NW Fishletter #381, May 7, 2018
  1. No Room For Chinook? An Oceanful Of Pinks, Chum And Sockeye
  2. Columbia River Treaty Negotiations Spotlighted At Two Spokane Events
  3. Ninth Circuit Upholds Spill; Plaintiffs And Defendants React
  4. House Passes Bill To Keep 2014 BiOp, Halt Spill; Measure's Sponsors, Others React
  5. CSS Presentation Delves Into Study Of Dam Removal
  6. NW Energy Coalition Commissions Study To Replace Energy From Snake River Dams
  7. Regional Task Force Closes In On Fish Population And Recovery Goals
  8. Federal Agencies Given Until 2021 To Complete BiOp And EIS Concurrently
  9. Oregon Abandons Sea Lion Relocation Efforts
  10. Fish Managers: Some Concerns, Successes With Columbia Basin White Sturgeon
  11. 'Fast and Furious' Runoff Expected In Parts Of Columbia River Basin
  12. Judge To Hear Dismissal Requests, New Motions Filed In Lawsuit Against PGE
  13. ISAB Offers Ideas To Strengthen NWPCC's Fish And Wildlife Program

[1] No Room For Chinook? An Oceanful Of Pinks, Chum And Sockeye

While fish managers look for ways to boost numbers of migrating fish in the Columbia and Snake rivers, scientists studying overall salmon abundance in the North Pacific Ocean are singing a different tune.

A study published April 4 in Marine and Coastal Fisheries found that overall, the Pacific has more salmon now than at any other time in the last 90 years. What's more, the scientists believe the Pacific Ocean may have reached its carrying capacity for salmon in recent decades.

The study, by marine scientists Gregory Ruggerone and James Irvine, is the most comprehensive compilation of data for natural- and hatchery-origin salmon in the North Pacific Ocean to date. It builds on Ruggerone's 2010 abundance study, calculating the annual abundance of pink, chum and sockeye salmon since collection of relatively comprehensive statistics began in 1925.

These numbers show that from 2005 through 2015, the ocean--from the coasts of Washington and British Columbia to Alaska, Russia, Japan and South Korea--is virtually teeming with adult salmon, an average of 721 million annually. By weight, they add up to about 1.32 million metric tons.

By numbers, the Pacific Ocean now averages more than twice as many salmon as it had from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s, and 36 percent more than its last peak in the late 1930s. Only now, about 40 percent of adult and immature biomass stems from hatcheries.

The study does not include abundance of Chinook, coho or steelhead because "considerably more effort is needed" to estimate the hatchery and naturally-spawning components of these species. Also, together, they comprise only about 4 percent of the total salmon catch across the Pacific Rim. "While very important in the Columbia River Basin, Pacific-wide, those three species are not highly abundant," Ruggerone told NW Fishletter.

A research scientist at Natural Resources Consultants, Ruggerone is also a member and former chair of the Independent Scientific Review Panel, and has served as a member and chair of the Independent Scientific Advisory Board. His co-author Irvine does research at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Biological Station, in Nanaimo, B.C.

Ruggerone said compared to the last 25 years, Chinook, coho and steelhead once enjoyed a higher percentage of overall salmon in the Pacific, but not significantly higher. However, the surge in abundance of the ocean's big three--pinks, chum and sockeye--helped along by the 1977 ocean regime shift and by hatchery production, may be contributing to depressed numbers of the other salmon species, he said.

"In the state of Alaska, where habitat is largely pristine, Chinook salmon throughout the state are depressed," he said, adding that numbers have declined even though there are relatively few dams, and many rivers are largely intact.

The returning adults are also getting smaller and returning at a younger age, on average. "That has led some of us to think part of the decline in abundance in Alaska, statewide, is partly related to increased mortality during late marine life," he said. And that, he said, may be from competition for food in the ocean. A dissertation by a colleague, Nancy Davis, found quite a bit of overlap in the diets of larger pink salmon and Chinook in offshore marine areas, he said, and found that in odd years when pinks are highly abundant, Chinook reduced their food consumption, including key prey such as squid and fishes.

While there are implications for salmon and steelhead that return to the Columbia River, Ruggerone's abundance study focuses on the numbers and total biomass of pink, chum and sockeye salmon, and the proportion that originate in hatcheries, in 21 regions of the ocean since 1925.

The study indicates that total numbers of adult salmon were highly variable in the early years of the study, peaking in the late 1930s at about 530 million fish, and then declining in the mid-1940s to about 310 million fish, where it remained until the mid-1970s.

The numbers increased to about 543 million fish after the 1976-1977 ocean regime shift, from 1977 until 2004. They have become most abundant in the last 25 years, averaging 665 million fish from 1990 to 2015. That average jumps to 721 million fish during the decade 2005 to 2015.

From 1990 to 2015, pinks dominated the numbers, comprising about 67 percent, followed by chum at 20 percent and sockeye at 13 percent.

Looking at the biomass of adults only, the total weight of fish from 1925 until 1943 averaged 1 million metric tons. That dropped to about 600,000 metric tons from 1958 until 1976. And after 1977, total biomass increased steadily, reaching a plateau of about 1.32 million metric tons from 1990 to 2015. The adult biomass numbers are also dominated by pink salmon, with 48 percent of the total, followed by chum at 35 percent and sockeye at 17 percent.

Adding in immature fish, the ocean's salmon weigh about 4.3 million metric tons. Those numbers are strongly influenced by chum, which are larger and typically spend three or four winters in the ocean, compared with pinks, which spend just one winter in the ocean, Ruggerone said. When including biomass of immature fish, chum dominate with 60 percent of the combined biomass of all three species, followed by pink salmon with 22 percent and sockeye with 18 percent.

Ruggerone said a change known as the 1976-1977 ocean regime shift in the North Pacific Ocean--which also corresponded with a major shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation--had a huge impact on the central and northeast Pacific, which brought warmer sea-surface temperatures that tended to benefit pink and sockeye salmon.

"Both actually doubled in abundance after the regime shift in northern areas, largely because of very favorable conditions in that first year at sea," he said. But farther south, in the Pacific Northwest and Columbia River Basin regions, the regime shift led to a reduction in early marine survival for salmon, he added.

The study also tracked the increasing role that hatcheries play in salmon abundance. While generally favorable ocean conditions have improved production of natural-origin salmon, the study finds that some 40 percent of all three salmon species are from hatcheries, including 60 percent of chum, 15 percent of pink and 4 percent of sockeye. "The contribution of hatchery salmon to total abundance averaged less than 2 percent in the 1950s, and likely less than 1 percent in earlier years," the study states.

Hatchery salmon dominate the numbers in some areas, including Japan, South Korea, Alaska's southeast region and Prince William Sound, and the Sakhalin and Kuril islands of Russia. "For example, in Prince William Sound, approximately 76 percent of Pink Salmon, 73 percent of Chum Salmon, and 36 percent of Sockeye Salmon originated from hatcheries," the study says, noting that those numbers don't include numerous salmon that stray into streams within and outside Prince William Sound.

The paper includes a long discussion of potential impacts of increasing hatchery-origin salmon.

"Hatchery salmon are released into the ocean primarily so that returning adults can support salmon harvests by local fishermen. However, hatchery salmon can migrate long distances at sea and intermingle with distant natural-origin stocks, leading to unintended consequences when those natural-origin stocks are less productive," it says.

