Columbia River Salmonid Returns Pegged Below 10-Year Averages
The 2017 Columbia River summer Chinook, steelhead and sockeye runs headed to spawning locations above Bonneville Dam are expected to return at levels below 10-year averages.
That assessment comes from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife, which reported the seasonal 2017 salmon and steelhead forecasts June 28.
The Oregon/Washington Columbia River Compact and the Columbia River treaty tribes authorized limited fisheries June 28. Most fishing seasons were set only for the coming week, pending more information on returns and harvest rates.
According to the agencies, some 63,100 summer Chinook adults are expected to return to the Columbia River this year, making it about 88 percent of the 2007-2016 average.
The predicted return of 130,700 upriver summer steelhead is only 38 percent of the 10-year average, while the sockeye forecast of 198,500 fish is about 63 percent of the decadal trend.
The sockeye prediction includes 54,200 Wenatchee River stock, 137,900 Okanogan River stock, and 1,400 Snake River stock.
Only the upper Columbia summer Chinook run, which passes Bonneville Dam June 16-July 31 and is destined for areas above Priest Rapids Dam, is considered healthy, according to the fact sheet.
These summer Chinook are not listed under the Endangered Species Act, while wild summer steelhead and some sockeye populations are ESA-listed.
The April-through-June component of the upriver summer steelhead run--the Skamania index, as it's called--are coming back in the lowest numbers seen in decades.
The unclipped or wild Skamania steelhead counts are the lowest since 1999, and when the hatchery component is included, the totals to date are the lowest since the 1970s, according to CRITFC.
The A- and B-index steelhead pass Bonneville Dam from July through October.
Stuart Ellis of CRITFC, chairman of the multiagency Technical Advisory Committee, said most biologists think the poor state of summer steelhead returns can be attributed to "a combination of low out-migration survival in 2015 through the hydro system along with very poor, warm ocean conditions in 2015-16."
It was also likely, he said, that wild steelhead survival was poor during these fishes' yearlong rearing stint in tributary streams prior to out-migration.
Sockeye are also currently returning below expectations, and "if the run is normally timed it may be around half of the forecast run size," the CRITFC fact sheet says.
Last year, however, state and tribal fish biologists underestimated the sockeye return at 101,600. The 2016 run totaled 354,500.
Ellis warned not to view this year's low returns as a crisis. "Salmonid runs are cyclic, you get some good years and some poor years.
This year may be a poor year, he said, but "with the high flows this spring and what appears to be a more moderate ocean, we are probably going to see much better survival for the fish heading out this year. So in the next couple years, things should turn around some." -Laura Berg
 Boats Fouled by Invasive Mussels Intercepted in Idaho, Montana, Oregon; Zinke Says Stopping Their Spread is Non-Partisan
Reports indicate that inspectors in Idaho, Montana and Oregon have intercepted 22 watercraft infested with non-native dressinid mussels so far in 2017.
The mussels can clog waterways and water infrastructure, and pose a grave threat to the region's dams and hydropower generation.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a June 27 announcement that his agency would ask Congress for an increase in fiscal year 2018 funding to combat quagga and zebra mussels.
"Protecting our waterways and ecosystems is not a partisan issue," he said.
The invasive shellfish have already damaged hydroelectric and irrigation systems and changed ecosystems in the Great Lakes, and now pose a threat to Western waterways.
Zinke's statement singled out the Columbia and Colorado basins as particularly at risk.
One of the latest detections in Northwest was a mussel-fouled boat intercepted June 8 in Idaho coming from Lake Havasu, an infected waterbody on the border of Arizona and California. In total this year, 17 watercraft entering Idaho have been found to be inhabited by invasive mussels.
Most of the boats detected in Idaho were coming from Lake Havasu.
Since Memorial Day weekend, inspectors in Montana have intercepted three infested boats.
