NW Fishletter #367, March 6, 2017
  1. Arguments in BiOp Case Resume Over Spill, Capital Projects
  2. Council Continues to Question Columbia Basin Habitat-Monitoring Projects
  3. Snake River Fall Chinook Redd Count Robust for Third Year in a Row
  4. Balancing Act at Dworshak More Acute with Turbine Out of Service
  5. State or FERC Jurisdiction at Issue in Pelton Round Butte Federal Case
  6. EPA Sued Over Temperature Pollution in Columbia and Snake Rivers
  7. New Council Webpages Show Columbia Salmon and Steelhead Goals
  8. Regional Water-Supply Forecast is Normal and Higher
  9. Bull Trout Suit Against Corps, BuRec and BPA Dismissed

[1] Arguments in BiOp Case Resume Over Spill, Capital Projects

Both sides of the 2014 BiOp case on the Federal Columbia River Power System and its impact on fish disagreed on the [plaintiff-proposed injunction] to increase spring spill at Columbia and Snake River dams and to postpone capital investment projects at four lower Snake River dams.

Conservation and fishing groups and the State of Oregon asked for the injunctive relief on Jan. 9 in the ongoing National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service [01-640] case involving salmon recovery and Columbia/Snake river dams.

The request asks for spill to begin April 3 and extend through June 20 each year until a new plan is approved to replace the 2014 FCRPS BiOp.

The motion also asks to stop spending on large capital investment projects at lower Snake River dams until the federal agencies are in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon has given the federal defendants -- BPA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation -- until the end of 2018 to replace the current BiOp and until 2021 to complete an EIS under NEPA rules.

Defendants' response to the proposed injunction

In a blizzard of paper filed Feb. 9 with the court, the defendants sharply opposed the plaintiffs' proposed injunction on spill and capital projects.

The week before, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon granted the defendants' request to file excess pages in their opposition to the plaintiffs' motion in the ongoing NWF v. NMFS, originally brought in 2001.

The federal agencies argued that the proposed injunctions are unnecessary because the agencies -- the National Marine Fisheries Service, BPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation -- are fully committed to the National Environmental Policy Act process ordered by the court last May.

In the interim, the agencies will use "the ESA consultation and regional coordination forums to fully evaluate FCRPS operations and develop science-based actions that ensure the protection of salmon and steelhead," according to a combined federal brief opposing the plaintiffs' motions.

Defendants and defendants-intervenors are the agencies mentioned above, the states of Washington and Idaho, Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association and Northwest RiverPartners.

In their brief the agencies describe each of the nine capital-investment projects -- the plaintiffs referred to 11 projects -- the defendants say would be harmed if they were stopped. The capital projects plaintiffs seek to enjoin involve the four lower Snake River dams -- Ice Harbor, Little Goose, Lower Granite and Lower Monumental.

The National Wildlife Federation, Save Our Wild Salmon, the State of Oregon and many other conservation/fishing organizations are plaintiffs and plaintiff-intervenors who requested the injunctions. The Nez Perce Tribe is amicus curiae in the case.

According to the more than 800 pages of documents filed with the court, many of the upgrades and enhancement projects at issue at the four Snake River dams provide environmental benefits to fish. Three of the projects involve safety issues and two will be completed by September.

Enjoining projects at Ice Harbor Dam increases the likelihood of failures that would affect the Tri-Cities area, the brief stated.

The declarations of the Corps' David Ponganis, Northwestern Division regional programs director, and BPA's Kieran Connolly, vice president of generation asset management, take issue with the NWF plaintiffs' request to stop the Corps from starting any new capital spending at the four dams without the court's permission.

They cite the complex and arduous congressional appropriation and agency budgeting processes, among others, necessary to maintain the lower Snake River hydro system.

Ponganis' testimony details repairs and upgrades that he characterizes as critical to the operational integrity of the lower Snake hydro operations.

The plaintiffs also asked the court to increase spring spill to help downstream-migrating juvenile salmon and steelhead get to the ocean.

The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association contends the "enormous benefits of smolt transportation, particularly in low-water years with higher water temperature," have been ignored by the plaintiffs and by earlier decisions by the court that ordered additional spill, the CSRIA's brief said.

Were the proposed injunction to succeed, it would radically decrease the percentage of spring migrants transported around dams, the irrigators' group said.