These effects are not usually considered by hatchery managers, even though the issue has been raised. The study concludes that a stable biomass in the ocean since 1993 suggests that the ocean may have reached its carrying capacity for salmon. "This finding leads to the question: would natural-origin salmon rebound if hatchery production was significantly reduced? Additionally, if the ocean becomes less favorable for salmon, as it was from the 1940s through the 1960s, will natural-origin salmon abundances decline more than they would without hatchery salmon?"

The study notes that those answers are beyond the scope of this research, but could be better explored with its recommendations--to ensure that all hatchery salmon are marked; that hatchery- and natural-origin numbers are estimated in the catch or spawning escapement; and that those numbers are maintained in publicly accessible databases.

Ruggerone said after his earlier 2010 abundance publication, member nations of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission were encouraged to weigh in with their own estimates of wild and hatchery salmon abundance; and when they did not, he and Irvine worked to update numbers and expand the scope. "Ultimately we hope this paper, just like the previous one, will encourage countries to make their own estimates of wild-versus-hatchery salmon so that we can track the status of wild salmon across the Pacific Rim," he said.

The study was largely conducted with volunteer hours by the scientists, and with support from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada's International Governance Strategy, the State of Alaska's Salmon and People project, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. -K.C. Mehaffey

[2] Columbia River Treaty Negotiations Spotlighted At Two Spokane Events

Tribal inclusion. Canadian entitlements. Ecosystem-based function.

Those were just a few of the phrases on the lips of panelists, citizens and interest-group representatives speaking at a conference and a town hall meeting in Spokane on April 24 and 25, respectively, on modernizing the Columbia River Treaty.

The gatherings--featuring top U.S. and Canadian officials involved in the negotiations--provided the first public outreach by the U.S. Department of State after a long official silence following completion of the December 2013 Northwest regional recommendation.

Behind those phrases lie deeper issues. Indigenous people on both sides of the border who were left out of original treaty negotiations want a place at the table. Canadian citizens affected by dramatic reservoir drawdowns want more water-storage options in the U.S.. Tribes and others want the Columbia River's natural functions--from wetlands to fish habitat--to become a third purpose of a modernized treaty, beyond the original purposes of flood control and hydropower. And people representing irrigation, barge operations and hydropower want to ensure the treaty's original intent, and some of the benefits it provided, aren't forgotten.

Some provisions of the 1964 treaty that guides Columbia River operations between the U.S. and Canada are set to expire in 2024, unless renegotiated. In the U.S., federal agencies, impacted states, federally recognized tribes and numerous stakeholders embarked on a three-year review which included some 120 public sessions and more than 4,000 comments, and culminated with the regional recommendations. On Dec. 7, 2017, Canada agreed to begin the negotiation process.

A new round of public outreach, which kicked off April 24 at the Lake Roosevelt Forum, will help keep citizens informed about the negotiation process.

However, the details will remain at the negotiating table, Jill Smail, the U.S. Department of State's Columbia River Treaty negotiator, told about 250 people attending the conference. Smail has been with the State Department since 2001, and has worked on Middle East water negotiations and programs; she became CRT negotiator in October.

She introduced keynote speaker Francisco Palmieri, the State Department's acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, as "instrumental in getting Canada to come to the table." Palmieri heads diplomatic relations with nations from Canada to Chili, and advises the secretary of state and president.

He said U.S. objectives in negotiations will include careful management of flood risks and ensuring an economical and reliable power supply. "Obviously, Northwest energy markets have transformed--the Northwest is much more energy efficient," he said. "And, it has experienced lower-than-expected regional load growth, so we will take these and other changes into account."

He said the State Department also recognizes other benefits of the Columbia River system, now serving 36 ports and irrigating 5.3 million acres, as well as providing water for municipal and industrial uses. And, he said, both countries have a shared interest in providing for healthy populations of Pacific salmon, and a sustainable ecosystem for future generations.

Palmieri also said State recognizes its responsibility to consult with tribes, and to hold periodic meetings to update citizens throughout the negotiation process. "It is clear that people on both sides of the border see the value of continued shared benefits," he said, adding he's confident the two nations will find common ground.

During a following panel discussion, Gregory Lemermeyer, deputy director for Canada's Columbia River Treaty Renewal Unit in the U.S. Transboundary Affairs Division of Global Affairs, said Canada seeks to renew the treaty based on the original principles of creating benefits and equitable sharing of them.

He said in modernizing the treaty, Canada hopes to avoid new negative impacts, and to reduce existing impacts from the original treaty. And finally, he said, "Canada will be looking to establish sufficient flexibility through adaptive management and review mechanisms to meet the challenges of a changing climate, energy system, environment and society."

Lemermeyer also noted that Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated, shortly after he was elected, that no relationship is more important to Canada than its relationship with its indigenous people. "We will work to learn more about their interests and desires," Lemermeyer said, and First Nations will be included in the renewed treaty's preparation, negotiation and implementation. He added that the Canadian government is also working closely with the Province of British Columbia and local stakeholders to develop a cooperative and collaborative treaty renewal.

The panel also included Canadians Deb Kozak, the mayor of Nelson, B.C., and chair of the Columbia River Treaty Local Governments Committee; Bill Green, aquatic biologist for the Ktunaxa Nation Council; Martin Carver, hydrologist for the Upper Columbia Basin Environmental Collaborative; and Jay Johnson, senior policy advisor for the Okanagan Nation Alliance.

Kozak said Canadian communities see ongoing negative impacts from the existing treaty, with huge fluctuations in water levels that leave docks on dry ground and large expanses of reservoir bottom exposed. Those impacts are hard on local economies that rely on tourism dollars, she said.

Carver added Canadians would like the new treaty to address environmental losses and include resilience to a changing climate. "The losses have been disproportionately felt in Canada," he said, adding, "We need to reduce U.S. dependence on Canadian storage for flood control through flood plain restoration in the U.S."

Green agreed reservoir levels and river flows are fundamentally important issues, and added that at least some aspects of salmon restoration also need addressing in the treaty. He said adaptive management systems should be built into the treaty to provide flexibility for things like climate change.

Johnson also said that, in addition to recognizing impacts to communities and people, a new treaty needs to realize the river itself is an ecosystem, and small mitigations throughout the system do not make up for massive impacts. "We have to start thinking of the river as one river," he said. "To steal a quote from [panelist] D.R. Michel, 'If we're standing on a floodplain, we're standing in the river.'"

Michel, executive director of the Upper Columbia United Tribes and a Colville tribal member, also said the treaty should treat the river as one system. "There should be benefits up and down the river, Not Canadian or U.S. benefits," he said.

Stevens County Commissioner Wes McCart said he has appreciated an opportunity to work with local governments on both sides of the border. "I think the key issue is balance," he said. "We started with a good balance, but things have changed." He said he hopes the treaty will consider not only flood control and hydropower, but also providing adequate water supply to communities along the river.

Tom Karier, a Northwest Power and Conservation Council member representing Washington state, concluded the panel presentations by noting that objectives have changed since the original treaty was negotiated to build dams in Canada and Montana and determine how to share the costs and benefits from them.

Karier said the U.S. has made payments to Canada, and Canada was free to use those payments to lower power rates or mitigate for the impacts that concern Canadian residents. In the U.S., he said, the Northwest Power Act obligates BPA to spend some of its revenues to mitigate hydro-system impacts on fish and wildlife. "The job is not done, "he said.

