NW Fishletter #375, November 6, 2017
  1. Mitigation for Wildlife Losses From Hydro Ops Stalled by Uncertainty
  2. NWF v. NMFS Parties Near Consensus on Spill Plan for 2018
  3. 2017 Columbia Salmon Returns Off, Prospects Poor for Near Term
  4. Jill Smail is State Dept.'s New Columbia River Treaty Negotiator
  5. Council Approves BPA-Funded Wildlife Projects With Strings
  6. Snake River Steelhead Get Boost From Tribal Kelt Program
  7. Dam Passage Survival Estimates for 2017 Juvenile Salmon a Mixed Bag
  8. Work on a Juvenile Fish Tunnel Begins at Cle Elum Dam
  9. Irrigators Push to Reopen Spill Issue in Columbia River BiOp Case
  10. A Decade After Dam Removal, Salmonids Rebounding in Sandy River
  11. Rehab Won't Be Finished on Dworshak Dam's Unit 3 Until June 2018
  12. La Niña Watch Still in Effect for Winter 2017-2018

[1] Mitigation for Wildlife Losses From Hydro Ops Stalled by Uncertainty

A recently completed model for assessing wildlife losses caused by hydropower operations could be useful in assessing unmitigated wildlife impacts from many dams in the Federal Columbia River Power System, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council was told at its Oct. 10 meeting.

Although the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) created the Framework for Assessing Operational Losses for Libby Dam, it's likely to be useful in determining wildlife losses for projects, such as Albeni Falls and Grand Coulee dams, where water storage is important.

The Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program and the Northwest Power Act itself call for mitigation from the continued operation of federal dams. The 2014 program emphasizes settlement agreements to resolve wildlife mitigation obligations.

Operational losses are different than those resulting from dam construction and inundation. Many construction and inundation losses have been settled, but only a handful of agreements include mitigation for operational damages.

BPA and Council staffs are in the process of identifying the current status of wildlife mitigation in the basin for each FCRPS dam. The compilation is scheduled to be available by 2018.

In a memorandum discussed at the Council's Sept. 12 meeting, Council staff said one of the hurdles to reaching mitigation agreements is that wildlife managers have disagreed on the nature of the technical analyses required to adequately describe wildlife impacts caused by FCRPS operations.

However, there is consensus that the effects vary broadly from hydropower project to hydropower project.

Staff said upper Columbia Basin dams used for water storage are thought to have created the greatest operational losses, and noted that these losses are not currently mitigated for.

BPA Wildlife Areas Assigned to FCRPS Dams. Credit: ISRP/CRITFC

The storage dams' large fluctuations in flow and reservoir elevation and their extensive alteration of river hydrology, floodplains, and transport of sediments and nutrients make "full quantification and characterization challenging," the memo said, noting that run-of-the-river dams in the lower Columbia River do not have the same dynamics.

This is where the Kootenai Tribe's "Framework for Assessing Operational Losses" comes in.

Alan Wood, MFWP wildlife mitigation coordinator, told the Council Oct. 10 that the framework has been tested and validated in the Flathead Basin, where Hungry Horse Dam impacts are felt, as well as in the Kootenai system, which is impacted by Libby Dam.

The Independent Scientific Review Panel and others have lauded the Kootenai's operational loss assessment approach as a model that could be adapted and applied elsewhere in the basin.

Evolving for more than a decade and costing some $700,000, the Kootenai wildlife project has encompassed not only the loss assessment, but also extensive mitigation planning and habitat restoration work.

The approach adopted by the tribe and MFWP "to operational loss assessment provides a model for others to emulate in the Columbia Basin, particularly since operational losses of wildlife have not been mitigated for in most basin areas," the ISRP said in its June 28, review of wildlife projects. (See Council Approves BPA-Funded Wildlife Projects With Strings.)

The Council staff seems to agree, with a caveat. "A methodology to assess the impacts of operational losses was developed and could be tested for applicability to other areas of the program, if the need arises," the Sept. 6 memo said.