"The injunction would, for example, increase spill over Lower Granite Dam, the most important collector project for smolt transportation, from the 20,000 [cfs] provided for in the 2016 Fish Operations Plan to 41,000 cfs," the CSRIA's brief said.

The analysis of the transportation to in-river ratio in the latest 2016 Comparative Survival Study (CSS) report is flawed, the CSRIA and its technical expert Darryll Olsen argue. (Fish that are not transported are considered in-river migrants.)

The combined federal brief also takes issue with the 2016 CSS, saying its modeling and analyses rely on associations between spillway passage and smolt-to-adult survival rates (SARs) "based on assumptions that powerhouse passage (turbines and bypass systems) are associated with high levels of latent mortality."

The Corps has installed or provided surface-passage routes, such as spillway weirs, corner collectors and sluiceways, at the federal Columbia and Snake river dams, moved juvenile-bypass system outfalls and taken other actions to improve salmonid survival, according to the federal brief.

Over the years, the agencies said, they have also tested, evaluated and adaptively managed spill operations at the dams.

In his declaration, Ritchie Graves, NOAA Fisheries' chief of the Columbia Hydropower Branch, described the reasonable and prudent alternatives of the 2014 BiOp as actions that are working. He said more fish have survived, juvenile fish-travel times have been reduced and abundance has improved.

The bottom line, the federal brief said, is that the "plaintiffs don't know whether their proposed injunction will hurt or help listed salmonids."

Plaintiffs' reply to opposing motions

Feb. 28 reply briefs by plaintiffs in the 2014 BiOp case rebutted arguments by federal agencies and defendant-intervenor arguments opposing the requested injunctions over spill and capital spending.

The plaintiffs' briefs said that contrary to the defendants' mixed-up attempt to claim that benefits of spill are uncertain, years of evidence collected and analyzed by the annual comparative survival study (CSS) leads to the conclusion that reducing the number of juvenile fish or smolts that migrate through powerhouses is likely to result in increased smolt-to-adult survival rates.

Reducing powerhouse encounters can be done by increasing the proportion of flow allocated to spill (relative to that allocated to the powerhouse), which the conservationists propose federal dam operators do more of in the spring.

"Neither federal defendants nor any other party has offered similarly comprehensive scientific analyses that indicate the CSS analyses are wrong. Instead, they raise … concerns … best characterized as claims that the perfect should be the enemy of the good," the NWF brief said.

Defendants said spill levels of 125-percent total dissolved gas (TDG) would harm juvenile fish. However, as plaintiff briefs point out, Oregon and the conservation groups did not request a spill injunction requiring spill up to 125-percent TDG or any level that would exceed existing state water-quality standards.

Oregon -- supported by the amicus curiae Nez Perce Tribe -- and the other plaintiffs asked the court to order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide the maximum spill level that meets, but does not exceed, existing TDG criteria of 115 percent in the forebay/120 percent in the tailrace. Those are levels that "NOAA and the Corps have long found to be safe for fish," the Oregon brief said.

The conservationists reiterated they are asking for a halt to capital expenditures at lower Snake River dams related to hydropower generation (not to safety or fish passage) so as not to prejudice dam-removal deliberations as part of the EIS.

The plaintiffs questioned the "headlong investment in four dams that the federal defendants themselves acknowledge they will consider removing."

There's no word from the court on when a decision might be rendered. However, as mentioned above, plaintiffs have asked the spill injunction to be effective April 3. -Laura Berg

[2] Council Continues to Question Columbia Basin Habitat-Monitoring Projects

During December and February meetings the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, members discussed the BPA and fish and wildlife program approach to assessing the effectiveness of habitat-restoration actions.

Two NWPCC-approved habitat-monitoring projects and one BPA monitoring project have been slow to explain if they are helping guide fish managers' habitat work, according to several Council members.

Washington Council member Tom Karier said, with some frustration, that after 13 years and $75 million, the Council needed to understand the results of this investment.

The centerpiece of the Council's Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program is habitat rehabilitation and conservation.

Rebuilding "healthy, naturally producing fish and wildlife populations by protecting, mitigating and restoring habitats and the biological systems within them," is how the 2014 program describes this central strategy.

Guy Norman, Washington's other Council member, said it is extremely important to know whether habitat projects are doing what they are supposed to do and informing future work.