Moving forward, Karier said, the key question is no longer whether or not to build dams. "The dams are there. They're Canadian dams. The U.S. doesn't own those," he said. The key question, he said, will be whether there will be a new treaty, or no new treaty. With no treaty, Canada can operate the dams any way it wants, he added, and no one anticipates the dams would be operated to benefit power, flood control, ecosystems and water supply in the U.S. -K.C. Mehaffey

[3] Ninth Circuit Upholds Spill; Plaintiffs And Defendants React

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court's order to spill more water and juvenile salmon over spillways at eight federal dams, which began on April 3.

In the published opinion issued April 2, the panel of judges found that U.S. District Judge Michael Simon did not abuse his discretion in agreeing to order spill to spill cap levels from April through mid-June this year.

Plaintiffs in National Wildlife Federation et al. v. National Fisheries Service et al. said the ruling means baby salmon migrating downstream now will get much-needed protections, which will later provide better adult returns.

Northwest RiverPartners--an intervenor-defendant in the case--said the ruling ignores the strides that have been made in recovering listed fish, and plays into the hands of groups looking to increase the costs of operating dams.

After an expedited hearing on March 20 the decision, written by Chief Judge Sidney Thomas, systematically rejected the arguments made by federal defendants and intervenor-defendants. It held that Judge Simon conducted a "proper irreparable harm analysis," and "was not required to find a short-term extinction-level threat to listed species" in order to issue the injunction requiring spill to spill cap levels from April through mid-June.

Thomas also wrote that "the district court did not err when it found harm from the operation of FCRPS dams as a whole, rather than from only spill-related components." And, "The district court also properly concluded that plaintiffs had adequately shown harm to themselves as a result of harm to listed species."

Thomas turned to language in the Endangered Species Act in explaining the decision. "The 'plain intent' of Congress in enacting the ESA was 'to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost," he wrote. That can be done in "incremental steps" that will protect remaining members of a species, he added.

The ruling means the spill surcharge approved as part of BPA's fiscal-year 2018 rate case will likely move forward. The surcharge would be set to recover "lost revenues" due to the extra spill if they exceed $5 million, based on a retrospective analysis.

In a statement, BPA said it is still analyzing the full impacts of the court decision and will make more information available in the coming weeks. "This decision creates a new multi-million-dollar obligation for the region's ratepayers. As we stated in our newly released agency strategic plan, achieving the full scope of BPA's mission requires a careful balance between sometimes competing objectives."

In response to questions from NW Fishletter, BPA spokesman David Wilson said in an email that BPA expects to be able to calculate the spill surcharge and start the public process by the end of May. That process includes making public the data and assumptions used in the calculations. A public meeting would also be held to describe the calculations, followed by a public comment period, before the amount, rate and adjustment are finalized.

To help avoid cash flow problems for BPA customers, the spill surcharge includes a provision that would allow it to be spread out in a flat monthly amount over the remaining months in 2018 and throughout 2019, Wilson indicated.

The extra spill is not a simple matter for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the eight dams and now must maintain spill at the highest flow possible without exceeding water quality standards for total dissolved gas. "We will use our expertise and best professional judgment to implement this operation and maximize spill up to the state limits," Julie Ammann, chief of the Reservoir Control Center for the Corps' Northwestern Division, said in a statement. "There are many factors that influence total dissolved gas, so managing spill at all our lower Snake and lower Columbia River dams will be challenging."

According to the District Court's January 2018 spill order, "Spill cap estimates are influenced by several factors that cannot be precisely predicted," including total flow, wind, ambient temperature, barometric pressure, incoming TDG from upstream projects and travel time from the upstream projects. There are also operational factors, such as spill level, pattern, tailwater elevation, proportion of flow through the turbines, and project configuration. Ammann said that her agency has been working for the past year to prepare for the new spill order, and will closely monitor the system and respond to any unintended consequences.

Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners--an intervenor-defendant in the case--told NW Fishletter that she's disappointed that the 9th Circuit based its decision on studies conducted by plaintiffs, including the state of Oregon, while apparently ignoring the science brought by federal agencies that are supposed to determine how best to recover endangered fish.

"It's very clear--since the 9th Circuit Court backed this up--that the plaintiffs are going to be running the federal hydro system through the district court," she said.

The decision wasn't entirely unexpected, Flores said. "This was the same panel that backed up Judge Redden's 2005 summer spill order, so we all knew it was an uphill battle." But, she said, she's concerned that the courts are buying into the erroneous idea that, despite significant recovery, salmon and steelhead are in a perilous and precarious state, "and if we don't take some draconian measures, like more spill and removing dams, these fish are going to go extinct."

Flores added that she believes plaintiffs are working to increase the costs to the point where it's no longer financially feasible to continue operating the dams. "It also suggests that if ever there was a situation where Congress needs to step in to help, this is it," she added.

In a press conference on April 2, Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., said HR 3144, a bill to keep spill operations at 2014 BiOp levels until 2022, is advancing to a House committee for consideration, and may go to a full vote of the House later this month.

Joseph Bogaard, executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon--a coalition of organizations with many member groups that are plaintiffs in the case--told NW Fishletter that instead of trying to overturn an injunction designed to help fish recovery, he's hoping federal agencies will put their energies toward real solutions for recovering fish. "This isn't a question about whether we know enough," he said. "This is a question about whether we're willing to take the actions that will ultimately protect salmon and begin to rebuild them."

Bogaard said he's hoping the court's decision will convince everyone to work together to design a new recovery plan that is based in science. "This is an important win for salmon, and fishing communities, and hungry orca in the region," he said. "It comes at a time when salmon populations continue to head in the wrong direction."

Todd True, Earthjustice attorney who represented conservation and fishing advocates, said the science pretty clearly shows that more spill over these eight dams will help threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. "It's a significant reduction in mortality, or increase in survival," True told NW Fishletter. He said after reviewing the evidence, the 9th Circuit agreed. "It's a very straight-ahead ruling that addresses the arguments from the other side very squarely and explains why they aren't right," he said.

True said while the spill order is only in place this year, he's hoping to work with the federal agencies to determine how much water will be spilled in future years. "I think we and Oregon and the other parties would always rather do what we did last fall, and into January, which is have the scientists sit down and figure out what makes the most sense. That's how we got to a specific order on how to implement the spill injunction," he said. -K.C. Mehaffey

[4] House Passes Bill To Keep 2014 BiOp, Halt Spill; Measure's Sponsors, Others React

A bill that would keep the 2014 BiOp in place until 2022 and reverse U.S. District Judge Michael Simon's order to spill more water over eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers passed the U.S. House of Representatives April 25 by a vote of 225-189.

In a joint press conference immediately after the vote, bill sponsors Washington Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse said they were happy with the "bipartisan support" from their colleagues--eight of the House's 193 Democrats voted for it--and will now work with members of the Senate to push for its passage there.

McMorris Rodgers said scientists, not judges, should decide how to manage the river system and improve habitat for fish, and after 20 years in court, it's time to put litigation on hold while federal agencies develop a new biological opinion. Her bill, she said, recognizes the role that dams play in the Pacific Northwest. "That dams and fish can coexist is a story we really need to tell," she said.