So far, the Kootenai framework has only been adapted and tested for impacts from two hydro projects. And given the complexity, cost and questions over model inputs, BPA is encouraging operational loss settlements rather than assessments, Bryan Mercier, executive manager of the agency's fish and wildlife division, told NW Fishletter in an email.

"As time and funding allow, BPA will continue to address operational impacts through negotiated agreements based on best professional judgment and any relevant impact data available." He added, "To date, BPA has agreements that cover the operational impacts of all the Willamette [River] dams and half the impacts of the upper Snake River dams."

Both Mercier and the Council indicate the Columbia River System Operations EIS being developed in response to Judge Michael Simon's May 2016 ruling will study system-operation impacts of the 14 federal dams under scrutiny. Simon said the 2014 BiOp on FCRPS violated the National Environmental Policy Act, which triggered the need for a new EIS on the system of federal dams.

"The [EIS] may provide additional information on the location and extent of impacts, thus providing more accurate information to base settlement agreements upon, but that information will not be available until the completion of the EIS process in September 2021," Mercier said.

Meanwhile, a draft defining the EIS alternatives and modeling needs will be announced by the end of the year, according to a Columbia River System Operations newsletter. -Laura Berg

[2] NWF v. NMFS Parties Near Consensus on Spill Plan for 2018

Attorneys for the parties in the 2008-2014 BiOp case say a plan for 2018 spill at Columbia and Snake river dams is nearly complete.

The comments were made during an Oct. 3 status conference before U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon.

Simon's March 2017 order in National Wildlife Federation et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service et al. [01-640] requires federal agencies to start spilling water earlier in the spring and at the maximum allowable levels. In May 2016, the judge also ordered an EIS on FCRPS.

Spill at dams is used to enhance the downstream migration of juvenile salmonids, but its volume is restricted by the amount of total dissolved gas measured in the river.

Speaking in defense of the federal government, U.S. Department of Justice attorney Michael Eitel told the judge that after months of work by technical teams and policy consideration by the Regional Implementation Oversight Group (RIOG), an agreement has largely been reached on what would be a sound and reasonable spill plan for next year.

The technical work included testing spill levels and patterns at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss.

Eitel said RIOG would meet on Oct. 18 to resolve the remaining issues and wrap up the process in early November.

Attorneys for the plaintiff environmental groups and State of Oregon concurred that the parties were close to consensus.

The remaining issues are how to adjust spill at Little Goose Dam when eddies form that impede adult salmon and steelhead trying migrate upstream, and how to define the flexibility requested by BPA.

Oregon attorney Nina Englander said whether flexibility involves markets or safety, "there's still not a lot clarity on what flexibility is about."

Englander and other plaintiff attorneys emphasized that flexibility "mustn't be achieved on the backs of fish."

Attorneys also noted that the spill simulation for John Day Dam would not be completed until this winter.

The exception to consensus came from the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association.

The group filed a request in September for the federal court to hold an evidentiary hearing on the judge's March 27 spill order. Association attorney James Buchal told Simon that spilling is not good for fish, and that transporting the juveniles is a better solution.

Although Buchal didn't answer directly when the judge asked if the irrigators were requesting to rehear the spill issue, Simon said he had already considered the issues brought by the irrigators when he ordered the 2018 spill plan.

The court-ordered spill plan for next year may be incorporated in the next Biological Opinion on the Federal Columbia River Power System, which NOAA Fisheries is expected to finish by Dec. 31, 2018.

Meanwhile, the defendants reported Oct. 30 on the status of an Environmental Impact Statement on the federal power system, which is also an order of the court. The status report by federal attorneys said the environmental review process in NWF v. NMFS is on track to complete by 2021, the original deadline set by the judge. The report also said the BiOp on the power system due next year, will be one of the alternatives in the draft EIS. -Laura Berg

[3] 2017 Columbia Salmon Returns Off, Prospects Poor for Near Term

This year's Columbia and Snake river salmon and steelhead returns are down, and fish have not come back in the numbers forecast.