In Oregon two boats were inspected and decontaminated in May, according to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife news release. A yacht from Tennessee had zebra mussels attached, and a boat arriving from Lake Havasu had standing water, which was likely carrying the invasive zebra or quagga mussel.
Expanding the prevention budget by $4.5 million, Zinke's statement said, is part of a package of 41 measures agreed to by more than 70 tribal, federal and state government officials who worked on the initiative for the past three months, according to the Interior Department.
The plan emphasizes coordinated inspection systems and prevention messaging, data sharing and enhanced detection technology, among other actions.
In the current fiscal year, Interior added $1 million to the effort through the Bureau of Reclamation, while the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs recently awarded $683,000 in funding to Pacific Northwest tribes to help them stop the spread of quagga and zebra mussels.
This May a contaminated boat was detected on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation on its way to Flathead Lake, the Glacier Reporter said in a June 7 story. The boat was from Michigan, where invasive mussels have a strong foothold.
It was the first mussel-bearing boat to be discovered in Montana in 2017. Last November, mussels were detected for the first time in several Montana water bodies.
Newly trained inspectors at the detection station on the reservation identified the mussels by the byssal threads the bivalves use to attach themselves to boats. Native mussels do not have byssal threads.
According to a June Facebook post on Montana Mussel Response, two other boats intercepted May 26-27 in eastern Montana were contaminated.
The first of the two boats was arriving from the Great Lakes region and heading to West Yellowstone.
The other boat failed to stop at the inspection station and was caught and returned to the station by the Montana Highway Patrol. The vessel was on its way to British Columbia. Canadian authorities were notified.
All intercepted watercraft were decontaminated before being released to their owners.
"Stopping the spread of invasive mussels and increasing our Federal-State-Tribal coordination are both critical priorities in order to ensure that we maintain hydropower as a clean, reliable, cost-effective source of energy for the West and protect our outdoor tourism economies," said Zinke. -Laura Berg
 Fish Passage at Little Goose Dam Improves With Operational Changes
Decreasing the amount of water going over spillways at Little Goose Dam on the lower Snake River seems to be helping spring Chinook find the fish ladder and pass around the dam, the interagency Technical Management Team was told at its June 7 meeting.
The problem the spill reduction addressed is eddies in the tailrace at Little Goose, which are the suspected cause of a passage delay.
Cutting back spill to 30 percent of the flow and other operational changes have apparently reduced the energy and velocity of eddies below the dam that disorient spring Chinook and inhibit them from locating the fish ladder, according to Russ Kiefer, a biologist and Idaho TMT member.
Fish managers noticed several weeks ago that adult spring Chinook that were counted as they passed Lower Monumental Dam were not passing Little Goose Dam, the next upstream hydropower project.
For example, by June 3, an estimated 21,658 spring Chinook had passed Lower Monumental, while only 15,101 had been counted at Little Goose two days later.
The low conversion rate between the two dams indicated a problem at Little Goose.
The eddy formation in the tailrace at Little Goose varies with flow discharge volume, powerhouse operations and spill configuration.
But diagnosing and solving the problem from one year to the next is difficult.
Complicating matters are the juvenile fish migrating downstream and trying to pass the dam at the same time adult fish are trying to move upstream. (Juvenile and adult fish have different routes through the dam.)
Eddies and currents have caused passage problems at Little Goose before, in 2010, by the operation of a top-spill weir.
This spring, high flow and spill volumes along with outages at unit powerhouses appear to be increasing eddy intensity below the dam and delaying adult passage over the dam.
When dam operators--at the request of TMT fish manager representatives--switched from releasing 50 percent to 30 percent of the flow as spill and were able to operate all powerhouse units, the fish responded. The counts at Little Goose bumped up from about 400-700 spring Chinook a day to over a thousand during June 7-9.
TMT members agreed to continue the 30-percent spill for another week with an additional two hours of 30-percent spill each day.