However, he cautioned, the Council needs to recognize that habitat-effectiveness assessments are not going to give answers on an annual basis.

The three projects are the Integrated Status and Effectiveness Monitoring Program (ISEMP), the Columbia Habitat Monitoring Program (CHaMP) and the Action Effectiveness Monitoring (AEM) project.

The first two are part of the fish and wildlife program, while the third is a BPA initiative.

The ISEMP, CHaMP and AEM projects are part of the 2008-2014 BiOp on the FCRPS.

The BiOp's conclusions assume these monitoring efforts will provide quantifiable estimates of the life-stage survival improvements gained from tributary, main-stem and estuary habitat actions.

At a December Council meeting, Karier asked Lorri Bodi, BPA vice-president for Environment, Fish and Wildlife, whether the habitat-monitoring programs have helped and whether there were preliminary results about benefits to fish abundance, productivity and diversity.

Bodi said that these were the right questions and acknowledged an increasing emphasis on results. She said BPA was doing another synthesis of tributary enhancement benefits that would be available this spring.

When the Council returned to the topic again this month, Karier was clearly still not satisfied.

Salmonid life cycle
CHaMP data describes salmonid habitat for all life stages. Credit: Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

He said salmon managers have made the case that measuring some things is necessary, but questioned whether other monitoring and assessment activities were essential to continue to research.

Karier thought some of the activities were duplicative of others' efforts. "We already know that fencing to keep livestock out of streams and riparian areas works," he said as an example.

Council staff responded that they didn't know yet whether such analyses were duplicative.

As indicated in a Dec. 6 memo, the Council is waiting to hear from Bonneville on the status of eight of 13 conditions sent to the power-marketing agency in a June 2013 NWPCC decision letter.

The conditions requested that projects transition from a pilot effort to monitoring and assessing how actions directly affect local habitat; integrate project data with existing information to avoid differing metrics; report how certain juvenile fish data is being used to evaluate habitat actions; and other conditions.

The 2013 decision letter dates back to recommendations made by the Council in 2011 and to a 2013 appraisal of ISEMP, CHaMP and BPA's AEM by the Independent Scientific Review Panel.

Karier commented that more scientific review was not needed. The concerns are policy ones, he said.

In December, BPA staff proposed to submit the three projects to the Council for ISRP review and Council recommendations this April.

While the ISRP previously reviewed these projects, the science panel has not made an assessment of BPA's Tributary Habitat Framework, which aims to integrate the actions and results of the three monitoring projects.

Bonneville did not propose ISRP review of the framework.

"We need to ask the salmon managers what's essential and what's important to continue in research," Karier said. "We have other uses for the funds if these are not essential."

Norman said he supports working with fish managers to sharpen habitat-research efforts.

Bill Booth, Idaho Council member, said he shared Karier's concerns and recommended that the staff come back next month with new options.

"We included the monitoring projects in the BiOp, but they didn't influence the court," Booth said.

In May 2016, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon rejected the BiOp, saying in part that to recover salmon and steelhead populations the federal agencies had relied on what amounted to uncertain benefits from habitat actions.

The judge said the Endangered Species Act required habitat-improvement projects "to achieve some amount of survival benefit beyond the minimum required to avoid jeopardy."

During her December presentation to the Council, BPA's Bodi said she expected the AEM project to be used in the 2018 proposed actions and BiOp analytical framework.

Council Chair Henry Lorenzen of Oregon asked the NWPCC staff for a timeline and objectives by the March Council meeting. -Laura Berg

[3] Snake River Fall Chinook Redd Count Robust for Third Year in a Row

Fall Chinook redd counts in the Snake River basin are strong for the third year in a row. A redd count summary by the Nez Perce Tribe put the 2016 number at 6,426.

Only redds counted in 2014 and 2015 exceeded that number. In 2015, 9,346 fall Chinook spawning nests were recorded, making it the highest number since the tribe started counting in the late 1980s.

Salmon fry will emerge this spring from the 2016 redds and make their way to saltwater after a month or two, then return to the Snake River after spending one to four years in the ocean.

Many actions likely account for the uptick in Snake River redds. Principal among them is the tribe's successful fall Chinook hatchery supplementation program, which is returning more fish to the spawning grounds. In addition, more streams are being counted.