Although the 2017 return estimates are not yet final, this is the second year in a row that most stocks have fallen below preseason predictions.

Even the returns of fall Chinook, the Columbia's most abundant salmonid, have been off. Fall Chinook passing Bonneville Dam in 2017 have numbered about 314,000, below the forecast of about 500,000 fish. The count to date is some 61 percent of the 10-year average.

At Lower Granite Dam, the fall Chinook adult count of 26,000 is about 76 percent of the 10-year average.

This year's Bonneville Dam adult steelhead count of 117,000 is about 36 percent of the 10-year average. The unclipped or wild component of the run is now at 34,000--31 percent of the 10-year average.

The 2017 Lower Granite steelhead count of 72,000 is some 50 percent of the 10-year average. The Lower Granite unclipped steelhead count of nearly 14,000 is about 36 percent of the 10-year average.

At Willamette Falls, the 2017 count for steelhead was 2,800. This year's steelhead count is about 12 percent of the 10-year average count.

The story is similar for the earlier returning spring and summer Chinook and sockeye runs headed to areas above Bonneville Dam. All are less than the 10-year average and some considerably so.

Hatchery fish like this Chinook make harvests possible. Credit: ODFW

An exception this year is Snake River coho passing Lower Granite Dam. At 7,800, the 2017 Snake River coho count represents nearly twice the 10-year average.

This is notable because several decades ago, coho were extinct in the Snake River, none having crossed Lower Granite Dam between 1987 and 1997. In 1995, the Nez Perce started a successful hatchery program to bring them back to the Clearwater River, a Snake River tributary where they were once abundant.

However, optimism about Snake River coho has to be tempered by the fact that in 2014, some 14,500 coho returned to the Clearwater, not quite twice this year's number.

While the cumulative coho count of 71,200 at Bonneville Dam to date is much better than the 2016 count, it is only about 66 percent of the 10-year average.

Pacific lamprey were also a notable exception for the basin's sea-going species in 2017. Once ubiquitous in the Columbia and Snake rivers, the lamprey did very well this year, besting the 10-year averages at Bonneville and Lower Granite dams and in the upper Columbia at Priest Rapids and Rocky Reach dams. Over 82,000 lamprey have been counted at Bonneville Dam so far this year.

In the next few years and maybe longer, the problems for Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead are likely to continue.

NOAA Fisheries research surveys in June of 2017 showed the fewest juvenile salmon in waters off the Pacific Northwest coast in 20 years of research. The results strongly suggest that the current ocean environment has not been conducive to the survival of young salmon.

A recent memorandum by the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, a NOAA affiliate, reported the survey counts and said ocean indicators "have turned largely negative for Columbia River salmon."

Warmer sea temperatures appear to be changing the ocean ecology to the detriment of salmon.

Another research study by Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Oregon State University and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center says that a warmer ocean is shifting fish species northward, and some species that spawned in the summer are spawning year round.

The new research found that anchovy and sardine are present in Northwest waters earlier in the year and closer to shore than previously observed.

An article about the research by NOAA Fisheries' writer Michael Milstein said that anchovies and sardines may be an additional food source for young salmon, but could also contribute to yet-unknown alterations in the food web that would increase competition among fish species.

Alterations in predator-prey relationships could also prove hazardous to young salmon.

"The findings underscore the vast influence the ocean exerts over salmon survival and the importance of providing salmon with healthy freshwater habitat so they can weather poor ocean conditions and take advantage of favorable conditions when they return," the Northwest Fisheries Science Center memo said.

Oregon, Washington and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission usually make their 2018 salmon and steelhead forecasts in late January. The science center won't make its 2018 prognostications until March. -Laura Berg

[4] Jill Smail is State Dept.'s New Columbia River Treaty Negotiator

The U.S. Department of State announced Oct. 16 that Jill Smail will replace Brian Doherty as the department's negotiator for the Columbia River Treaty.