Also for the next week, spill will be released evenly as uniform spill rather than bulk spill and all powerhouse units will be in operation if possible. The interagency team will evaluate the results after a week and decide whether it's appropriate to continue with the 30-percent treatment.
Other variables are also factors in maintaining water flows at 30-percent spill for part of each day. These include keeping total dissolved gas (TDG) levels below 125 percent. They've been about 118 percent TDG, and no gas bubble trauma has been seen in downstream migrating juveniles.
Debris must be cleaned from screens to protect the juvenile migrants, which can require powerhouse units to be taken offline. Trash cleaning has meant some units were not in operation this spring.
Then there's the large volume of water coming down the river this year. Significant involuntary spill has occurred throughout the Federal Columbia River Power System, including at Little Goose; the spill is mostly in excess of hydraulic capacity.
More inflows could make it difficult to maintain only 30 percent of the flow as spill or to keep the reservoir at minimum operating pool.
Fish managers want to keep the reservoir at minimum operating pool elevation to give downstream migrating juveniles the fast-flowing water that gets them to the ocean quickly. -Laura Berg
 NW House Members Urge Trump to Initiate CRT Negotiations; U.S. Negotiator Leaving
A bipartisan group of Northwest House members wrote to President Donald Trump June 21 urging him to "take any and all necessary actions" to initiate negotiations with Canada over the future of the Columbia River Treaty, including sending a notice of termination so as "to incentivize Canada to come to the table."
"The imminent commencement of negotiations is critical to U.S. interests and we urge your Administration to promptly engage with Canada on this matter," said the letter signed by Republican Reps. Dan Newhouse, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dave Reichert of Washington, and Reps. Kurt Schrader (D), Peter DeFazio (D) and Greg Walden (R) of Oregon.
Shrader led the effort with Newhouse, and released a statement saying that "we continue to pay exorbitant sums for Canadian flood control improvements constructed years ago. Renegotiation of this treaty is long overdue. It's time for our Canadian friends to come to the table in a meaningful way so we can strike a fair deal that reflects where we are in the 21st century."
The letter comes a week after the chief U.S. negotiator for the treaty, Brian Doherty, told a treaty modeling group that his two-year term on the assignment will end in July. The office of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said it had no information on Doherty's replacement.
Doherty has been the main State Department point person on the treaty since his appointment in 2015, and has held extensive meetings with treaty stakeholders in the Northwest, as well as meeting with officials in Canada.
Doherty did not return a call seeking comment.
It is unclear if his technical aide, Deputy Lead Negotiator Brian Nafziger, will remain or stay.
The U.S. Entity--comprised of BPA and the regional U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office--filed its regional recommendation for the future of the treaty in December 2013. Former Secretary of State John Kerry informed the Canadians last fall that the U.S. had completed its review of the treaty and was ready to negotiate.
The process has been complicated by elections in the U.S., Canada and British Columbia, but Northwest House members who sent the letter said the U.S. offer to negotiate "remains valid with the change in administrations."
"While Canada has been slow to act on their negotiating authority," the congressional letter continues, the U.S. could invoke the Treaty's "Notice of Termination" clause as a means to prod them.
The clause sets up a firm 10-year period to reach a modernized and rebalanced structure, the letter notes. "With the potential for negotiations to drag out indefinitely," the notice "could provide the necessary incentive for Canada to enter into formal discussion, which will hopefully lead to a mutual agreement with Canada being reached much sooner."
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote a letter in March to Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland that focused on terrorism, but also mentioned the treaty. NW Fishletter asked for a copy of the letter, but the State Department replied that it would "decline to provide any details related to our diplomatic conversations."
According to one source who saw the letter, Tillerson urged Canada to begin negotiations with the U.S. on the flood-control changes that would begin in 2024 under the treaty, noting those would require multiyear planning and capital investment.
