why the sea lions were being singled out, when other sources of mortality such as harvest and dam passage were higher. The feds included a 13-page explanation for their decision that has seemed to satisfy the court.

The feds said they will limit annual lethal removal to a maximum 92 animals, and review the practice in five years when reauthorization is necessary. But NOAA has removed an earlier constraint that called for ending the practice if the sea lions' fish take reached 1 percent or less. In recent years, their impact on the spring Chinook run has declined to an estimated 1-2 percent range.

According to the last weekly report on sea lion predation at Bonneville Dam, more California sea lions showed up than in 2012, but daily numbers were close to last year's, which were the lowest observed since 2002.

The feds have estimated the West Coast population of California sea lions to be around 300,000 individuals, a substantial increase since the 1970s, when the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed in 1972. They said the California sea lion population has grown nearly 30 percent since 2007.

The Niners' decision may also buoy defendants in the years-long litigation over the hydro BiOp, since it upheld a ruling by a relative newcomer to the federal bench in the District of Oregon, Judge Michael Simon, whose ruling favored the federal agency's interpretation of the law. Simon has taken over the BiOp litigation from retired Judge James Redden, and it seems likely the latest salmon plan will be headed back to court, after the latest version comes out by the first of the year.

In his March 2013 ruling in the sea lion case, Simon wrote, "the Court concludes that NMFS has reasonably explained any apparent inconsistencies among its findings for two reasons: first, NMFS identified substantive differences among the applicable statutory standards, and second, NMFS identified relevant qualitative differences between the impacts caused by fisheries and the mortality caused by pinniped predation."

Simon accepted the National Marine Fisheries Service's argument that "significant" had different meanings, depending on the statute involved, on whether it was the Endangered Species Act of 1973, Marine Mammal Protection Act or National Environmental Policy Act. He said plaintiffs did not recognize that the feds use differing standards for gauging adverse effects from harvest and sea lions, so the plaintiffs' argument comparing the two results was incorrect. -B. R.

[7] Niners Rule 6th Power Plan Gave Due Consideration To Fish

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Sept. 18 against the Northwest Resource Information Center, an Idaho-based environmental group that claimed the Northwest Power and Conservation Council short-changed the region's fish and wildlife in its latest power plan, completed in 2010. However, the three-judge panel also ruled that the Council had made two procedural errors that must be corrected.

The decision, written by Judge Ronald Gilman, a visiting judge from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Memphis, Tenn.), gave short shrift to several arguments by Council attorneys who tried to support its claim of due consideration, but the Niners did rule the Council rightly interpreted the Northwest Power Act, and the NRIC did not.

"The Power Act's due consideration requirement is aimed specifically at new power-resource acquisitions, not at existing resources. This is reflected in the statute's requirement that "[t]he plan shall set forth a general scheme for implementing conservation measures and developing resources pursuant to section 839d ... with due consideration by the Council for ... protection, mitigation, and enhancement of fish and wildlife."

The NRIC was represented in court by Earthjustice, which had argued that the region actually had more leeway with power needs than the Council had articulated, and that dam operations more beneficial to fish could have been added. Earthjustice released a statement after the decision that noted "the Court had found that the Council's previous program [5th Power Plan] 'underestimated the degree to which the region could accommodate fish and wildlife measures while maintaining an adequate power supply.' While the Court did not require the Council to revisit that decision, it noted that the 'substantial increase' in the amount of available energy conservation 'should nonetheless be relevant to fish and wildlife planning.'"

"No one can argue that the Council has achieved the fish restoration requirements of the law -- 13 of these stocks are on the Endangered Species list," said Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. "While we believe the Council should have complied with its restoration duties when it adopted the Sixth Power Plan, the Court's decision provides clear direction for the Council to follow as it develops its new fish and wildlife program over the next year."

Mashuda did not explain why his argument didn't convince the three-judge panel.

"But articulating a retroactive approach that the Council chose not to follow is insufficient to meet NRIC's burden of showing that the Council acted in a manner that was 'arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,'" said the ruling. "NRIC has not pointed to any part of the Power Act that requires the Council to reconsider fish and wildlife measures in light of its evaluation of the regional power system from the subsequent power-planning process. Absent such a showing, we will not second-guess the due consideration that the Council gave to fish and wildlife interests in the adoption of the Plan."

Public power advocates applauded the ruling. "Actually, on the substantive issues, the court clearly rejected the petitioners' arguments," said Scott Corwin, executive director of the Public Power Council. "It is clear that the remand here relates to limited procedural matters. Trying to extrapolate this decision into a push to expand the program, or ignore the significant costs of the program, is a misleading rhetorical overreach."

The decision did say the Council had erred by not including its cost/benefit methodology in the draft plan, so no public comments were collected on that issue. But the Council did include the methodology as an appendix to the final plan, and acknowledged the error in its briefing, but said it considered the error "harmless."

