NW Fishletter #374, October 2, 2017
  1. Draft Results From Model Show Benefits With and Without Snake River Dams
  2. Eulachon Recovery Plan Identifies Top Threats and Priority Actions
  3. Researchers: Sea Lion Predation May Push Willamette Steelhead to Extinction
  4. ISAB Reviews NOAA Fisheries' Life-Cycle Modeling Report
  5. Fire in Columbia River Gorge Threatens Juvenile Salmon
  6. Council Corrects 2016 Fish Costs in Final Report
  7. Current Predictions Foresee Colder, Wetter Weather in the Northwest
  8. BiOp Case's Technical Advisor Will Retire
  9. Another Stay in Deschutes River Alliance v. Portland General Electric
  10. Comment on Northwest Council's Report to Congress

[1] Draft Results From Model Show Benefits With and Without Snake River Dams

This year's draft Comparative Survival Study dives directly into one of the region's most contentious issues, breaching four dams on the lower Snake River.

The CSS biostatisticians simulated salmon population trends under both breached and impounded hydro system conditions, subject to a variety of spill and flow levels.

Dam breaching, along with spill, is hugely controversial in the Northwest, with advocates convinced that it is necessary for the recovery of Snake River salmonids and opponents equally certain dam removal will hurt local economies and regional power supplies.

This is the first time the CSS has ventured into an analysis of dam breaching. The study is an ongoing, long-term study of salmon and steelhead survival, and is part of the BPA-funded Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. The annual CSS results are used to measure the program's progress towards mitigation for the federal hydro system.

The CSS is produced by the Comparative Survival Study Oversight Committee and the Fish Passage Center under the leadership of Michele DeHart. Oversight committee members are from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The draft 2017 CSS said last year's federal district court decision in National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service [01-640], which highlighted dam breaching as a potential area of investigation, warranted an initial analysis of the fish survival benefits of dam removal.

On May 4, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service, aka NOAA Fisheries, to prepare an EIS that complies with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). A complete EIS, the federal ruling implied, would examine breaching as one the alternatives to avoid jeopardy under the Endangered Species Act.

Assessing the effects of total dissolved gas (TDG) on salmonids. Credit: FPC

"Although the court is not predetermining any specific aspect of what a compliant NEPA analysis would look like in this case, it may well require consideration of the reasonable alternative of breaching, bypassing, or removing one or more of the four Lower Snake River dams," said Judge Simon's May 4, 2016 order.

"This is an action that NOAA Fisheries and the action agencies have done their utmost to avoid considering for decades," Simon wrote. District Judge James Redden, who was Simon's predecessor, "repeatedly and strenuously encouraged the government to at least study the costs, benefits, and feasibility of such action, to no avail," Simon added.

The draft 2017 CSS analysis acknowledges it is "focused solely" on estimating the fish survival benefits, not costs or feasibility, of breaching the lower four Snake River dams--Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite.

CSS scientists use a life-cycle model to predict the long-term effects of four experimental spill alternatives on population recovery and then the long-term effects of those spill levels assuming the lower four Snake River dams were breached.

The four spill levels--defined in terms of the limits of total dissolved gas (TDG) produced at each project--analyzed are 1) spill levels according to the regulations consistent with the current BiOp; 2) increase spill up to limits of 120 percent TDG in the tailraces and 115 percent TDG in the forebays; 3) increase spill up to a limit of 120 percent TDG in tailraces and forebays; and 4) increase spill up to a limit of 125 percent TDG in tailraces and forebays.

Each spill level is evaluated at three flow levels (high, average and low flow), resulting in twelve spill scenarios with the four lower Snake River dams in place and twelve scenarios with the four dams breached.

The draft describes the data, methods, model fitting, assumptions and other aspects of the analysis. The Independent Scientific Advisory Board will evaluate these important details as well as the overall modeling and conclusions.

The fish and wildlife program calls for science reviews of the Fish Passage Center's analytical products, including the annual results of the Comparative Survival Study.

Here are some of the CSS simulation results.

"This analysis provides insight into the potential for dam breach to play a role in the recovery of Snake River spring/summer chinook," the draft study says.

The simulation models the Grande Ronde/Imnaha spring/summer Chinook Major Population Group (MPG), which consists of six Snake River populations.

"The results presented demonstrate the relative sensitivity of survival and long-term return abundance to changes in hydro-system operations.

"Relying on the empirical estimates of life cycle model parameters, and particularly the finding that powerhouse passage is a significant determinant of in-river survival and early ocean survival, we demonstrated that dam breaching and increased spill can benefit population recovery in relative proportion to the productivities and capacities of the populations," the study authors write.