Improved flows, cool water releases, passage improvements at mainstem dams and reductions in harvest rates since the 1990s also contributed to the increase in redds.

These actions are documented in NOAA Fisheries' 2015 Draft Fall Chinook Recovery Plan.

Since 1991 the Tribe has collaborated with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Idaho Power and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to conduct redd surveys on the Snake River and most major tributaries above and below Lower Granite Dam near Lewiston.

Of the redds observed in 2016, the Nez Perce counted about half of them in the Clearwater River. The tribe's helicopter surveys also estimated 17 in the North Fork Clearwater, 108 in the South Fork Clearwater, 76 in the Middle Fork Clearwater, 102 in the Selway River and 28 in the Potlatch River.

Idaho Power and FWS redd surveys in the Snake River main stem, done by drones and underwater video, totaled another 1,972 redds.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists counted 244 redds in the Tucannon River. The Tucannon survey is conducted on foot because of dense riparian vegetation.

Tribal aerial surveys estimated 35 redds in the Salmon River, 29 redds in the Imnaha River, and 415 redds in the Grande Ronde River basin.

Snake River fall Chinook were classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992. -Laura Berg

[4] Balancing Act at Dworshak More Acute with Turbine Out of Service

With Dworshak Dam's largest turbine out of service for a major overhaul, dam operators and salmon managers have been kept on their toes juggling flood-control requirements, total-dissolved-gas limits, and refill and flow-augmentation needs.

The Unit 3 turbine-generator, which has a capacity of about 220 MW, has been idle} since September. Unit 1 was also out of commission for several weeks in January for testing.

The outages limit power generation and the amount of water discharged from the dam, and excess water must be spilled. Yet the spill's level of total dissolved gas (TDG) must be kept within Idaho's water-quality limit of 110 percent.

Spilling increases the amount of gas present in the water, which can hurt fish, although moderate levels of spill help juveniles on their downstream journey to the ocean.

Dworshak's operator, the Walla Walla District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the interagency Technical Management Team (TMT) are meeting weekly to balance flood-control requirements with the needs of fish and the hydroelectric system.

Unit 3 repairs are two months behind schedule, pushing forward the challenges further into the juvenile fish-passage season, which is March through early August. The Corps predicts the contractor will complete the overhaul in early August.

With Unit 1 now back in operation, the volume of water releases increased in late February to about 9 kcfs -- divided about 4.6 kcfs for generation and the rest for spill.

Dworshak Dam
Plunging water, here at Dworshak Dam, traps air bubbles in the water. Credit: USACE.

Under the mid to late Feb. spill operation, the reservoir was being drafted 5 feet below its required flood-control elevation to make sure that elevation level was attained. Since early March, higher inflows have increased spill volume just over 120 percent TDG, up from previous levels closer to 110 percent TDG producing 108-percent TDG.

At recent TMT meetings, Steve Hall, the Corps' district reservoir manager, has said the prudent course of action was to move the water early.

Dave Statler, Nez Perce tribal representative to the TMT, asked about the risk of releasing too much water if inflows turn out to be less than anticipated, jeopardizing refill and augmenting summer flows with cooler water.

TMT salmon-manager representatives from Oregon and the Umatilla Tribe said they too questioned the decision to draft water below flood-control levels. The concern is not only for spring-flow augmentation, but also for adequate water supply to release cool water during the summer months.

The February water-supply forecast at Dworshak Dam was 104 percent above average, but the March prediction is 118 percent above average. Both are higher than January's.

Russ Keifer, Idaho's TMT representative, said the decisions made by federal action agencies and salmon managers -- who are all members of the TMT -- create risks to refill and TDG. Idaho's position, he said, is that the greatest risk to fish is from TDG rather than from the loss of augmented spring flows.

The Corps' Hall noted that spring augmentation is very limited now with Unit 3 down.

Keifer and Hall concurred that the big concern is TDG levels in April, when in-flow levels are high and hundreds of thousands of juvenile fish are in the Clearwater and North Fork Clearwater rivers.

According to Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries, 50 percent or more of the wild fall Chinook run are expected to emerge from spawning gravel between March 15 and April 1, with fish closest to the dam experiencing the highest levels of TDG.

On March 27, hatchery managers will release 5.5 million spring Chinook smolts into the North Fork Clearwater River, the Nez Perce's Jay Hesse told TMT members. They will need protection from high gas levels, he said.