But environmental and fishing groups that, in court, have successfully challenged biological opinions needed to operate the federal hydro-system are calling the bill the "Salmon Extinction Act," and said in a news release that if it becomes law, HR 3144 could lead to the eventual extinction of wild salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers.

"I know there's going to be a lot of celebration in energy land, but for those of us who are fighting for salmon, this is a sad day," Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, told NW Fishletter.

She added, "We see this bill aimed directly at spill, and you can't get away from the fact that if you increase spill, you will increase salmon populations. That's the No. 1 thing we can do for fish that's in our power as human beings."

Some, however, contend the constant spill of water over eight dams to the state's limits of total dissolved gas has never been tried, and is a court-ordered experiment that could actually harm fish.

Hydropower supporters celebrated its passage. "Given how difficult it is to get any legislation approved by Congress, House passage of HR 3144 is a momentous accomplishment," Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, said in a news release. "It's good news for salmon, which will continue to benefit from protections that are already working; for the environment, because the federal dams generate nearly 90 percent of the Northwest's carbon-free, renewable energy; and for families and businesses who need relief from rising power rates resulting from two decades of anti-dam lawsuits."

The bill essentially codifies NOAA Fisheries' 2014 BiOp for operating the federal hydro system until a new BiOp is completed and has taken effect "with no pending further judicial review." Earlier this month, Simon pushed the deadline for the new BiOp to 2021. Although his current spill order is in effect for only 2018, plaintiffs indicated in court documents they hope to work with defendants on future spill regimes, or seek injunctions in future years.

If HR 3144 becomes law, the April-to-mid-June spill ordered by Simon would immediately stop upon signing by the president, Newhouse said. He said Simon's spill order will cost BPA ratepayers an estimated $40 million a year, and could also have devastating impacts on irrigators and barge operations. He said some PUD officials have told him midsummer blackouts are possible due to the lost power production.

Newhouse also said the 2014 BiOp was developed after long negotiations, with input from stakeholders and tribes, during both the Bush and Obama administrations.

McMorris Rodgers said the ongoing National Environmental Policy Act analysis to develop an EIS that includes an examination of removing four lower Snake River dams would continue. She said the bill now goes to the Senate, where it could "die a slow death," but, she added, she's urging Northwest senators--including Washington Sen. Patty Murray who has publicly opposed the bill--to support it.

The House support included eight Democrats who voted in favor, including one from the Northwest delegation--Kurt Schrader, an Oregon Democrat who cosponsored the bill. Eight Republicans voted against it.

Those watching the process, both in favor and against, said Senate passage is far from assured.

In an interview, Flores acknowledged, "It's going to be challenging on the Senate side." But, she added, she still savors the victory. "This bill puts this issue front and center. I just think it's really important that our whole delegation understands what's at stake," she told NW Fishletter.

Sean O'Leary, spokesman for the NW Energy Coalition, said his organization has not taken a position on the issue of removing dams, but they do want the EIS process that will examine removing the four lower Snake River dams to go forward, and oppose HR 3144 for that reason. "To that degree, we hope and expect it will die in the Senate," he said.

Darryll Olsen, board representative for the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association, said his organization never had much faith in the bill's ability to get through Congress. "There's still no deliverable. Until you get it out of the whole Congress, you don't have anything." He added that he sees flaws in the bill's language, and believes energies are better spent pushing for an ESA exemption that would remove the FCRPS from endangered species requirements.

Other reaction to the bill's passage included news releases from Earthjustice, which represents plaintiffs in National Wildlife Federation et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service, and from PNGC Power, a Portland-based electric generation and transmission cooperative.

Earthjustice said the bill "undermines bedrock environmental laws and forbids any action that might reduce power generation at Columbia and Snake river dams without an act of Congress--from spilling more water over dams in the spring to help endangered fish migrate, to studying the possibility of removing the four aging lower Snake River dams."

Joseph Bogaard, executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon, said the legislation is not helpful to salmon, or to anyone looking to resolve the issues over salmon recovery. "It doesn't bring us toward solutions. Really, the region needs to come together, and this bill divides people and makes those kinds of outcomes less likely."

But Beth Looney, president and CEO of PNGC Power, countered in a news release that the law balances dual priorities of environmental stewardship and the desire for economic growth and prosperity. "Through the application of best available federal science, this commonsense legislation will shore-up the value and reliability of a carbon-free federal hydropower resource that is the backbone of our region's economy," she said.

Roman Gillen, PNGC Power's board chair, and president and CEO of Consumers Power, Inc., added, "Our region faces serious challenges posed by an ever-changing energy landscape and there is no silver-bullet fix, but I'm convinced the answer is not to be found in the courtroom. We applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for passing this important legislation and urge the U.S. Senate to follow suit." -K.C. Mehaffey

[5] CSS Presentation Delves Into Study Of Dam Removal

Up to four times as many salmon and steelhead could return if four Snake River dams were breached and spill at four lower Columbia River dams was increased to 125 percent total dissolved gas, according to modeling results presented at the annual Fish Passage Center meeting April 17.

These conclusions, laid out in the center's annual Comparative Survival Study (CSS), are based on modeling used to predict survival of salmon and steelhead at different stages of life, and under different conditions. The study's findings have been used as the basis for court decisions, including U.S. District Judge Michael Simon's recent order to increase spring spill at eight Columbia and Snake river dams, which began early this month.

Bob Lessard, quantitative fisheries scientist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, made the final presentation, which provided conclusions of the study's evaluation of the relative survival and recovery benefits of different spill and breach scenarios.

These scenarios included spill levels starting at the 2014 BiOp levels, and increasing to the current spring spill at gas-cap levels--defined as spill that generates the maximum-allowed total-dissolved-gas level--and at 125 percent of total dissolved gas. Smolt-to-adult return ratios (SARs) are then calculated in different flow years, comparing the high flows of 2011 with average flows of 2009 and low flows of 2010.

"As you spill more, whether breach or non-breach, the abundance goes up by a factor of around two," Lessard told the group. "But immediately, under the breach scenario at the lower four [Snake River] dams, already everything is pushing twofold or greater. And if you combine breaching the lower four and spilling to 125 percent on the lower Columbia River dams, we're seeing in some cases a fourfold increase in abundance, and in others, a two-and-a-half [times increase] at least."

The simulations assume the harvest rate will increase to about 20 percent at and above 5,000 returns, and 20 percent of migrating juveniles will be transported past dams while 80 percent will remain in-river. If dams are removed, the model assumes no juveniles will be transported, and all will migrate in-river.

The conclusions, Lessard said, show more spill always predicts higher survival and abundance, regardless of flow, with a potential of four times the abundance, and an improvement in smolt-to-adult ratios that are two to three times what they are now. He said these SARs are in line with goals of a 2- to 6-percent rate set for salmon and steelhead recovery by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

The annual CSS attempts to assess salmon and steelhead survival rates across various life stages, and builds on itself each year as new data is collected and incorporated. The annual meeting with presentations comes after the final report is released and reviewed by the Independent Scientific Advisory Board, with comments and responses to them included in an appendix.

In its review of the 2017 study, which was finalized in December, the ISAB wrote that adding breach scenarios to the life-cycle model was a "nice compliment to the spill scenarios, producing interesting results. Further consideration of assumptions used in both sets of scenarios and recommendations for experiments (short of an actual breach) that could be done to test model results would be useful."