The Niners, however, did not. They said the Council's argument was not convincing -- that the final product would not have been substantially different even if public comments had been received.

"For this reason, we will remand the Plan to the Council for the limited purpose of adopting a methodology through the appropriate notice-and-comment process," said the court.

The Niners also said the Council had given no adequate explanation for why it had used a smaller number for F&W costs in its draft of the power plan, but a larger one in the final plan that included BPA's foregone revenues from operations for fish. "The Council provides no reasoned basis, either in the record or in its brief, for why it eliminated the lower resource-replacement cost estimate but mentioned the BPA's higher market-rate estimate multiple times."

The Court said the Council must explain why it included one estimate and not the other in its final plan.

Judge Sandra Ikuta dissented from the last part of the ruling, saying the Court had no legal basis for requiring the Council to edit out BPA's F&W cost estimate. "Given that the Council did not rely on the BPA's cost estimate, but merely quoted it, there is no basis for reversal regardless whether NRIC thinks the estimate is bunk," wrote Judge Ikuta. "In short, despite the majority's editorial zeal, a federal court cannot strike down a sentence in an agency's report because it does not like its spin."

A brief filed in the lawsuit by NPCC attorneys in late 2012 said the NRIC may differ in its opinion whether current flow and passage measures for fish were sufficient, but those concerns should have been raised during the amendment process to the Council's F&W program, which was completed in 2009. The NRIC had a chance to challenge those elements within 60 days of the F&W program's adoption, but did not.

But on April, 14, 2010, NRIC director Ed Chaney, a long-time supporter of breaching lower Snake dams, spoke before the Council meeting in Boise, after the body had approved the last two elements of the Sixth Power Plan. He told the Council that there was still no effective plan to restore fish and alleviate adverse impacts from the dams.

"The Sixth Power Plan was creative," Chaney said, according to meeting minutes, "but it ratifies giving economic benefits to the Columbia River Pork Alliance that is responsible for destroying, not saving, the salmon."

On July 6, 2010, the Northwest Resource Information Center filed the original lawsuit in the 9th Circuit, claiming that the latest power plan illegally inflated the cost of salmon mitigation and ignored the benefits of increased fish runs. -B. R.

[8] B.C. Takes Comments On Columbia River Treaty Consultation Draft

The British Columbia Ministry of Energy and Mines has released for comment its "Public Consultation Report Working Draft," which summarizes comments and key findings for the province's Columbia River Treaty (CRT) Review Team. It will inform the Team's recommendations to the B.C. cabinet on the future of the CRT.

The province has already held 19 meetings with basin residents, with average attendance of 52, and is planning another round of meetings next month. The province has been consulting separately with "relevant First Nations."

The process is the Canadian counterpart to the CRT review being conducted by the U.S. Entity in conjunction with the Sovereign Review Team. The U.S. Entity is currently taking comments on its draft recommendation through Oct. 25. The province has not released a draft recommendation.

The Canadian draft concludes "there doesn't seem to appear to be definite Basin-wide consensus on most issues raised during public consultation." Nor, it suggests, should there be, "as each part of the Basin experiences impacts, benefits, opportunities and challenges differently, depending on a whole host of circumstances."

But it reports the "vast majority" of basin residents believe the treaty should be continued with improvements, and that most feel "no further significant impacts to the basin should be accepted."

According to the draft report, "most basin residents strongly believe that the Canadian Entitlement is the only benefit Canada receives" from the treaty. Others question whether the province can afford the loss of the entitlement, while some "identify a trade-off" between the entitlement and ecosystem gains. There is also a dispute as to the distribution of the entitlement among affected parties.

Residents want less revenue retained by the province and more to communities, the controversial Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program and other mitigation.

"A number of residents question whether the Basin receives a fair share of revenues from power generation, the Canadian Entitlement and Non Treaty Storage Agreement revenues." They want B.C. to "maximize the dollar value of the Entitlement to include non-power benefit benefits to the U.S. such as irrigation, recreation, navigation, and endangered species." Many say the Non-Treaty Storage Agreement "should be included in options for the Treaty."

The report also notes that many residents feel "ecosystems, flood control and power generation (and return of downstream benefits) should be equally important," the document states, while others "strongly believe that ecosystems deserve the very highest priority in the implementation of the Treaty going forward."

It also found that most residents "would like to see a reduction of the frequency and degree of water level changes [in reservoirs], even at the expense of power generation."

In addition, "most Basin residents want to ensure that climate change considerations are explicitly included in any future implementation of the Treaty."

Many of those attending workshops said "recommendations for the future of the Treaty should include salmon restoration and that these recommendations should apply to both sides of the border."

Further, many basin residents "believe flood control should be equal in priority to ecosystem health and power generation," while many others "feel flood control should be the highest priority." -Ben Tansey

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