Steelhead releases from the hatchery are planned to begin April 10 on the main-stem Clearwater. "Levels of 115 percent TDG saturation would probably be acceptable for these fish, but higher levels should be avoided," Hesse said.

Currently the juvenile fish now at the Clearwater National Fish Hatchery, which is just down-stream of the dam, are not in danger because TDG levels are low, and even if levels should rise, the hatchery is equipped with degassers that would take care of the problem.

Hesse described a two- to three-week window in early March before hatchery fish are released when higher TDG levels would have the least impact on fish.

"Prolonged early spill is the 'best of no good options,'" he said. -Laura Berg

[5] State or FERC Jurisdiction at Issue in Pelton Round Butte Federal Case

Do citizens have the right to sue over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act or is their lawful recourse petitioning FERC?

This is the question attorneys for Portland General Electric, the Deschutes River Alliance and the states of Washington and Oregon debated in U.S. District Judge Michael Simon's courtroom Feb. 3.

The states' attorneys general, representing the Washington Department of Ecology and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, joined the Deschutes River Alliance as amici parties inDRA v. PGE [16-1644].

The states said in their joint filing they were not taking a position on the substance of the alliance's claims against PGE.

They said, rather, the interest of states is to maintain state "authority to protect water quality as expressly provided in the federal Clean Water Act citizen suit provision."

The motion before Simon is whether to dismiss the case, as the defendants have requested, on grounds that FERC has jurisdiction, rather than citizens using the courts to enforce water-quality standards.

The alliance contends PGE is violating the Clean Water Act by operating a selective water-withdrawal system at the Pelton Round Butte complex of dams on the Deschutes River in central Oregon.

Designed as part of the fish-passage system, the water-withdrawal mechanism is warming a 100-mile stretch of the river below the dams and harming the riverine environment there, the alliance says.

"But something much larger than water temperature in a mid-sized river in southern [sic] Oregon was at stake," commented a Courthouse News story in its coverage of the Feb. 3 oral arguments.

A citizen lawsuit to enforce environmental laws has been one of the conservation movement's most effective tools, the new agency wrote.

The Deschutes River Alliance, PGE said, should have petitioned FERC, which licensed and conditioned the company's permit to operate the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project.

The utility argued the Clean Water Act doesn't allow people to sue over enforcement of the terms of its certification under Section 401 of the act.

A PGE brief responding to the states said Congress did not provide a cause of action under the CWA to enforce Section 401 certification except through the terms and conditions of the FERC license.

In its filings, DRA countered that FERC has never actually enforced a 401-certification condition and has the discretion to ignore petitions requesting enforcement.

Simon did not indicate when he would make a decision. -Laura Berg

[6] EPA Sued Over Temperature Pollution in Columbia and Snake Rivers

Five environmental and fishing groups took legal action Feb. 23 against the U.S. EPA over Clean Water Act violations.

The lawsuit would compel the agency to develop a plan to limit high water temperatures in the Columbia and Snake rivers.

As the climate warms, the need to lower water temperatures has become a particular concern.

The EPA has said lowering water temperatures is critical to climate-change adaptation, but the new administrator, Scott Pruitt, has questioned the need for actions to address climate change.

Warm water in the Columbia and Snake rivers in 2015 killed roughly 250,000 adult sockeye migrating to upstream spawning areas. In response, EPA again acknowledged the problem.

In the early 2000s, the agency established that high temperatures from inflowing tributaries and point sources like factories had a negligible impact on average river temperatures, according to the Feb. 23 complaint filed by the environmental groups.

"EPA then determined what temperature reductions would need to be achieved at each dam in order to comply with water quality standards," the filing stated.

In July 2003, EPA released a draft Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plan, which includes restrictions on temperature and pollutants, and allocates responsibilities for achieving reductions. However the agency has yet to issue a final plan.

"This 13-and-a-half-year delay in issuing the final TMDL is not reasonable in light of … the timelines set forth in the Clean Water Act and its implementing regulations, which call for swift action to issue TMDLs within 30 days," the Feb. 23 filing says.

The plaintiffs -- Columbia Riverkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association and the Institute for Fisheries Resources -- announced their intent to sue in August. -Laura Berg

[7] New Council Webpages Show Columbia Salmon and Steelhead Goals

A new Northwest Power and Conservation Council mapping tool allows users to view and compare different restoration goals for Columbia River salmon and steelhead.