The results estimate smolt-to-adult returns (SARs) in the 4-6 percent range under most breached spill levels, when powerhouse passage is low and water travel time is in the 8-15 day range.

The impounded scenarios, with various levels of spill, estimate 3-5 percent SARs, with powerhouse passage and water travel times almost double the breached values.

The SAR objectives in the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's fish and wildlife program are 2-6 percent.

The study found "that the most significant benefits to in-river survival rates and smolt-to-adult returns occurred at the highest TDG limit spill levels, and that benefits under breached conditions at BiOp spill levels were higher than under impounded conditions at 125 percent spill levels."

Comments on the draft CSS report are due Oct. 15. The final 2017 CSS report is due Dec. 31. -Laura Berg

[2] Eulachon Recovery Plan Identifies Top Threats and Priority Actions

NOAA Fisheries has finalized a recovery strategy for the southern distinct population segment (DPS) of eulachon, an anadromous smelt in the northeast Pacific Ocean that spawn in freshwater rivers from northern California to southern British Columbia.

Although this DPS has four subpopulations--Klamath River, Columbia River, Fraser River and B.C. coastal rivers south of the Nass River--most of eulachon population are spawners from the lower Columbia River and its tributaries.

The September 2017 Recovery Plan for Southern Distinct Population Segment of Eulachon identifies climate change effects on ocean conditions as the most serious threat to eulachon throughout their range.

The recovery plan says the principal threat to eulachon is likely the changes in ocean conditions--in temperature, precipitation, wind patterns and sea level heights--induced by both human activities and natural climatic variability.

"Climate change is the one phenomenon that correlates with the recent species-wide declines in abundance," the plan says.

The southern eulachon is a small fish with an average weight of 1.4 ounces and average length of 8 inches; they were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2010.

The recovery plan considers eulachon bycatch in ocean fisheries as a high level threat to Columbia River and British Columbia populations.

Dams and water diversions, predation and water quality are moderate threats in the Columbia and Klamath rivers. Dredging and shoreline construction are also moderate threats to the Columbia River eulachon population.

Cowlitz River eulachon harvest circa 1920. Credit: Cowlitz County Historical Museum

The Columbia River population consists of the Cowlitz, Gray, Kalama, Lewis and Sandy rivers, although eulachon were known to migrate farther upstream beyond Bonneville Dam as far as the Hood River and possibly the Klickitat River.

The recovery plan emphasizes that when it comes to eulachon there are more unknowns than knowns. A case in point is abundance data.

Because no historical abundance estimates exist for this species, the recovery plan considers historical landings data to be a minimum measure of abundance.

To sustain abundance and reach recovery, the total run size has to be substantially higher than the estimated range of adult eulachon harvested each year, the plan says.

Historical catches have ranged between 12 million and 128 million fish per year. Commercial, recreational and tribal/First Nations fisheries have historically harvested eulachon all along the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada.

Because of the paucity of information on eulachon, the recovery strategy sets numerous research priorities to improve fish managers' understanding of eulachon population abundance and demographics, and the linkages between threats, marine and freshwater environments and the species.

Most actions to deal with threats, including the top threat of climate changes in the ocean and in freshwater, involve research and other analytical products.

Regarding bycatch, the plan says NOAA Fisheries will continue to reduce the sizable ocean bycatch, or incidental harvest, of eulachon. It recommends the fleetwide adoption of rigid-grate bycatch reduction devices and light-emitting diode lights.

The recovery strategy describes the operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System as having altered the hydrological cycle in such a way that freshwater inputs to the estuary--plume environment are diminished during April-July. This period coincides with the eulachon freshwater-ocean transition period and is thus likely to adversely effect marine survival of eulachon larvae and juveniles.

NOAA Fisheries intends to reduce the ecological impacts of dams by continuing its collaboration with the entities that manage and operate them, the plan says.

In the Klamath River Basin, the plan calls for a research and monitoring plan to assess the effects of post-dam removal. Four Klamath Basin dams owned by PacifiCorp are slated for demolition and await federal funding.

The cost of implementing recovery actions in the U.S. over the first five fiscal years is $12.2 million. A rough estimate for the total cost of recovery in the U.S. jurisdiction is $21.4 million over 25 years or $32.0 million over 100 years. -Laura Berg

[3] Researchers: Sea Lion Predation May Push Willamette Steelhead to Extinction

Sea lions chomped about 20 to 25 percent of this year's winter steelhead run in the Willamette River as these adult fish tried to ascend the fish ladder at Willamette Falls.