Smail, previously a senior water advisor in the department, joined the Office of Canadian Affairs as the CRT negotiator earlier this month, according to Cindy Kierscht, the State Department director for the Office of Canadian Affairs, who announced the appointment in an email to parties involved in the CRT.

Kierscht said Smail would communicate soon with stakeholders in Washington, D.C., and in the Northwest. Smail is also expected to travel to the region in early November when the Collaborative Modeling Work Group meets.

The modeling work group is a U.S. and Canadian effort created in 2016 to prepare for negotiations and establish a common base of information.

From 2009 through September 2017, Smail served as a water advisor in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs for Environment, Science, Technology, and Health, where she negotiated transboundary water issues in the Middle East. She joined the U.S. Department of State in 2001.

Smail received a Bachelor of Science in sociology and a Master of Science in government and public service from Texas A&M University, and a Master of Science in national resource strategy from the National Defense University. She is a native of Groesbeck, Texas. -L. B.

[5] Council Approves BPA-Funded Wildlife Projects With Strings

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council has endorsed the ongoing implementation of 29 BPA-funded wildlife projects.

Based on assessments by the Independent Scientific Review Panel, the Council's Oct. 10 decision also qualified its approval of 23 of these projects.

The 29 wildlife projects represent those that receive annual program funding. The cost in recent years has been in the range of $12 million to $13 million annually.

These wildlife projects are on lands that were purchased to replace habitat inundated by dam construction.

Once acquired, the ratepayer obligation for the lands involves operation and maintenance funding to support the habitat units that were the basis for mitigation, a Council memorandum said.

The six projects that had no outstanding issues were given the green light to proceed with implementation as their sponsors proposed. These were Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation's Rainwater Wildlife Area Operations; Kootenai Tribe's Kootenai River Operational Loss Assessment; Nez Perce Tribe's Northwest Oregon Wildlife Project; Shoshone-Paiute Tribes' Southern Idaho Wildlife Mitigation; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge Additions; and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Shillapoo Wildlife Mitigation.

Rainwater Wildlife Area. Credit: CTUIR

For the other projects, the Council expects BPA and project sponsors to address the Council's requirements and recommendations during contract development and implementation, the memo said.

However, Council member Tom Karier (Wash.) said he didn't see the Power Act requiring the Council to make recommendations or requirements for managing wildlife lands.

"Our mitigation is done," he said, referring to the lands having been purchased and turned over mostly to state and tribal wildlife managers. "These are not problems the Council needs to deal with."

Karier abstained from voting on the wildlife recommendation, while the other seven members endorsed the recommendations generated by the ISRP review and Council staff.

Council member Jennifer Anders (Mont.) said that many of the projects were in transition and still needed to clean up some deficiencies.

The staff memo noted that the fish and wildlife program has been transitioning to wildlife settlement agreements that, in most cases, include long-term funding for operations, maintenance and monitoring.

Anders said that during the upcoming amendment process, the Council could address the issue of its involvement.

Idaho Council member Bill Booth said that BPA has fiduciary responsibility, but the agency "should be moving to hand off these projects."

Meanwhile, in lieu of settlement agreements, the Council expects wildlife projects that receive annual operations and maintenance funds will need to meet general program requirements.

Missing from many of the wildlife management plans that received qualified approval by the ISRP and Council are time-specific, measurable objectives; adequate monitoring and evaluation; effective strategies to address fragmented habitats; and adoption of integrated pest management to control weeds; among other issues.

The next programmatic and scientific review is scheduled to occur again in six years. The previous review took place in 2009-2010. -Laura Berg

[6] Snake River Steelhead Get Boost From Tribal Kelt Program

Although only about 500 female B-run steelhead will return to Snake River spawning grounds this year, the release of 100 steelhead kelts from a Nez Perce Tribe and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission program increases the number of spawners by 20 percent.

Kelts are steelhead that have spawned at least once and attempt downstream migration to the ocean as adults.

The kelts released below Lower Granite Dam Oct. 24 were collected at the dam on their outmigration during spring 2016 and 2017 and transported to the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery in Idaho where they were fed and allowed to recover and re-mature, a CRITFC news release said.