Tillerson said he hoped the two countries would be able to come to an agreement, the source said. However, Tillerson, unlike Kerry before him, didn't say anything about ecosystem concerns.-Ben Tansey
 F&W Program 2016 Costs Drop to 25 Percent of BPA's Total Power-Related Costs
All fish and wildlife costs incurred by Bonneville in fiscal year 2016 totaled about $621.5 million, including forgone revenue, or about 25 percent of BPA's total power-related costs, according to a draft report released June 14.
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council annual report to the Northwest's four governors said FY 2015 costs came in at $757 million, or 33.3 percent of power-related costs.
The Council's reports, which are based on information compiled by BPA's Fish and Wildlife division, put direct program costs at about $258 million for each of the two past years.
A reduction in forgone revenue and power purchases in FY 2016 are the reason F&W expenditures have dropped from 33.3 to 25 percent of BPA's power-related costs, the Council report said.
The difference is that in FY 2016, forgone hydropower sales revenue came to $76.6 million and power purchases to replace that power totaled $50.3 million, while in FY 2015, forgone revenue was $196 million and power purchases were $68 million.
The draft report on FY 2016 fish and wildlife spending is available for public comment until July 21, 2017, after which the 16th annual report will be sent to the governors of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
At the request of the four states' governors, the Council since 2001 has produced an annual accounting of fish and wildlife costs incurred under the regional power act's Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.
The draft report says BPA receives a credit under Section 4(h)(10)(C) of the Northwest Power Act as reimbursement for the non-power share of fish and wildlife costs Bonneville pays annually, including a portion of the power purchases.
Subtracting the credit reduces the total FY 2016 fish and wildlife costs to $548.9 million assumed by ratepayers, the draft states. The federal government is responsible for the non power-purposes share of $72.6 million.
The credit is explained in more detail in the draft report's "Power System Costs" section.
Fish and wildlife costs are part of BPA's power-related expenses and do not include costs associated with Bonneville's transmission system.
The draft report also shows the cost to ratepayers for the Federal Columbia River Power System BiOps since 2009. At $191 million, costs were at their highest in 2012, dropping to $161 million in 2016. Only 2009 and 2014 costs were lower than in 2016.
A 2009 report to Northwest governors shows 2004-2009 annual BiOp spending between $70 million and $118 million per year.
By species, most of the FY 2016 Endangered Species Act spending has gone to five steelhead populations.
Habitat restoration and protection received the most funding at 43 percent, or $117.9 million of the FY 2016 direct program dollars, with the second most, 30 percent or $82.3 million, spent on research, monitoring and evaluation.
Geographically, the Columbia Plateau, which comprises much of the Columbia River Basin in Washington and Oregon including the lower Snake River, receives 22 percent of the funding and the lower Columbia, which does not include the estuary, receives the next most at 15 percent.
BPA's total operating expenses were 2.9 billion in FY 2016 and 2.7 billion in FY 2015, according to the power-marketing agency's reports to Congress. -Laura Berg
 Appeal Filed Over Spill Decision in 2008-2014 BiOp Case
Defendants in the 2008-2014 BiOp case on June 2 filed an appeal of U.S. District Judge Michael Simon's recent orders on spill and capital expenditures at lower Snake River dams.
The notice of appeal comes after Simon overturned the current BiOp on the Federal Columbia River Power System May 4, 2016, and after plaintiffs' partial win of an injunction March 27, 2017, (amended April 3) regarding spill and improvements at four dams in the ongoing National Wildlife Federation et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service et al. [01-640].
Filing the appeal were defendants NOAA Fisheries (aka National Marine Fisheries Service), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation, and intervenor-defendants Montana, Idaho, Northwest RiverPartners, and Inland Ports and Navigation Groups.
A decade ago, in 2007, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the defendants and affirmed a lower-court decision ordering more spill.
The lower-court decision by District Judge James Redden involved a challenge to the 2004 BiOp. Redden adopted the plaintiffs' recommendation to order 24-hour summer spill at the four lower Snake River dams and at McNary Dam on the Columbia River. The appeals court approved the lower-court ruling.
