NW Fishletter #382, June 4, 2018
  1. Opening Days of Treaty Negotiations 'Very Productive,' U.S. Officials Say
  2. Snake River Dam Removal Questions Dominate Columbia River Draft EIS Webinar
  3. FERC Awaits Detailed Plan For Klamath River Dam Removal
  4. BPA's Fish And Wildlife Costs Plummeted In 2017, Largely From High Runoff
  5. High Flows Prompt Efforts To Reduce Dissolved Gas, Fish Trauma At Dams
  6. NOAA Fisheries Confirms Plan To Complete BiOp This Year
  7. Northwest Power And Conservation Council Begins Amendment Process For Fish And Wildlife Program
  8. Clarifying Briefs Filed In Pelton Round Butte Case
  9. Montana Flood Warnings Issued While Northern Snowpack Remains High

[1] Opening Days of Treaty Negotiations 'Very Productive,' U.S. Officials Say

After meeting with Canadian officials in Washington, D.C., on May 29-30 to renegotiate the Columbia River Treaty, the U.S. Department of State announced the next round of discussions will be held Aug. 15-16 in British Columbia.

"We just wrapped up two very productive days," a senior U.S. government official told reporters during a brief conference call May 31.

The official said Francisco Palmieri, the State Department's acting assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere , welcomed the U.S. and Canadian negotiating teams, and thanked them for "more than 50 years of remarkable coordination."

In their first two days, negotiators discussed objectives, outlined the scope of negotiations and reaffirmed their commitment to cooperation, the official said. No timeline has been set.

The U.S. negotiating team includes Jill Smail, chief negotiator for the U.S. State Department, along with representatives from BPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

U.S. officials on the conference call offered few details about specific topics discussed, but said that the U.S.'s main goals are for a modernized treaty that includes carefully managing flood risks, ensuring a reliable and economical power supply, and better addressing ecosystem concerns.

One official emphasized that the 2013 Regional Recommendation lays out the U.S. negotiating team's key objectives. "This is our guide; this is our foundation; this is something the region worked on collaboratively," the official said.

When asked by NW Fishletter whether the current treaty's $250 million to $350 million annual payment to Canada--known as the Canadian Entitlement--is on the table, the official said that issue will also be guided by the Regional Recommendation, which points to an imbalance in the sharing of downstream power benefits. That sharing of hydropower benefits is in exchange for Canada storing water at three large reservoirs in British Columbia, and releasing it for hydropower generation downstream.

In answers to other questions, one official said she is unaware of any discussions to merge the Columbia River Treaty negotiations with the Trump administration's recent announcement around renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. "There's no information that suggests these negotiations will be impacted, at this point," the official said. She also said the State Department is concerned about the potential impacts of British Columbia mining, and said there are ongoing bilateral negotiations with Canada to resolve those issues.

An official also said that, with respect to climate change, both governments have brought up the issue as it relates to the treaty, and will continue to monitor new information and seek to improve adaptive management within the treaty to better mitigate impacts from a changing climate.

Responding to criticism that neither American Indian tribes nor Canadian First Nations have a seat at the negotiating table, one official said that they are deeply grateful to tribes that contributed to the Regional Recommendation, and that the State Department will continue to consult with tribes and other stakeholders on a regular basis throughout the process. Another town hall session, open to the public, is being scheduled for later this summer. The agency's first town hall was held in Spokane, Wash., on April 24, the day after top officials attended the Lake Roosevelt Forum, which included Palmieri as its keynote speaker.

Palmieri, in his written remarks at the opening of negotiations, said the treaty has provided substantial benefits to millions of people on both sides of the border, with added benefits to irrigation, municipal and industrial water use, navigation, recreation and to the river's ecosystem. "Around the world, this treaty serves as a model for transboundary water cooperation--and rightly so. Americans and Canadians alike should be proud of the invaluable cooperation that has contributed to the development of the regional economy on both sides of the border. But we don't live in 1964. There is a whole swath of arrangements established under this durable yet flexible treaty that should be modernized," his opening statement said.