Michael Milstein, spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, said his agency is always interested in the study's findings, but "It's modeling, so it's educated guesswork." He added, "It's one prediction of what we're likely to see, but we won't know for sure unless it happens."

The study was initiated in 1996 by states, tribes and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assess the effects of hydro-system operations on hatcheries. It relies on data collected from PIT-tagged salmon and steelhead throughout the Columbia and Snake river basins.

In addition to an analysis of adult returns under different spill and dam-removal scenarios, this year's presentations reviewed many other chapters from the study and included many conclusions.

USFWS fish biologist Steve Haeseker presented information about how, increasingly, spring and summer Chinook salmon are returning to spawn at younger ages. He said Chinook mature and return to spawn generally between three and five years after migrating to the ocean. Older females, which come back at four or five years, lay more eggs and tend to be more productive, he said. On average, the majority--or about 67 percent--return at age 4, while 23 percent return at age 5 and 10 percent return at age 3, he said.

But since 2007, scientists have seen a dramatic increase in the proportion of Chinook returning to the Columbia River Basin at age 3, Haeseker said. The increase has held true for both wild and hatchery fish, and for juveniles that are transported and those remaining in-river on their way to the ocean. He said smolt-to-adult return rates and fishing below Bonneville Dam are also not associated with the younger returns. Specific causes have not yet been determined, he said, but both genetic and environmental factors appear to be drivers.

In an earlier presentation, Haeseker reported how juvenile mortality rates increase with time spent migrating downstream, noting that dams slow velocity of currents, and therefore migration time. He said that, with construction of dams, the migration time from Lewiston, Idaho, to Bonneville Dam has increased from about two days to about 20 days. The migration downstream can be even longer in low flow years, as in 2001, when it took about 32 days for fish to make the journey.

Scientists also explained other parts of the study, which looked at the impacts of temperature on survival; concluded that total dissolved gas up to at least 125 percent has no detrimental effects on fish; and validated the NWPCC's goal of between 2- to 6-percent smolt-to-adult return ratios for recovering salmon and steelhead. -K.C. Mehaffey

[6] NW Energy Coalition Commissions Study To Replace Energy From Snake River Dams

A study commissioned by the Northwest Energy Coalition concludes that energy from four lower Snake River dams can be replaced with a combination of solar, wind, energy efficiency and demand response.

And, the Coalition says, these new energy sources would still provide reliable power to the Northwest and come with only small increases in ratepayer costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, a consultant for Northwest RiverPartners who looked at the study questioned its affordability and reliability findings.

The Coalition, which represents about 100 organizations seeking clean energy solutions to restoring salmon, hired independent consultants Energy Strategies to find out if reliable and affordable clean energy options could replace the power now generated by the four dams. At an April 4 news conference, Fred Heutte, the Coalition's senior policy associate, said the company found no new natural gas plants are necessary, although some of the energy replaced if dams were removed would likely come from existing gas or other carbon-emitting energy sources.

The study outlined several possible scenarios for replacing the dams, including the construction of new gas-fired power plants. But at its news conference, the Coalition focused on a "balanced-plus" portfolio that adds 1250 MW of new wind power, 250 MW of new solar, 160 aMW of energy efficiency and 500 MW of demand response--energy saved by compensating users who stop using energy when it's most needed.

The balanced-plus option would add about 360,275 tons of carbon to the environment--an increase of about 1 percent--if greenhouse gas policies remain as they are today. And it would cost an estimated $464 million a year, requiring increased revenues of 3 percent beginning in 2026. NWEC said that's an average of $1.28 more per month for residential customers.

Heutte said the four dams on the lower Snake River have been identified as a major threat to salmon. Failing to recover the fish hurts not only the environment, but also the fishing and tourism industries, American Indian tribes, and other species in the ecosystem, including orcas.

The Coalition's presentation noted that the Northwest Power and Conservation Council has set a goal of 2 to 4 percent of sustained returns for salmon survival, and 4- to 6-percent returns to move toward recovery. "In the last 20 years, return rates for wild Snake River salmon have largely hovered between 0.5 and 1 percent--far below what's required for wild salmon to survive and thrive into the future."

Heutte said removing the dams--which provide about 4 percent of the region's hydro power--would speed up river flows and cool water temperatures, contributing to higher survival rates for both juveniles and returning adults.

Sean O'Leary, the Coalition's communications director, said the Coalition looked into removing the dams because federal agencies will be examining the possibility in a court-ordered environmental impact statement on operating 14 dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. But while removing the four dams could be key to restoring declining salmon populations, "We don't have any interest in replacing any other dams," he said. "We support clean energy, including clean energy from hydro."

Jim Litchfield, a consultant for Northwest RiverPartners, said it's not surprising that consultants were able to come up with a mix of other energy resources to replace the four dams. "That's what power planners do." A former power planning director of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, Litchfield reviewed the study and said he wouldn't call an increase in costs that ranges from about $400 million to $1.2 billion affordable, especially when all of the costs fall on BPA at a time when it's struggling to remain viable.

He also questioned the reliability findings, which he said aren't the same conclusions as those reached in a recent NWPCC analysis showing that the region needs about 1,200 MW of new resources before 2023 in order to replace energy generated by coal plants that are going off line. "These new resources are needed to replace the output of coal plants that are going to be shut down," Litchfield wrote in an email. "If the dams were also removed, that would only make the system reliability even worse."

In an interview, Litchfield said the study credibly explores options for rebalancing the region's energy needs if it suddenly lost the 3,000 MW of capacity, or 1,000 aMW of energy, from the four lower Snake River dams.

"But it doesn't really answer the question of, 'Should we take the Snake River dams out?' There are a lot of other factors. They don't just provide power, but also navigation, irrigation, recreation; and they provide power system attributes you don't get from other resources," he said.

The study also ignores other impacts of dam removal--such as the increase in carbon emissions if farmers transport wheat by rail or truck instead of barges, or the overall change in carbon emissions throughout the West, where much of the hydropower is currently sold, and not just the four Northwestern states examined.

Litchfield added that there is no evidence in the study or anywhere else that removing the dams would recover four of the 13 ESA-listed stocks that spawn in the Snake River basin.

"The economic analysis is not very honest, in that it tries to spread it to everybody," he said. "But all of those costs land on Bonneville; they don't land on anybody else." The study also does not look at the cost of removing the dams, although O'Leary said previous examinations have shown that it costs more in capital expenditures to maintain the dams than to remove them.

O'Leary, however, also noted that the Coalition studied but rejected the higher-cost scenarios, and added that the decision to view costs across all Northwest households is the same methodology used by the NWPCC.

Joseph Bogaard, executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon, said in a news release that costs of replacing the dams may drop even more, due to the plunging cost of renewables and the ability to fine-tune the energy resources identified in the study. In addition, he said, the dams are aging, and the cost of replacing worn-out turbines, for example, is predicted to cost at least $1.5 billion.

He said scientists have identified the removal of the lower Snake River dams as the most effective, and likely the only way, to protect endangered wild salmon and steelhead from extinction. "This Power Replacement Study explodes the myth that we can't have both wild salmon and clean energy. Instead it shows that we can remove these four deadly dams, restore one of our nation's great salmon rivers and improve the Northwest's energy system," he said.