The plaintiffs in NWF v. NMFS are conservation and fishing groups, Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe.
While summer spill was incorporated in the 2008-2014 BiOp, NOAA Fisheries did not include calls for even-higher spill levels that would allow total dissolved gas levels to increase from 120 percent to 125 percent in dam tailraces. The agency rejected the spill increase, saying it would create conditions harmful to juvenile salmon and steelhead trying to pass dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
When plaintiffs tried again this spring, Simon ordered federal action agencies to try more spill in 2018, but not as soon as 2017, as suggested by plaintiffs.
The other issue involved in the appeal is Simon's order requiring the Corps to notify plaintiffs when capital spending is planned at four lower Snake River dams.
The plaintiffs claimed, and Simon agreed, that some improvements at these dams--dams that the plaintiffs have asked be taken out to help recover fish runs--were likely to prejudice decisions involving a court-mandated environmental impact statement ordered by the court in its May 3, 2016 decision.
Meanwhile, Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association, one of the amicus curiae parties in the litigation, wants a federal investigation of a 2015 salmon managers' decision to let Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead migrate on their own through the lower Snake River. A news release emailed to NW Fishletter said the irrigators association believes the decision not to transport fish through dams and reservoirs during the low flow and warm water of 2015 is contributing to this year's poor adult fish returns.
The group sent a letter to the inspectors general of the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers and NOAA Fisheries' parent agency, the Department of Commerce. Neither the Corps nor NOAA Fisheries responded to requests for comment. -Laura Berg
 Progress Reported on Willamette River BiOp Requirements
Representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and Green Belt Land Trust updated the Northwest Power and Conservation Council June 14 on their work to re-establish Oregon's Willamette Basin as a sustainable home for Chinook, steelhead, bull trout and other fish species.
A 2008 BiOp for the basin calls for fish passage and reintroduction in watersheds above dams as well as habitat improvements.
The Corps built and operates 13 dams as part of the Willamette Valley Project, which also includes fish hatcheries and over 90 miles, about half of the river's length, of bank armoring added to reduce flooding and erosion.
The Willamette River extends about 180 miles from Portland upstream to its headwaters southeast of Eugene.
The dams provide flood control and eight of them generate electricity marketed by BPA. Most of the high-head dams were built without fish passage in mind, said Ian Chane, Columbia River fish mitigation manager for the Corps' Portland District.
But the BiOp, issued by NOAA Fisheries and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, requires fish passage at the 13 dams.
The fish populations covered in the BiOp are Endangered Species Act-listed upper Willamette spring Chinook, upper Willamette steelhead, bull trout and Oregon chub. The latter species, having been restored, was delisted from ESA protection in 2015 and was the first fish in the U.S. to recover from endangered status.
The Corps is concentrating its Willamette River fish reintroduction in four sub-basins: North Santiam River (Detroit and Big Cliff dams) and South Santiam (Green Peter and Foster dams), both for spring Chinook and winter steelhead; South Fork of the McKenzie River (Cougar Dam) for spring Chinook and bull trout; and Middle Fork of the Willamette River (Hills Creek, Dexter and Lookout Point dams) for spring Chinook.
For populations of anadromous fish and bull trout to re-establish in upper basin areas, they must be able to pass the dams. To do this, Chane said, the fish need proper flows and water temperatures and passage routes at the dams.
With in-stream flows set, the schedule for downstream fish passage puts Foster Dam on the South Santiam in 2018, Cougar Dam on the South Fork McKenzie in 2020, and Detroit Dam temperature control on the North Santiam in 2021.
Downstream passage for juveniles is already available at Fall Creek Dam on the Middle Fork of the Willamette, and research on juvenile fish passage at Lookout Point Dam also on the Middle Fork is pending.