Many of the needed modernizations are in the technical mechanisms and arrangements that become the day-to-day realities, he said. "Good treaties make good neighbors. The United States and Canada have a long, positive history of engagement on the Columbia River. We expect to continue that cooperative spirit when we engage in negotiations starting today," Palmieri concluded in his opening remarks.

For those involved in Columbia River basin energy and fish issues, the re-negotiations have been much anticipated. Viewpoints from the Canadian, tribal and ratepayers perspectives were brought together at a forum in Wenatchee on May 8. There, panelist Steve Wright, former BPA administrator and current general manager at Chelan County PUD, said he's "deeply disappointed" by the lack of action and transparency surrounding the U.S. Department of State's efforts to renegotiate the Columbia River Treaty. He's also hopeful a renegotiated treaty will include the main points from a regional recommendation he helped craft more than four years ago.

Wright--who first engaged in CRT issues while working for BPA in the mid-1990s, when the original Canadian Entitlement return agreements needed to be renegotiated--offered a history of the treaty and talked about the importance of renegotiating it on May 8, at a panel discussion that drew about 75 people to the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center in central Washington.

The event also included a tribal perspective from John Sirois, member and former chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and committee coordinator for the Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT); and a Canadian perspective from Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, author of "A River Captured" and a U.S. citizen who has lived in Canada for almost 30 years.

Wright, who chaired the U.S. Entity designated as the lead for implementing the treaty and is now one of three co-chairs of the Columbia River Treaty Power Group, offered a viewpoint of Northwest electric customers and hydroelectric utilities. "We don't need to be at the table," he said, adding that these are government-to-government negotiations. "But we need more real-time understanding of what's going on so we can provide more input."

After the appointment of a new CRT negotiator, Jill Smail, was announced in October, U.S. officials only recently reconnected with the public over the treaty. Smail attended two events in Spokane in April, including a conference and town hall meeting where she answered questions and heard comments from the public.

While in Spokane, she promised to consult with U.S. tribes, but did not offer them a seat at the negotiating table, as some tribes had sought.

Smail also explained why the State Department ended the efforts of the Collaborative Modeling Work Group, which included representatives from Canada and the U.S. delving into technical issues. Smail said some people complained the group was too inclusive, while others thought it was not inclusive enough. The meetings ended, she said, so Canada and the U.S. could transition into the negotiation phase and allow each country to work on their respective government positions.

In a May 10 email to NW Fishletter, a U.S. Department of State spokesperson for Western Hemisphere Affairs said her agency is working to set a date to begin negotiations, and will continue to regularly engage regional stakeholders, Northwest tribes, state government officials and others during the negotiations with Canada. Additional public meetings are being planned in the Northwest, but none have been scheduled. Comments and questions from the public are welcome at future meetings, or by emailing ColumbiaRiverTreaty@state.gov.

In Wenatchee May 8, Wright said he's frustrated that more than four years have passed since states, tribes and federal agencies found consensus on main recommendations from the Pacific Northwest, known as the Regional Recommendation.

But, Wright said, he is also hopeful that action to renew the treaty could occur this year, and that the new treaty will honor the Northwest recommendation, which was signed by every member of the Northwest congressional delegation, both Republicans and Democrats.

Wright said the recommendations address three key issues with the existing treaty, which expires in 2024. One is that a healthy and resilient ecosystem should be added as a third purpose of the treaty, along with flood control and hydropower. Also, Wright said, the cost of flood control should not be paid for by hydroelectric customers, but through the federal government, just as it is in other parts of the country, such as flood control along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

And additionally, he said, payments to Canada for constructing the three Canadian dams built as a result of the treaty need to be renegotiated. "There's no doubt the U.S. is overpaying," he said, and that directly affects electric customers.