Ben Kujala, NWPCC's current director of power planning, said he views the study as a "conversation starter." The Council provided a lot of data for the study--just as it does for other studies--but has not vetted its findings, he said. "If you really look into it, it's not one-sided. There are things people who are on either side can look at and use as part of their argument ... Is this comprehensive? Probably not, but I think it adds something," he said. "It was a good and very interesting study."

Kujala added that it's not easy to come up with a reliable, clean energy option for replacing a significant amount of hydropower. "Honestly, with our existing system today, if you remove something like the lower Snake River dams, you automatically end up emitting more carbon," he said. "It's just a natural consequence."

As for the costs, he said, "I think there are many, many ways to run the power system, if you take money off the table." -K.C. Mehaffey

[7] Regional Task Force Closes In On Fish Population And Recovery Goals

A regionwide NOAA Fisheries task force that has been meeting for more than a year to define goals for fish recovery in the Columbia River Basin hopes to complete a draft of its work to share with constituents this summer.

The Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force brings together tribes, states and stakeholders from diverse interests in an attempt to reach consensus on recommendations for salmon and steelhead recovery that would meet conservation needs and provide fishing opportunities. It's the region's first attempt to bring these interests together to agree on comprehensive numerical goals for different populations of fish, both wild and hatchery, and listed and unlisted species.

The group met in Portland April 18 and 19 to discuss preliminary quantitative and qualitative goals, and to prepare to bring their work to the public.

"When we first sat down, I think the only thing we could agree on was we all wanted to be able to have a salmon on our plate," commented Randy Friedlander, Fish and Wildlife program director for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and one of 28 members on the task force.

The task force was organized under the NOAA Fisheries' Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, and receives technical support from the agency. It plans to develop comprehensive recommendations on long-term goals to protect, restore and manage salmon and steelhead throughout the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Members of the task force include one member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council from each of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana; tribes of the Snake and Columbia rivers; and 20 organizations representing fishing industries, ports, conservation groups, irrigators, electric cooperatives and PUDs.

Barry Thom, West Coast Region director for NOAA Fisheries, opened the two-day meeting on April 18 by urging members to work hard toward finding common ground so they can be ready from June to October to bring their goals to the people they represent for input. "You can't have 100 percent certainty until you can vet those goals," he said. "But can we agree in principle that these are the right goals?" he asked.

Thom told members they can't expect to achieve consensus on every detail, but can find goals that are "good enough for now" to move the process forward. "Keep testing where we have agreement," he encouraged them.

Deb Nudelman, a Kearns & West principal and senior mediator who led the meeting, said the April and June meetings were transitioning from an information-gathering and analysis stage to the dialogue that will lead to recommendations. She encouraged members to voice their needs during this stage, to ensure their groups' desires are represented in the final goals.

Ray Beamesderfer, a contractor for NOAA Fisheries, explained the concept of setting low, medium and high quantitative goals for 24 different stocks of naturally spawning Chinook, steelhead, coho, sockeye and chum throughout the basin.

For ESA-listed stocks, the group's low goals would be the numbers required for delisting the stocks, which have already been set, he said. And for all populations, they will be numbers that scientists have determined will provide for a viable population, with less than a 5 percent risk of extinction in the next 100 years.

The high goals, he said, should not be based on numbers of fish that returned under historical, pristine conditions, which included habitat now blocked by dams or other barriers. Instead, those numbers would consider the current potential habitat capacity, as the habitat exists today.

Beamesderfer said some of the high-end goals he proposed came from conservation plans that have already been developed by states, tribes and others. For most stocks, he said, the numbers for high-end goals fall between two and four times as many fish compared to low-end goals.

Under high-range goals, he said, the stock would be diverse and well-distributed, and show very high abundance and productivity. They would generally produce a high yield, with lots of opportunities for fishing.

The medium goals will split the difference between high- and low-end goals, unless mid-range goals have already been set in conservation plans by other entities, he said.

The task force will also come up with a set of qualitative goals for conservation, fisheries, hatcheries and other mitigation measures that provide for a mix of social, cultural, economic and demographic diversity in the basin.

The task force will hold its next meeting in Hood River, Ore., on June 19-20. -K.C. Mehaffey

[8] Federal Agencies Given Until 2021 To Complete BiOp And EIS Concurrently

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon has agreed to delay the deadline for a new BiOp on the Northwest federal hydro system until 2021, largely granting plaintiffs' request to modify a remand order in National Wildlife Federation et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service.

Simon's April 17 ruling allows, but does not require, NOAA Fisheries to take until March 26, 2021, to complete a new BiOp, which the agency has been working to complete by Dec. 31.

Plaintiffs, including conservation and fishing groups and the State of Oregon--with support from the Nez Perce Tribe--filed a motion in February asking the court to modify its remand schedule that required federal agencies to complete a new BiOp by Dec. 31, 2018, and to instead allow completion of an environmental impact statement providing alternatives for operating federal dams by March 26, 2021. The federal agencies opposed the motion, noting they had been working for the past 18 months to complete a biological opinion this year.

Federal defendants opposed the plaintiff's Feb. 9 motion, arguing that plaintiffs only wanted to keep a 2014 BiOp in place now so they can continue to seek court injunctions and force additional spring spill over eight federal dams for three more years. They said that, 18 months after the court set deadlines, they should not be required to start the process over.

Plaintiff reply briefs filed March 30 said their motion offers federal agencies a way to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, and avoid hashing it out in court.

NWF and the State of Oregon, with an amicus support brief from the Nez Perce Tribe, argued that federal agencies must complete an environmental impact statement when issuing a new BiOp to replace the 2014 BiOp that is deemed inadequate. Since federal defendants indicated they plan to release a new BiOp in December with no EIS, the court should extend its deadline for a new BiOp until 2021, the court's deadline for agencies to complete an EIS for operating 14 federal dams, the plaintiffs said. They argued that federal agencies "refuse to acknowledge any problem with a stand-alone BiOp in 2018," and giving them three more years will "help the parties avoid a train-wreck of the federal defendants' own creation," NWF's brief stated.

"NWF's motion does not seek to compel federal defendants to violate the ESA. They have already done that all on their own--five times," it said, adding, "The agencies will have to decide whether they will accept that opportunity or choose another path."

Federal agencies said in an April 3 response that the plaintiffs changed their original request, wasting everyone's time, therefore the court should deny the motion. "Plaintiffs unambiguously asked the Court to 'require' the agencies to complete a consultation at a date-certain in 2021 and then 'direct' agency actions through 2021," NMFS' reply states. "On reply, they abandon the relief they originally requested and now argue that the court should merely give federal defendants the option on when to comply with the ESA and what actions to implement through 2021."

In his four-page decision, Simon wrote that the issue of how federal agencies would reconcile the need to complete an EIS in order for action agencies to adopt a new BiOp had never been resolved. "Indeed, the Federal Defendants stated that 'ideally, these processes would run concurrently,'" he wrote.

When the remand schedule was set, the court deferred to the federal agencies' requested schedule, but also left open the possibility of changing that schedule, he wrote. "In their briefing filed before the November hearing, the Federal Defendants did not clarify the best way to integrate the two processes or explain how the existing deadlines were the optimal way to move forward," he wrote. However, "producing a 2018 BiOp creates a situation where the Action Agencies may violate [the National Environmental Policy Act] in adopting the 2018 BiOp, just as they did in adopting the 2014 BiOp."