That's a problem because just over 500 native winter steelhead passed the falls in 2017, the lowest run size ever recorded, Shaun Clements, senior research scientist with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council Sept. 12.

ODFW recently applied for a lethal take permit in an effort stem the losses caused by 40 or so sea lions, whose numbers have steadily increased since 2015.

The run has been in trouble for a while, and NOAA Fisheries listed the upper Willamette River winter steelhead as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999, citing the impact of federal dams and loss of habitat.

But now the immediate threat is from California sea lions, said Clements, who pegged the probability of Willamette River winter steelhead extinction at 89 percent.

Clements and Steve Jeffries, research scientist for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the California sea lion population has grown along the West Coast over the past 40 years to nearly 300,000 animals.

A small proportion of male sea lions have expanded their range into freshwater areas, such as Willamette Falls, where migrating salmon and steelhead congregate before moving upstream.

Willamette Falls, where sea lions find easy pickin's for steelhead. Credit: ODFW

Jeffries said sea lions have now been spotted in or near the Columbia River tributaries of Cowlitz, Lewis, Sandy and Clackamas rivers, and are known to eat lamprey, sturgeon, and ESA-listed eulachon, as well as salmon and steelhead.

Even though California sea lions are sheltered by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the lethal removal of a few problem animals would not have an effect on the overall sea lion population, Clements said.

Clements and Jeffries emphasized in their presentation to the Council that non-lethal methods tried over the past two decades have not worked. The one exception was physical barriers at dam fishways. Acoustical deterrents at fish ladders, hazing and trap-and-release have failed to deter the sea lions.

Lawmakers in Congress have introduced bills to ease the federal permitting process for killing problem sea lions under the MMPA.

The House bill, HR 2083, is sponsored by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.); while the Senate's bill, S. 1702, is sponsored by Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho).

"Given the situation at Willamette Falls, everyone is united in their call for swift action, and ODFW stands ready to provide expertise to the Northwest congressional delegation on a bipartisan, compromise bill to revise the MMPA to address these emergency situations," Clements was quoted in an Aug. 7 ODFW news release.

Not quite "everyone is united in their call," however.

The Conservation Angler and the Willamette Riverkeeper sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May, hoping to stop the production and release of non-native summer steelhead in the Willamette River basin. ODFW operates the Corps-owned hatcheries.

The two conservation groups hope to persuade a federal judge that these non-native hatchery steelhead are competing with the native wild winter steelhead for habitat and food and are a major reason for the decline of the ESA-listed native species. -Laura Berg

[4] ISAB Reviews NOAA Fisheries' Life-Cycle Modeling Report

The Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) has completed its appraisal of a NOAA Fisheries' report on life-cycle models intended to assess alternative restoration actions on threatened and endangered Columbia Basin salmon.

The suite of life-cycle models reviewed by ISAB and posted Sept. 22 was in response to a 2010 Supplemental Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion that called for expansion of models used in the 2008 FCRPS BiOp and subsequently in the 2014 Supplemental BiOp.

NOAA Fisheries requested the ISAB review of its May 23, 2017, report, Interior Columbia Basin Life-Cycle Modeling. This is the second time the panel has evaluated the modeling effort led by NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center. The first was in 2013.

Like the 2013 version, the 2017 report represents work by teams of scientists, most associated with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, but includes some from other federal agencies, from state and tribal fish and wildlife entities, and from consulting firms.

The ISAB acknowledged the complexity of the life cycle modeling effort, noting the wide-ranging life histories of these salmonids, the many locations where the fish live and are affected by human activities, and the changing environment.

Expanding on the previous work that modeled hydrosystem and climate effects on salmonids, the 2017 report covers more populations and habitat actions.

New chapters describe the potential effects of toxics and ways to relay results to decision-makers, yet these new efforts--along with the ocean survival model--are still in formative stages, ISAB and NOAA Fisheries admit.

Both entities acknowledge that non-native species are not covered in the more than 20 life cycle models reviewed and need to be.

The ISAB review also recommends that harvest impacts need "broader coverage in the life-cycle models."

The ISAB reviewed the BPA-funded habitat modeling project ISEMP/CHAMP and hydro-system models, particularly as the hydro models relate to spill.

The ISEMP/CHAMP model is used to estimate the effects of habitat improvement actions in specific stretches of river.

ISAB said it had the potential to be "highly useful to managers," citing the model's findings that some habitat improvements resulted in only modest benefits for fish abundance and productivity, while habitat restoration actions that reduced water temperatures had greater benefits.