According to Doug Hatch, CRITFC senior fisheries scientist and project leader, this BPA-funded steelhead restoration or reconditioning project "is beneficial every year, but absolutely critical in low-return years like this one."

After six to 18 months in reconditioning, the females ready to spawn again are returned to the river.

"Nearly all steelhead survive after spawning, but challenges such as river conditions and the Columbia/Snake hydro system impact survival.

"Only about half of each year's steelhead run returns to Lower Granite Dam, the first dam they encounter on their migration back to the ocean. Only a tiny fraction (about 0.4 percent of the Snake River run are kelts) survive to repeat another spawning cycle," the news statement said.

The 2008-2014 BiOp for the Federal Columbia River Power System calls for a 6-percent improvement in Snake River B-run steelhead productivity by reconditioning kelt steelhead and/or improving in-stream passage through the hydro system.

The 6-percent goal would increase the Lower Granite ladder count of B-run steelhead by 180 returning fish.

The tribe and CRITFC will complete construction on a kelt restoration hatchery in 2018. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council approved funding for the project in January 2017.

For this year's 100-fish release, the two entities used facilities they had developed for the project's research and development phase that began in 2008.

The Snake River kelt program is an adaptation of a similar program operated on the Yakima River by the Yakama Nation and CRITFC.

"Programs like these that take an innovative approach to recovery are how we, as a region, can make real progress in salmon and steelhead recovery," said CRITFC Executive Director Jaime Pinkham. -Laura Berg

[7] Dam Passage Survival Estimates for 2017 Juvenile Salmon a Mixed Bag

This year's survival of juvenile spring salmonids migrating through the Columbia-Snake river system was below average for some stocks and above average for others.

That's the finding of the Preliminary Survival Estimation Memorandum from NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, which was presented at the Oct. 4 meeting of the interagency Technical Management Team.

The science center annually estimates juvenile survival of Snake River hatchery and wild Chinook, steelhead and sockeye migrating through the dams and reservoirs in the lower Snake and Columbia rivers from April 1 to June 15.

It also estimates the juvenile survival of upper Columbia hatchery Chinook and steelhead from McNary Dam to Bonneville Dam, and upper Columbia sockeye from Rock Island Dam to Bonneville during that April-to-June period.

The science center has estimated survival for spring migrating PIT-tagged salmonids since 1993. The report's principal author is Richard Zabel, the center's director of fish ecology.

For yearling Snake River Chinook--hatchery and wild combined--the 2017 survival was above average or nearly average through the individual reservoirs and dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers, except for the reach between McNary and John Day dams.

The report said the estimated survival of these juveniles in the McNary-to-John Day reach was the lowest on record.

This resulted in overall below-average survival from Lower Granite Dam to Bonneville Dam of 47.8 percent for juvenile Snake River Chinook, compared to 52.4-percent average survival since 1993.

For juvenile Snake River steelhead--hatchery and wild combined--2017 was above average in all of the individual reaches, except for the area between John Day and Bonneville dams, where survival was lower.

The poor survival between John Day and Bonneville brought the overall survival rate from Lower Granite to Bonneville down to 45.9 percent this year, compared to 46.3 percent since 1993, making it the third consecutive year of below-average survival for the Snake River juvenile steelhead outmigration, the report said.

For juvenile Snake River sockeye, 2017 was also the third year in a row of below-average survival. From Lower Granite to Bonneville, survival was estimated at 17.7 percent; the average since 1996 is 39.2 percent. Low survival from McNary to Bonneville dams accounted for 22 percent, or the largest portion of the drop.

For juvenile Chinook and steelhead originating from the upper Columbia, survival was above average, while upper Columbia sockeye survival was just average.

The survival of upper Columbia hatchery yearling Chinook from McNary to Bonneville was 94.4 percent, while the average is 81.8 percent.