Wright said that when the treaty was first negotiated, Canada was to receive annual payments worth half of the additional power generated downstream from the water held back by Canadian dams until it is needed later in the year. Wright said before Canada signed the treaty, it changed the formula so it would receive higher payments in the earlier years, to ensure it could pay off the cost of constructing the dams.

"Canada has enjoyed really extraordinary benefits," he said, noting that the cost of construction was paid off in 10 years, and instead of the value of hydroelectric power reducing over time, as believed, it increased.

When the treaty was signed, he said, those payments amounted to about $38 million in today's U.S. dollars. In more recent years, he said, Canada has received about $200 million annually. He said the payments, known as the Canadian Entitlement, must be reduced to reflect the actual value of added power from the water held behind Canadian dams.

"We don't begrudge the Canadians a great deal," he said, but that deal was made with the recognition the value of hydropower would change, and the new treaty would take into account the new value.

From her Canadian viewpoint, Pearkes did not dispute Wright's figures or historical account, but said instead of the value of hydroelectric power, the new treaty should consider today's values that are not economic in nature. She showed photos of tribal fishermen holding up summer Chinook weighing up to 100 pounds, and noted that today's fish more often average 60 pounds.

There were also slides of the Canadian dams under construction, and the large amount of land now under water after spring runoff, only to be drained as power needs arise and flooding threat subsides. The dams destroyed the local ecology, and flooded homes, farms and tribal lands--including archeological sites that were never moved or preserved, she said.

"It's not a pretty chapter," Pearkes said. "There were forced removals. People who did not want to leave their land were forced," she said. "It's important to know that, for this model treaty--there was no local consultation. No one knew about these negotiations until the treaty was signed."

Pearkes said the Canadian government had already given up its abundant salmon runs, lost when Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1942. Diplomatic letters show that the U.S. asked Canada before the construction if it minded that salmon runs would be blocked, "and Canada said, 'No,'" she said. Six years later, a 1948 flood brought attention to the destruction along the Columbia from Vancouver, Wash., to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, and ultimately led to negotiations that resulted in construction of three dams in Canada--Duncan, Hugh Keenleyside and Mica--and one in Montana--Libby Dam--to help control future floods.

She listed numerous species that suffered because of the dams, with their habitat flooded. As for the new treaty, and the Canadian Entitlement of half of the value of power generated downstream from water that's held back, she said, "Absolutely, forever. Because of the losses shared."

Sirois said from a cultural context, the new treaty should do as much as it can to restore the environment and the fish that once returned to the upper Columbia River, but are now blocked by both Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams. "We're here to protect the fish, water and animals," he said, describing a sacred relationship with them. "When we work as hard as we can for them, it's for the benefit of all people. These salmon don't have Colville names, or Spokane names. They're for everyone."

Sirois noted the salmon ceremonies the Colville Tribe holds in different locations, to call the salmon back--one of the largest at Kettle Falls now under water held back by Grand Coulee Dam, where salmon haven't returned for decades.

Another, he said, is on the Icicle River near Leavenworth, Wash., where he goes every year to fish with his daughters, because he is part Wenatchi Indian and retains that right. But members of many of the other 11 tribes that make up the Colville confederation still have nowhere to fish, even though their treaties promised them that right.

"We strongly feel that 80 years without salmon in those areas is long enough," he said. "We see it as an equity environmental justice issue." In addition to tribal treaty rights, Sirois noted that colder water in the upper tributaries could help salmon survive through warmer temperatures predicted with climate change. He said forests with streams that have active salmon runs are healthier, and more fire- and drought-resistant.

Sirois also commended much of the work that's been done in the United States by PUDs, BPA and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council to mitigate for the impacts of hydroelectric dams. But he noted most of the funding is spent on the lower Columbia, while all seven of the salmon and steelhead species in the upper Columbia are either threatened or endangered.

Tribes, he said, are hopeful that the treaty, and funds from the Council and BPA, can help push forward the plan by tribes to reintroduce salmon above both Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams.

Despite their different perspectives, all three speakers agreed the treaty should be renegotiated, and that the ecosystem should become a third purpose of a new treaty.