Many of the models presented in NOAA's life cycle modeling report like those required by ISEMP/CHAMP "rely on long-term datasets, which highlights the value of the ongoing monitoring and evaluation needed to parametrize and validate models," the ISAB said.

The habitat model needs to be "coupled with long-term monitoring data to test and fine-tune the model further, if managers are to gain confidence in its predictions," the board said.

The two models that evaluate the effects of spill at FCRPS projects are included in the ISAB review.

One is the life-cycle model developed as part of the 2016 Comparative Survival Study. Created by Bob Lessard of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in conjunction with the Fish Passage Center, this model showed the greatest benefits to smolt-to-adult returns occurring in scenarios with highest spill and lowest flow and a potential for a threefold increase in SARs with higher spills, depending on flows.

ISAB had few concerns about the CSS model, but did recommend "the next iteration ... report on likely impacts of keeping the proportion of smolts transported fixed." The model fixed the number of smolts transported at 20 percent.

The reviewers also recommended incorporating density dependence at more than one life stage.

COMPASS, the second life-cycle model to look at the impact of spill, is a set of models designed by numerous regional scientists and led by NOAA Fisheries. The results of this model did not show a large benefit from increased spill.

ISAB had many concerns about how COMPASS arrived at its predictions. "It is not clear how scenarios were generated," the science advisory board said, describing a lack of information and clarity in the report.

The board recommended modelers address 17 different issues, most with multiple questions.

"It would be very helpful to employ COMPASS and the CSS life-cycle model using the same spill/flow scenarios to better understand if the two models agree in their findings and if not, why not," the ISAB said. -Laura Berg

[5] Fire in Columbia River Gorge Threatens Juvenile Salmon

As flames got ever closer to Cascade Locks--a small town along the Columbia River about 40 miles east of Portland--26 employees of three Oregon hatcheries were evacuated and more than 600,000 juvenile fish released early.

The Eagle Creek fire forced the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to take emergency actions on Sept. 6 at Bonneville, Oxbow and Cascade hatcheries. The three facilities rear about six million juvenile fish.

Released as much as six months ahead of schedule, the mostly coho and Chinook salmon would have died had they remained in the hatchery, where water quality deteriorated as debris from the fire plugged intake pipes.

Farther upstream, truck transport of juvenile fish collected at two lower Snake River dams was cancelled after both Interstate 84 on the Oregon side and State Road 14 on the Washington side were closed because of fire danger.

The juvenile fish, normally loaded into trucks at Lower Monumental and Little Goose dams for release below Bonneville Dam, were instead allowed to migrate through the hydro projects' juvenile bypass systems, according to Eric Hockersmith, transportation coordinator for the Walla Walla District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Hockersmith's Sept. 5 memo to the Technical Management Team said that when S.R. 14 was closed to traffic other than passenger vehicles, several trucks already loaded with fish had to release their juvenile salmon at the nearest boat ramps.

Collection and truck transportation will resume once reliable access to the downstream release site at Bonneville Dam or the alternative Dodson Boat Ramp is restored.

Back at the hatcheries, firefighters foamed buildings to prevent them from catching fire, a Sept. 5 news statement from ODFW said.

The firefighters, who are using the three hatcheries as staging areas, also cut a firebreak and lit a back fire above Cascade Hatchery to keep the flames from reaching the facility.

ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy told NW Fishletter that no hatchery structures were lost and the remaining fish were healthy. But as of Sept. 7, staff still weren't able to examine the clogged water intake at Bonneville Hatchery, she said.

Then in mid-September, ODFW had to truck nearly two million juvenile fish from Cascade Hatchery to facilities around the region in anticipation of rain and mudslides that again threatened to plug the hatchery's water intake system.

According to an ODFW news statement, the agency moved about 500,000 Umatilla River coho and 500,000 Lostine River coho to the Leaburg Hatchery, where they will be reared until spring when they will be trucked to the Umatillia and Lostine rivers.

About 350,000 Yakama coho were transported to Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, while another 300,000 went to Willard National Fish Hatchery. Some 130,000 spring Chinook were hauled to Sandy Fish Hatchery.

The juvenile salmon were transferred in trucks that have oxygen supplies to help lower stress in the fish and keep them healthy, the fish agency said.

The Eagle Creek fire started Sept. 2 and is now about 50 percent contained. -L. B.

[6] Council Corrects 2016 Fish Costs in Final Report

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council approved its final report on BPA's fish and wildlife costs for fiscal year 2016 at its August meeting, with one important correction.