For upper Columbia hatchery steelhead, the McNary-to-Bonneville survival was 96.4 percent, while the average is 74.7 percent. The science center memo said both these Chinook and steelhead estimates have "high uncertainty."

For fish released from upper Columbia River hatcheries, "we cannot estimate survival in reaches upstream from McNary Dam (other than the overall reach from release to McNary Dam tailrace) because of limited PIT-tag detection capabilities at Mid-Columbia River PUD dams," Zabel noted in the report.

Survival for upper Columbia juvenile sockeye from Rock Island Dam to Bonneville was 50 percent, while the average since 1996 is 50.3 percent.

The science center said environmental conditions this year produced average water temperatures and very high flows and spills. Daily flow values were above long-term daily means for most of the April 1-June 15 period, the report said. Only 1997 had higher flow.

Columbia and lower Snake River dams. Credit: Courtesy of CRITFC

At Snake River dams, spill as a percentage of flow averaged 44.5 percent in 2017, the highest spill percentage since 1993. The long-term mean percentage is 26.8.

The memo said that juvenile fish showed up at lower Snake River dams earlier than normal this year. When transportation began May 2 at Lower Granite, Little Goose and Lower Monumental dams, more than half of the Chinook and steelhead had already passed.

As a result, only some 20 percent of the Snake River Chinook and steelhead juveniles were transported during the spring migration period. The report said the estimates for 2015, 2016 and 2017 were the three lowest transportation levels since the scientists started tracking transport levels in 1993.

The report said the reason for the lower-than-average proportions of juveniles collected during the spring of 2017 was "presumably" higher spill levels.

"The combination of early migration timing and of relatively low collection proportions late in the season resulted in the low percentages of smolts [juveniles] transported in 2017," the memo said.

Regarding fish travel time, the science center reported that juvenile Chinook and steelhead migrating from Lower Granite to Bonneville last spring traveled through the rivers' reservoirs and dams faster than in any other year in the time series.

Shorter travel time is associated with higher juvenile-to-adult survival rates.

While 2017 travel times coincided with high flows and high involuntary spill at dams, high spill was not necessarily the reason for the shorter travel time, the memo said.

"Day in season is a stronger predictor of travel time for Chinook than either flow or spill. Some of the lowest flow years were also low-spill years that occurred before the new spill regime [which started in 2006], so the effect of average flow on travel time is difficult to separate from that of spill by simply inspecting the figures without the assistance of a statistical model," Zabel wrote.

The estimates are preliminary and have in the past resulted in differences of up to 3 or 4 percent in estimated survival values. A final report will be available in the next few months.

The juvenile survival estimates for migration through the Columbia-Snake dams do not include summer-migrating juvenile salmonids. -Laura Berg

[8] Work on a Juvenile Fish Tunnel Begins at Cle Elum Dam

Construction started in October on a 1,250-foot tunnel for fish passage at Cle Elum Dam in the Yakima River Basin.

The $15.2 million tunnel, which will shuttle juvenile salmon past the dam, is one of the key elements in the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, a partnership that includes the Yakama Nation, the State of Washington and BuRec.

Completed in 2011, the Yakima water plan is a 30-year, $3.8-billion consensus-based approach to the basin's water conflicts, according to the plan's support organization, Yakima Basin Fish, Families and Farms.

The plan covers management of water resources for conservation, irrigation, fish, wildlife, electricity, habitat enhancement and market reallocation, among others.

Proposals in the water plan include fish passage at all Reclamation dams, new and expanded reservoirs, and improved water delivery infrastructure. Funding will be a mix of federal and state dollars.

Cle Elum Dam. Credit: BuRec

The Yakama Nation sees the new fish bypass system at Cle Elum Dam as vital to its efforts to reintroduce sockeye to Lake Cle Elum. Principal components of the effort include earthwork, tunnel, cast-in-place reinforced concrete features, metal fabrications and electrical features, a BuRec news release said. The work is expected to take until August 2020 to complete.

Built in 1933, the Cle Elum Dam is an earthfill structure on the Cle Elum River about 75 miles from Yakima, Wash.