In his decision, Simon wrote that NOAA Fisheries is now under no obligation from the court to complete a BiOp before the NEPA process is finished. "If NOAA Fisheries chooses to issue the next biological opinion after December 31, 2018, the Court will at that time consider any motion for further appropriate relief relating to the incidental take statement and other related issues."

Todd True, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the ruling only partially grants their motion to modify the remand order. The motion had asked the judge to delay the deadline for a new BiOp until 2021 to give the agencies a chance to complete the EIS--which was granted--and to allow the federal hydro system to continue to operate under the 2014 BiOp until the new one is finished. "The court ended up deferring how to address that issue," he said.

True said he thinks the decision will enable federal agencies to prepare a new BiOp with the benefit of the EIS analysis. "The agencies have been saying they're going to do a BiOp by the end of 2018, and not do any kind of EIS or NEPA analysis with it. We have urged them not to do that. There's a legal problem with it, but apart from the legal issue, we think having a BiOp is important to actually getting this problem solved," he said.

"I think this ruling is an opportunity to really focus on the big picture," he said. "The government said, 'we need five years [to complete an EIS]'. Well, they've got five years, so let's get it right." True added, "Sure, we're going to have to figure out what to do in the interim. There's an opportunity to work together and come up with a plan that makes sense."

Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, an intervenor-defendant in the case, said she's concerned about that interim period, and that the decision doesn't clarify how the system will operate between now and 2021. NOAA Fisheries must now decide whether to complete its BiOp by the end of this year, or delay its completion until BuRec and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers complete an EIS outlining alternatives--including an analysis of removing four lower Snake River dams. "If the federal agencies take the judge up on the offer, it paves the way for the plaintiffs to run the hydro system, through filing spill injunctions," she said.

Flores questioned whether the plaintiffs would actually work with federal agencies to come up with a system operating plan over the next few years that's agreeable to everyone. "We've seen what that means in practice," she said. "The plaintiffs' whole history has been to say they're willing to work together, but then coming into court and filing a spill injunction. What it ultimately means in my opinion is, if the feds were to take the judge up (and delay the BiOp until 2021), it would essentially punt the ball to the plaintiffs." -K.C. Mehaffey

[9] Oregon Abandons Sea Lion Relocation Efforts

After relocating 10 California sea lions from below Willamette Falls, only to see them return within a week, Oregon officials decided to abandon those efforts and focus instead on sea lions feasting on salmon and steelhead at the base of Bonneville Dam. That's because they have permission to kill some sea lions at Bonneville, but are still waiting for federal approval of a permit for lethal removal at Willamette Falls.

"Clearly our experience on the Willamette River this year demonstrated the futility of relocating sea lions as a way of stopping them from driving our native fish runs to extinction," Shaun Clements, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's senior policy advisor, said in a news release. Attempts to scare the sea lions away through hazing have also been unsuccessful. The agency says it doesn't have enough staff to cover both locations, and decided their time would be better spent at Bonneville.

The decision comes even while agency officials say Willamette steelhead are on the verge of extinction, with just 512 crossing the falls last year after sea lions consumed about 25 percent of returning adults. Again this year, more than 25 California sea lions and an uncounted number of Stellar sea lions have made Willamette Falls their temporary home, eating returning salmon, steelhead and lamprey.

ODFW says some 1,338 wild Willamette steelhead have crossed the falls so far this year--more than last year, but still well below historical runs that often topped 10,000 fish. "It's our responsibility and mandate from the people of Oregon to ensure these fish runs continue," Clements said in the release. "So it's incredibly frustrating to us that federal laws prevent us from taking the only steps effective at protecting these fish from predation."

California sea lions are not listed under the Endangered Species Act, but are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Oregon officials don't expect a decision on their request to lethally remove some sea lions until at least 2019.

In the news release, ODFW said the Willamette is not the only tributary where sea lions are becoming a problem for returning salmon and steelhead, and they are also monitoring sea lions on the Clackamas and Sandy rivers.

The agency has asked the region's congressional delegation for help, so they can address issues with marine mammals in a more timely manner. -K.C. M.

[10] Fish Managers: Some Concerns, Successes With Columbia Basin White Sturgeon

Fish managers have concerns about white sturgeon numbers, but are finding some success with monitoring and recovering the ancient species that has populated the Columbia River Basin for at least 100 million years.

White sturgeon are the second largest freshwater fish in North America--weighing up to 1,500 pounds--and the longest lived, surviving up to about 100 years old.

On April 10, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Fish and Wildlife Committee heard from managers in five areas of the basin. Resident white sturgeon are listed as endangered in the Kootenai River basin, and are considered an emerging priority in the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program. The program calls for increasing sturgeon abundance and survival, along with research for improving the FCRPS and regular updates on progress. Ten white sturgeon projects totaling $13.79 million are now funded through the program.

In the basin, white sturgeon are most populous in the lower Columbia, below Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls, where an estimated 635,530 now live, Art Martin, Columbia River coordination section manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Committee.

He said one main concern is the continued low relative abundance of juveniles, which do not reach sexual maturity for 20 to 25 years. "We're seeing a decrease in the relative abundance of juveniles," he said. Predation by Steller sea lions are among the threats, he said.

Because sturgeon are such long-lived fish, they can handle a few years of poor recruitment, Martin said. But, he added, they cannot be managed like salmon, which have much shorter life cycles. With sturgeon, he said, "What we did decades ago affected reproduction today."

Numbers of white sturgeon are significantly lower in other parts of the basin, with population estimates in most reservoirs of the middle and upper Columbia, Snake and Kootenai rivers ranging from tens of thousands to a few thousand.

In the upper Columbia and Kootenai River, hatchery programs help supplement wild fish. -K.C. M.

[11] 'Fast and Furious' Runoff Expected In Parts Of Columbia River Basin

A good snowpack that's ripe for melting, combined with forecasts for warmer-than-average temperatures this month, will likely cause rapid snowmelt and the potential for flooding throughout portions of the Columbia River Basin, water supply forecasters say.

"It'll probably come off fairly fast and furious," Kevin Berghoff, senior hydrologist at NOAA's Northwest River Forecast Center said at a May 3 webinar. He predicted that flooding could occur in parts of the basin in the coming weeks.

That potential is not due to more snow over the winter or the possibility of significant rain, he said. Instead, it's the sudden warm weather and a saturated snowpack in many areas that could quickly melt snow that stayed frozen longer because of this year's cool spring weather.

Berghoff said several people in his office were hoping for a cooler May, which would provide for a more normal runoff, but they now know that's not likely. "It's going to be a fairly busy season," he said. "We'll probably be going 24/7 as we get into the flood situations."

Overall, water supply forecasts for April through September this year still show some parts of the basin--especially the northeast portions--significantly above the 30-year normal, and a few places that are significantly below.

In the upper Columbia, total water supply this summer will range from about 108 percent of normal at Mica Dam to 225 percent of normal on the Clark Fork River above Missoula. The Kootenai River at Libby Dam, Coeur d'Alene River at Coeur d'Alene Lake and Columbia River at Grand Coulee Dam are all hovering around 125 percent of normal, while the South Fork Flathead River at Hungry Horse Dam and the Bitterroot River above Missoula and Pend Oreille River at Albeni Falls Dam all fall at about 150 percent of normal.

Several Snake River and lower Columbia River dams will also see above-normal streamflows this summer, according to the forecasts. Jackson Lake and Palisades dams are forecast at 132 percent of normal, the Dworshak Dam should see about 120 percent of normal, and the Lower Granite Dam will get about 113 percent of normal flows. On the lower Columbia River, The Dalles Dam is forecast for about 122 percent of normal flows.