A public review draft released in June said that BPA fish and wildlife costs were about 25 percent of the power-marketing agency's 2016-2017 wholesale power rate of $33.75/MWh.

"That wasn't right," John Harrison, Council spokesman, told the Council Aug. 15. "The fish and wildlife program actually accounts for about one-third of the wholesale rate."

In a July 20 letter to the Council, BPA said that $167 million in costs had been inadvertently omitted in the financial information provided to the Council. Once included, these costs increase the percentage to about 33 percent of the total, according to a Council staff memorandum.

Bonneville said the most accurate way to characterize the fish and wildlife program's effect on rates is to describe how much lower the rate would be if fish costs were not included.

The revised statement, according to BPA's letter, would read: "Bonneville's 2016-2017 wholesale rate of $33.75 per megawatt-hour would have been about one-third lower if fish and wildlife program costs were not included."

The earlier 25-percent estimate did not include $55 million in operation and maintenance costs of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, nor $112 million of additional depreciation and amortization "above and beyond what is earmarked in the Cost of Service Analysis as fish-related," Bonneville said in the letter.

The final 2016 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program Costs Report--the Council's 16th review of BPA costs--has been corrected. -Laura Berg

[7] Current Predictions Foresee Colder, Wetter Weather in the Northwest

Forecasters are now predicting an increasing chance of at least a weak La Niña this fall and winter in the northern hemisphere.

Climatologists with the NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) issued a La Niña update watch Sept. 14.

The forecast for a 55-60 percent probability of a La Niña in 2017-2018 means a good chance the winter in the Pacific Northwest will resemble last year's, when Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington had weather that was wetter and colder than average.

The La Niña could occur sometime in the next three months, according to the CPC.

Recent cooling of surface and sub-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean are, in part, the basis for the predictions. Weather forecasting is also more reliable this time of year, the IRI said.

A Sept. 18 blog entry by Rebecca Lindsey, science writer for NOAA's climate.gov, explained how El Niño and La Niña "trigger a cascade of changes in tropical rainfall and wind patterns that echo around the globe."

The changes can vary with each El Niño or La Niña event, and what happens during one of these events is a probability and not a certainty, she emphasized.

Swinging back and forth about every 3-7 years, El Niño and La Niña alternately warm and cool large areas of the tropical Pacific, Lindsey said.

As the world's largest ocean, the Pacific can significantly affect temperature and precipitation across the U.S. and other parts of the world.

She compared the disruption of atmospheric circulation patterns that alter jet streams across the globe to "a boulder dropped into a stream."

"For the United States, the most significant impact is a shift in the path of the mid-latitude jet streams," she said. "These swift, high-level winds play a major role in separating warm and cool air masses and steering storms from the Pacific across the U.S."

The Pacific Northwest and parts of Alaska tend to be cooler and wetter than average and the southern tier of the U.S., including California, tends to be warmer and drier than average during a La Niña.

El Niño and La Niña have the strongest impact in the U.S. during December-February but sometimes that influence extends into early spring, Lindsey said.

The bottom line is a trend toward at least five months of colder, wetter weather in the Northwest.

The next CPC forecast is due Oct. 12. -L. B.

[8] BiOp Case's Technical Advisor Will Retire

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon announced the retirement of his technical advisor Howard Horton during an August status conference with the parties in the ongoing BiOp case over Columbia River fish and hydropower.

Horton, an Oregon State University Professor Emeritus of Fisheries, has served over a decade as U.S. Court Technical Advisor in National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service et al. [01-640] under Judges Malcolm Marsh and James Redden and now Judge Simon.

The parties in the case, which was brought in 2001, have recommended some nine individuals as a replacement for Horton. Simon did not indicate a timeline for replacing Horton. -L. B.

[9] Another Stay in Deschutes River Alliance v. Portland General Electric

A lawsuit alleging PGE violations of the Clean Water Act below the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric project on the Deschutes River was granted a second stay Sept. 11.

The plaintiff Deschutes River Alliance and PGE agreed to the 90-day stay, which U.S. District Judge Simon approved. PGE spokesman Steve Corson told NW Fishletter the parties are planning to use the services of a mediator.

In August, PGE had lost an attempt to dismiss to the case when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the utility's petition.

[10] Comment on Northwest Council's Report to Congress

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council is taking comments through Dec. 15 on a draft report to Congress. The report reviews implementation of the Seventh Power Plan and the 2014 Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program in fiscal year 2017 and is a requirement of the Northwest Power Act of 1980. Your comments may be submitted to comments@nwcouncil.org.

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