The tribe currently trucks fish around Cle Elum Dam. Last year, the tribe trapped and hauled 4,000 sockeye around the dam.

The tribe and its project partners tested a volitional upstream migration system, the Whooshh pneumatic tube, in 2016 as an alternative to the trap and haul method of getting adult sockeye above the dam. The technology is still in the trial stages, however.

Currently, dam operators enable downstream migration of juvenile sockeye by leaving gates open at the top of the dam when water levels reach the spillway. Once the tunnel and bypass structure are completed, the juvenile fish will have a safer route from the reservoir to the river.

Additional work to facilitate fish passage has been done or is in the works. According to a Washington Department of Ecology report, the total cost of the project is estimated at $135 million and is expected to take until 2023 to complete. -Laura Berg

[9] Irrigators Push to Reopen Spill Issue in Columbia River BiOp Case

Defendants and plaintiffs alike oppose the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association motion to rehear U.S. District Judge Michael Simon's March 2017 decision requiring more spill at the dams to help the downstream migration of juvenile fish.

Briefs about the motion to reopen the issue were filed in late September and in October.

The irrigator association favors increased barging of juvenile fish instead of spill. In particular, the CSRIA wants no additional spill at dams where the young salmon and steelhead are collected for transportation.

The association is a defendant-intervenor in NWF v. NMFS [01-640] involving Simon's ruling on the latest BiOp regarding the Federal Columbia River Power System.

To further its advocacy for fish transporting, the irrigation group is seeking an evidentiary hearing that would get the court to overturn its injunction for more and earlier spill starting in spring 2018.

The crux of the CSRIA argument is that "a decision to increase spill is also a decision to decrease [juvenile] transportation, and that is unquestionably bad for fish," an earlier irrigators' motion before the court stated.

Other litigants in the case pointed out in Oct. 13 briefs that these were same arguments the court rejected in March, when it ordered the injunction for additional spill.

"CSRIA's motion is therefore aimed at re-litigating matters the court has already decided and matters that are subject to a pending action in the Ninth Circuit," U.S. Department of Justice attorneys wrote in their Oct. 13 brief.

"The appropriate forum for our objections is now the Ninth Circuit," the U.S. attorneys said. The appeal is pending.

Fish barges at Lower Granite Dam. Credit: Tony Grover, NWPCC

Federal defendants--the National Marine Fisheries Service (also known as NOAA Fisheries), BPA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation--opposed more spill at federal dams.

Even though the defendants appealed the judge's ruling against them, they have been working with the plaintiffs and tribal, state and other federal fish managers to implement the court's order for more spill next year.

In October, the parties were close to an agreement on a 2018 spill implementation plan that was specific to each of the eight federal hydropower projects on the Columbia and Snake rivers. (See NWF v. NMFS Parties Close to Consensus on Spill Plan.)

An Oct. 13 federal brief said the CSRIA motion "seeks to circumvent the regional conferral process." Also, earlier this year the irrigation group objected to a proposal for developing a spill plan, including a provision for status conferences with the parties and the judge.

"The agencies have spent months investigating a new fish passage spill operation," the defendants' brief said. "The CSRIA motion would divert resources away from the federal agencies' efforts to address the court's order.

"This work is, of course, in addition to their daily tasks as well as the time now being spent developing a 2018 BiOp and working through the multi-year NEPA process," the U.S. attorneys wrote.

A CSRIA reply brief filed Oct. 20 said that important new information was now available that had not been completed when Simon decided the spill case in March.

The group's attorney said transport-to-in-river ratios in the Draft 2017 Comparative Survival Study--released Aug. 31, 2017--show that fish transported in 2015 returned at a much higher rate than in-river migrants.

"The preliminary information contained in the draft report is similar to information CSRIA already provided," the federal brief said.

The brief cited a NOAA Fisheries' March 2, 2017 memo that addressed fish conditions in 2015, when low-flows, lower spill levels and high water temperatures led to several hundred thousand Snake River sockeye deaths.