It's the middle Snake River tributaries that will see low flows this year, Berghoff said, including Lucky Peak Dam at 86 percent of normal, and Owyhee Dam at just 29 percent of normal. In Oregon, the Willamette River is expected to see about 87 percent of its normal flows at Salem.

In total, the September-through-April water year ended with above-normal precipitation in the upper Columbia and below-normal precipitation in Oregon and southern Idaho.

Basin-wide, however, total precipitation for the water year was about average, compared with the 30-year normal. The Columbia River Basin above Grand Coulee Dam ended the year at 108 percent of normal; the Columbia River above The Dalles ended at 101 percent of normal; and the Snake River Basin above Ice Harbor Dam ended at 95 percent of normal, Berghoff said.

It's significantly less precipitation compared with last year. But a cool spring has enabled many parts of the region to hold on to the snow that did fall. Several areas actually gained snowpack in April this year.

Berghoff said forecasts show very little chance of precipitation over the next 10 days, and below-normal precipitation is forecast for the next three months.

"So a lot of the runoff over the next one to two weeks is going to be due to snowmelt as opposed to precipitation," he said. And the snowmelt will be prompted by warmer-than-normal temperatures, especially over the next 10 days, but continuing through the summer. -K.C. Mehaffey

[12] Judge To Hear Dismissal Requests, New Motions Filed In Lawsuit Against PGE

A U.S. District Court judge in Portland will hear oral arguments May 9 on motions by Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon to dismiss a lawsuit filed in 2016 by Deschutes River Alliance. The lawsuit, Deschutes River Alliance v. Portland General Electric Company, claims PGE has routinely exceeded clean water limits for pH, temperature and dissolved oxygen at its Pelton Round Butte hydroelectric project.

The Deschutes River Alliance is seeking a partial summary judgment, while PGE and the Warm Springs have asked for a dismissal, arguing that the Warm Springs, as co-owners of the project, have sovereign immunity and were not named in the suit; and that the matter can be resolved by a special FERC fish committee already set up under its FERC license.

In an April 4 response to the dismissal requests, DRA argues that, while the tribe is a co-owner of the project, it does not have to be named as a defendant because its interests will be adequately represented by PGE.

The Alliance also argues that if the tribe must join the case, the court could take that action "as the Tribe does not enjoy sovereign immunity from enforcement under the Clean Water Act."

And even if the tribe should be a party in the case but cannot be required to join it, DRA says, the court should not dismiss the case "in equity and good conscience," as dismissal would undermine the purpose of the Clean Water Act, and DRA would not have an adequate remedy through the FERC fish committee.

Meanwhile, both parties have also asked for a summary judgment based on agreed facts in the case. DRA says that before a water withdrawal tower was built, cleaner and colder water was drawn from near the bottom of Lake Billy Chinook and released below the Round Butte Dam. The water withdrawal system mixes surface water with water from the depths of the reservoir, which has caused the water quality issues downstream, their motion claims.

In a cross-motion request for their own request for summary judgment filed on April 27, PGE says that operations are consistent with certification from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and that DRA misinterprets individual water quality objectives that are sometimes not met downstream of the project as violations.

The motion says that by blaming the water withdrawal system, the Alliance ignores fish passage requirements and the certification's objectives to adaptively manage the system to consider effects on all water quality parameters combined with fish passage needs. Before the tower was built, the project was a complete barrier to upstream and downstream fish migration. -K.C. Mehaffey

[13] ISAB Offers Ideas To Strengthen NWPCC's Fish And Wildlife Program

The Independent Scientific Advisory Board complimented the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's work to improve salmon passage at mainstem dams, protect over 44,000 miles of river, create high quality habitat for wild and natural-origin fish, remove barriers for anadromous fish, and engage the public in its processes.

But the ISAB's April 11 presentation of its review of the Council's 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program focused on its weaknesses, and ways to improve the program as the Council prepares to amend it. The ISAB review of the program came at the Council's request in an effort to inform the amendment process, expected to get underway next month. "Overall the ISAB found that most sections of the 2014 Program provide sound scientific guidance for actions to mitigate for hydrosystem impacts and move toward recovery of fish and wildlife resources in the Columbia River Basin," a summary of the review states.

ISAB Chairman Alec Maule told the Council that all 11 members of the ISAB worked on the 120-page report, and he discussed their answers to seven questions that the Council had asked. He said the ISAB believes that the timeframe of an investment strategy of 1 to 20 years is unrealistic, since the basin is in a "highly altered state," leading to a great deal of scientific uncertainty surrounding the threats, and a need to make adaptive management its highest priority. He said that the program also needs to incorporate cost-effectiveness analyses to ensure that the projects that provide the most benefits are selected and funded.

Maule also said the ISAB does not believe that the program's goal of 5 million adult fish at Bonneville Dam by 2025 is realistic, especially since historic abundance ranged from 5 to 9 million adults, and one third of the habitat is now blocked. He also said life cycle models are important tools, and should be incorporated into an adaptive management cycle.

And, he said, the ISAB recommends that the program's scientific principles are reduced to four: "Take the entire ecosystem into account including freshwater, estuary, and ocean, and the linkages and feedbacks between the natural and human systems; provide the diverse array of habitats and connections among them that organisms require throughout their life cycles to restore and sustain diverse, abundant, resilient populations; maintain the diversity of genes, life histories, populations, and biological communities that allows ecosystems to adapt to environmental change; and fish and wildlife live in complex ecosystems dominated by humans; to achieve system resilience and persistence, we need to understand societal values and incorporate these in decision making."

ISAB member Stan Gregory talked to the Council in greater depth about some of their suggestions. He said in a 2017 Wildlife Project Review, the Independent Scientific Review Panel found that 70 percent of projects lacked an adaptive management plan, and 90 percent lacked quantitative objectives with explicit timelines. He said there's a lot of confusion about the definition of "adaptive management," and said that, while those implementing the projects may adjust their methods based on what is working and what isn't, true adaptive management requires objective and explicit timelines, and "feedback loops" for adjusting the implementation and revising plans and objectives, so others can benefit from the knowledge.

Gregory also reviewed the ISAB's suggestions regarding the plan's strategies on various subjects, including ecosystem function, habitat, climate change, cost effectiveness, and the estuary, plume and ocean.

The Council also heard from its general counsel John Shurts about the "highly-orchestrated, step-by-step process" they will undergo when amending its Fish and Wildlife Program in the coming year. The program must be adopted by a super-majority of the Council before it can complete its Eighth Power Plan, revised every five years.

The formal process is expected to begin in May--if the Council is ready to call for recommendations for amendments to the Fish and Wildlife Program--from agencies, tribes, states and the public. The call for recommendations is a request in writing, seeking formal recommendations for changing the current 2014 program. Required under the Northwest Power Act, this periodic amendment to the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program must be completed before the Council develops its next regional power plan. Through the act, the Council is directed to "adopt a program to protect, mitigate and enhance fish and wildlife," while "assuring an adequate, efficient, economical and reliable power supply." -K.C. Mehaffey

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THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.

NW Fishletter is produced by Energy NewsData.
Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: K.C. Mehaffey
Phone: (206) 285-4848 Fax: (206) 281-8035