The Natural Origin Salmon and Steelhead Adult Objectives Mapping Tool went live in February.

The Council said identifying quantitative objectives helps assess progress in achieving Endangered Species Act recovery, Fish and Wildlife Program mitigation and tribal fish-restoration goals.

Basin's fish objectives a click away. Credit: NW Council.

Fish objectives may be viewed by subbasin, major population group and population. The objectives' mapping tool and its query function can be accessed at the Fish and Wildlife Program resource maps section.

The Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force, led by NOAA Fisheries, is discussing how the region might develop shared quantitative objectives for the basin's fish.

The interactive database now includes only objectives for natural-origin salmon and steelhead designated for protection under the ESA.

Working with StreamNet, a regional fisheries data provider funded primarily by BPA, Council staff plans to build a similar database for non-ESA-listed salmon and steelhead using GIS (geographic information system) information from sources identified by salmon managers including Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission's Crosswalk Project.

A recent review of the mapping tool resulted in suggestions for improvement that the Council in-tends to implement, if feasible. A good example is adding a feature that displays the ESA-minimum abundance threshold objectives.

In addition to inventorying objectives for listed and non-ESA-listed salmon and steelhead species, the 2014 Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program says the Council will work with states, federal agencies and tribes to develop objectives for less-understood fish species that have also incurred losses from the hydropower system. These species include lamprey, sturgeon, eulachon, bull trout, cutthroat trout and kokanee.

And down the road, the Fish and Wildlife Program aims to have objectives for ecosystem restoration and indicators to track progress.

The Council partnered with Portland-based QW Consulting and StreamNet in developing this interactive database. -Laura Berg

[8] Regional Water-Supply Forecast is Normal and Higher

The April-September water-supply forecast for the northern tier of the Columbia River Basin has increased.

With snowpack having grown in the north during February, predictions are now for normal to slightly above-normal water supply in most of the basin's northern regions, according to the Northwest River Forecast Center.

Southern portions of the basin have been steadily adding snow all winter and are now expected to produce above- to well-above-average water volumes.

The NWRFC also predicted near-normal to slightly-above-normal water-supply conditions west of the Cascade Mountains.

Because numerous river systems in the Cascade Mountains are rain-driven, their volumes will be a little lighter this time of the year, said NWRFC hydrologist Taylor Dixon during a March 2 water-supply briefing.

Dixon said that although the divide between the observed snowpack in the northern and southern portions of the region was still noticeable, it was less so after recent weeks of heavy snowfall in both areas.

The primary forecast drivers were snowpack distribution and the wet and colder-than-normal weather conditions, he said.

Record snowpack, including some at lower elevations, have been documented in the Snake River basin. As temperatures start to warm, well-above-normal runoff is expected in the region's southern tier.

As of March 2, water supply in the upper Columbia River at Grand Coulee Dam was 102 percent of normal, while the Snake River at Lower Granite Dam was at 128 percent of normal, and the Columbia River at The Dalles Dam came in at 107 percent of normal.

Volume forecasts could trend higher, with wet and cold conditions predicted for the next 10 days, Dixon said. -Laura Berg

[9] Bull Trout Suit Against Corps, BuRec and BPA Dismissed

A federal judge on Feb. 22 dismissed a case against the operators of 23 Columbia Basin dams that plaintiffs alleged violated Endangered Species Act requirements for bull trout habitat.

Judge Marco Hernandez, with the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, ruled the lawsuit was moot because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had in the meantime submitted biological assessments for the challenged dams and initiated consultations.

Alliance for the Rockies filed the complaint in July 2016, asserting the defendants -- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and BPA -- had not reinitiated consultation after receiving new information about bull trout habitat from the FWS' 2010 critical habitat designation.

The court also mooted the case against BPA, saying the proper jurisdiction was the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Alliance, a conservation group based in Missoula, Mont., has been a dogged critic of federal actions to recover bull trout, having litigated the issue numerous times.

Most recently, in 2005, the group and another organization challenged the bull trout critical habitat designation and won. USFWS revised the habitat designation in 2010 identifying segments of rivers across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Bull trout, once ubiquitous in the Columbia and Snake river basins, was declared a threatened ESA species in 1998. -Laura Berg

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