The federal defendants and the State of Oregon also indicated in earlier briefs that issues regarding juvenile transportation at particular dams may be considered while a spill plan for 2018 is developed, and in implementing the plan.

The briefs submitted by attorneys for plaintiffs National Wildlife Federation and Oregon made similar arguments to those made by federal attorneys in opposition to the CSRIA motion on spill and barging.

In recent years, roughly 30 percent of Snake River juveniles have been barged each season. Three of four lower Snake River dams have fish transport facilities.

Simon is expected to make a decision on the CSRIA motion soon. -Laura Berg

This story was corrected November 9 to state that juvenile fish were no longer being transported from McNary Dam.

[10] A Decade After Dam Removal, Salmonids Rebounding in Sandy River

Portland General Electric decided 10 years ago that removing Marmot Dam would be more cost-effective than updating it to meet Endangered Species Act and federal-relicensing requirements.

The 50-foot high, 200-foot-long dam on the Sandy River, a Columbia River tributary, was demolished in 2007. The structure was built in 1913, and it brought electricity to the growing city of Portland about 40 miles away. The hydroelectric project was reconstructed in 1989.

A decade after the dam was torn apart and hauled away, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that returning wild spring Chinook numbers have increased in the Sandy from an average of 809 fish before dam removal to 2,086 fish since. Similarly, coho increased from 784 to 1,959, and wild winter steelhead increased from 898 to 2,757.

Marmot Dam had an adult fish ladder, but without the dam and its ancillary structures, such as canals, penstocks and a diversion dam, the river's salmon, steelhead and other native species now have unfettered access to the 56-mile-long river, much of it consisting of high-quality habitat for both anadromous and resident fish.

An Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife October news release said that since dam removal, the agency has counted the largest returns in 40 years for all three species.

The increases were not solely due to dam removal. ODFW cited changes in hatchery practices as contributing to the improvements.

Marmot Dam is the largest dam to be removed in Oregon, and its decommissioning had many challenges, including the disposition of some 980,000 cubic yards of sediment built up behind the structure. After deconstruction, the dam's concrete chunks were recycled and used for road surfacing. -L. B.

[11] Rehab Won't Be Finished on Dworshak Dam's Unit 3 Until June 2018

Dworshak Dam's Unit 3 won't be on line until June 2018, Tom Lorz of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission reported to the Fish Passage Advisory Committee on Oct. 17.

Out for repairs since Sept. 1, 2016, and originally scheduled to return to service May 1, 2017, Unit 3 is the dam's largest, and without it, spill regulation at Dworshak becomes a challenge.

Managing spill to keep total dissolved gas levels low is critical to prevent harm to salmon and steelhead juveniles in the hatchery below the dam.

The repair has been plagued with delays and setbacks, including having to replace new but deficient stator bars. -L. B.

[12] La Niña Watch Still in Effect for Winter 2017-2018

The chance of a La Niña event for winter 2017-2018 remains unchanged from last month's forecast, at 55-65 percent, NOAA Climate Prediction Center said Oct. 12.

Recently the sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean have warmed, reversing the cooling trend observed earlier. However, whether the warming continues or is only temporary remains to be seen.

The forecast team for NOAA's National Weather Service and Climate Prediction Center is for now continuing the current La Niña Watch until a clearer picture develops.

Sea surface temperature approached average after several weeks close to the La Niña threshold, which is 0.5 degrees Celsius colder than average, according to Emily Becker, a NOAA researcher and editor of the ENSO Blog.

Becker described atmospheric conditions as "generally consistent with La Niña," but sea surface temperatures as "volatile."

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said in an Oct. 10 release that international climate models surveyed by the bureau suggested the warming might be anomalous and further cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean was likely.

The bureau added, "Five of eight models suggest sea surface temperatures will reach La Niña thresholds by December 2017, but only three maintain values for long enough to be classified as a La Niña event."

The next NOAA forecast is set for Nov. 9. -L. B.

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