Upstream passage for adult salmon and steelhead has been completed, except for an adult collection facility at Fall Creek Dam, scheduled to be in place by 2018. Adult fish are trapped and hauled above the hydro projects.
The current total budget estimate to complete the BiOp requirements for fish passage at the dams and habitat projects downstream is $757 million.
BPA is responsible for about half of the BiOp costs, with the Corps picking up the rest, Oregon Council staffer Karl Weist told NW Fishletter in an email. And the Corps needs congressional authorization to fund its work in the Willamette Basin.
In addition to addressing fish passage and temperature issues, the BiOp's reasonable and prudent alternates include the continued production of hatchery fish, managing hatchery genetics and improving fish habitat below the projects.
The Corps' hatchery program for summer steelhead, however, is being challenged. Two conservation groups that announced their intent to sue the federal agency followed through with a suit alleging the hatchery summer steelhead are contributing to the decline of the Willamette's native winter steelhead).
The winter steelhead population is protected by the ESA and covered by the 2008 BiOp. The groups, Willamette Riverkeeper and The Conservation Angler want to stop the hatchery program until a new biological opinion is produced.
In contrast, BiOp provisions to rehabilitate Willamette Basin fish habitat have not been controversial.
The focus of that work has been increased side channel complexity, floodplain reconnection and floodplain forest restoration.
The public-private funding partnerships have resulted in nearly 4,000 acres of floodplain and riparian reforestation, 15.5 miles of side channel reconnected to floodplains, 23 fish barriers fixed or removed, and other accomplishments, Andrew Dutterer, OWEB partnerships coordinator, told Council members.
Principal funders have been BEF, OWEB and Meyer Memorial Trust.
In fiscal year 2016, total project costs were $2.9 million. Of that, OWEB contributed $1.4 million, Meyer Memorial $725,000, and BPA $700,000.
The Council approved $800,000 for FY 2017 as the ratepayer-funded contribution to Willamette BiOp habitat restoration. This fish and wildlife program portion of the work, which the Council approved June 13, is one of the F&W program's umbrella projects.
In an evaluation of umbrella projects in March, the Independent Science Review Panel recommended the Willamette project devise "a coherent description of proposed and existing research and monitoring efforts" and refine restoration objectives to better measure progress.
In response to the review, Dan Bell, director of the Willamette Strategic Partnerships for BEF, told the Council the habitat program would develop a cohesive monitoring plan and move from tracking decadal trends to setting decadal objectives.
"Our approach," he said, "is streamlined, focused at a landscape scale and would have affordable and predictable costs over time."
The Willamette River BiOp ends in 2023. -Laura Berg
 Draft EIS Published on a New Columbia River Harvest Plan
NOAA Fisheries posted a draft EIS June 14 that analyzes options for a new U.S. v. Oregon Columbia River harvest-management plan to replace the management agreement that expires at the end of 2017.
Depending on the outcome of negotiations between the U.S. v. Oregon parties and the comments made by the public, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) will select one of several alternatives considered in the DEIS.
The selected alternative will provide a framework for harvest management while adhering to incidental-take requirements under the Endangered Species Act and meeting other statutory and legal responsibilities related to resource conservation, economic and cultural benefits, and treaty trust obligations.
The term of the new harvest framework or agreement is set to be 2018-2027.
U.S. v. Oregon is the ongoing federal court proceeding that enforces tribal treaty fishing rights of the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama and Shoshone-Bannock.
The states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and BIA are the other signatories of the management agreement.
The wild and hatchery fish populations involved are upriver salmon and steelhead stocks harvested by treaty Indian fisheries and non-Indian commercial and sport fisheries.
The DEIS discusses the pluses and minuses of six alternatives.
The first option is to extend the current framework that blends abundance-based management, escapement-based management, and harvest-rate management.
"This alternative recognizes that the stocks have varying conservation requirements, with some providing abundant opportunity for harvest, and others requiring more protection from harvest encounters at this time," according to the draft executive summary.
The second, third and fourth alternatives are each of the separate management policies that are blended in the first option: the abundance-based, escapement-based and harvest-rate management structures.
The fifth alternative is voluntary curtailment, with the sovereign parties terminating fishing--with the exception of very limited tribal ceremonial harvest--for an extended time.
The sixth option is no action, under which the current agreement would expire without a replacement.
Since hatchery-produced fish are a big part of Columbia Basin fisheries, NMFS will use the analyses in the 2014 Mitchell Act EIS to define the interplay between hatchery production and the various harvest-management alternatives.
The DEIS also assesses the various potential harvest options on non-salmonid listed and non-listed species, such as southern resident killer whales, sea lions and birds that prey on adult salmonids.
 Council Approves Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Research Plan
After more than a year of work, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council on June 13 approved the research plan for the Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.
Though not a part of the F&W program, the research plan provides guidance on implementing research measures and program priorities for the federal agencies with legal responsibilities under the Northwest Power Act, according to the plan's primary editor, Patty O'Toole, a program implementation manager at the Council.
While the Council program contains a set of guiding scientific principles for the F&W program, important knowledge gaps and critical uncertainties persist.
In February 2016, the Independent Science Advisory Board and Independent Scientific Review Panel identified 50 critical uncertainties and recommended changes to the original 2006 research plan.
O'Toole and other staff, with input from Council members, sharpened and condensed the uncertainties to 27 with additional subsets for many of 14 thematically organized uncertainties.
The uncertainty categories or themes range from tributary habitat to hydro-system flow and passage operations to contaminants.
Tom Karier, a Washington Council member, praised staff's work on the document, saying that shortening the research plan from some 60 pages to 21 pages added clarity and made it more useful. Karier has criticized the program's research, monitoring and evaluation efforts, particularly the large costs.
Comments from agencies and tribes and the public in January of this year were especially helpful, O'Toole said.
Karier and other Council members voted to approve the research plan, which does not by itself obligate any spending. Instead, the plan presents critical uncertainties as a series of questions to "elicit the development of specific research hypotheses and project proposals without constraining innovative approaches," O'Toole wrote in her memo to the Council.
The critical uncertainties, she said, are generally related to measures now being implemented or areas of research that may lead to different or modified measures or new understandings that could improve the F&W program. -Laura Berg
 PGE and Deschutes River Alliance Parties Agree to Settlement Talks
Deschutes River Alliance and Portland General Electric agreed to settlement discussions in a case alleging Clean Water Act violations at the utility's Pelton Round Butte dam complex in central Oregon.
Talks were scheduled for June 15-16. The parties--which include the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, co-owner of the Pelton Round Butte hydroelectric projects--agreed in May there was common ground forsettlement discussions.
Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon allowed PGE to appeal his March 27 ruling denying the utility's motion to dismiss the case PGE had argued unsuccessfully in Deschutes River Alliance v. Portland General Electric [16-01644] that the federal district court lacked jurisdiction because only FERC, not citizen lawsuits, can enforce the conditions of CWA certification.
The judge agreed with DRA that states that write water quality-related requirements have the authority to enforce the CWA.
In a joint May 24 filing, both plaintiff and defendant parties agreed to postpone further proceedings in the case while they attempt to negotiate a settlement.
The parties are also waiting to hear whether the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will grant permission for the appeal to proceed.
Even if that court agrees to hear the appeal, the parties have agreed to hold off further proceedings as long as the settlement discussions are "productive," the joint filing says.
DRA brought the original case Aug. 12, 2016, alleging a selective water withdrawal tower meant to aid migrating salmon and steelhead is warming the lower Deschutes River and harming the aquatic environment and the river's native fish populations.
The tower is a requirement of PGE's 2005 FERC license. -L. B.
THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.
NW Fishletter is produced by Energy NewsData.
Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: Laura Berg
Phone: (206) 285-4848 Fax: (206) 281-8035