"The Columbia River Treaty represents a hard-fought bargain that has worked very well, but is desperately in need of modernization," Wright said, adding, "We hope this is the year for action." -K.C. Mehaffey

[2] Snake River Dam Removal Questions Dominate Columbia River Draft EIS Webinar

Questions about removing the Snake River dams dominated a May 30 webinar hosted by federal action agencies updating the public on their progress in developing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for Columbia River System Operations.

Some 110 people attended by phone or online a presentation on how the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation are working toward a draft EIS to mitigate for 14 federal dams and reservoir projects in the Columbia River Basin while meeting the multiple purposes authorized by Congress. The half-hour presentation was followed by an hour of questions and answers.

The agencies expect to issue a draft EIS by March 2020, and a final EIS with a preferred alternative a year later.

Lydia Grimm, a senior policy advisor at BPA, said Congress authorized the Corps to construct, operate and maintain the projects to meet multiple purposes, including flood risk management, navigation, hydropower production, irrigation, fish and wildlife conservation, recreation, municipal and industrial water supply, and water quality. BPA is authorized to market and transmit the power generated by them.

Grimm said the agencies are in the heart of the analysis process after developing single alternatives--each focusing on a targeted objective--that are being used to build the multiple-objective alternatives.

For example, she said, a single-objective alternative focused on fish passage and survival would include several possible actions with various levels of spill, different actions to improve adult, juvenile and resident fish survival, along with breaching the lower Snake River dams. The agencies are using measures from those single-objective alternatives to develop a range of multi-objective alternatives, including a no-action alternative, Grimm said.

Next, they will look at the different alternatives and evaluate impacts, and begin to compare them in terms of effectiveness, she said. The agencies will add mitigation measures to account for impacts, and weigh them with respect to their effectiveness under different climate change scenarios, she said.

Most of the questions following Grimm's presentation related to how the agencies will include removing the four lower Snake River dams in their analysis. Rebecca Weiss, the Corps' program manager for the CRSO EIS, noted more than once that while removing the dams is being analyzed, her agency cannot take that action without authorization and funding from Congress.

Weiss also said that a 2002 analysis of breaching these dams will not be used because it is outdated, and many things have changed or have been learned about dam removal since then. She said the agencies are looking at a "controlled breach," rather than a hydrologic breach option to allow the river to rebound, and so other infrastructure is not torn up.

Also in response to questions, Weiss said the agencies cannot put the dams in a "non-operational" status because that would not only discontinue hydro generation, but also fish passage, locks for navigation, and other mitigation and operational measures that are both authorized and expected by Congress. She said the alternatives will also include a very detailed socioeconomic analysis, including the impacts to tourism and navigation if dams are breached.

Regarding lower Snake River hatcheries and dam removal, Weiss said the agencies are looking at how they relate to removing the four dams, and whether, under a dam-removal scenario, the hatcheries would no longer be needed or funded. "It gets very complicated," she said. "You've got mitigation for something you've removed," so the agencies may also have to look at impacts from the loss of mitigation measures, such as hatcheries, she said.

Asked for more details about how they'll incorporate climate change in the analysis, Dave Goodman, a BPA environmental protection specialist, told participants the agencies will be taking examples from a broad range of presumed hydrologic changes from climate-change modeling and applying those to their range of alternatives.

These will help agencies understand what changes they can anticipate, and how each of the alternatives would be impacted under different climate-change scenarios, he said. They will then include mitigation measures for those potential changes in climate. "It's definitely part of the process we've heard loud and clear we need to address," Goodman added.

As for how to address possible changes in the Columbia River Treaty, Weiss said that the analysis has to assume current operations, under the existing treaty, and cannot speculate about what operational changes may occur if the treaty is renegotiated.

The agencies said they expect to provide another update this fall. -K.C. Mehaffey

[3] FERC Awaits Detailed Plan For Klamath River Dam Removal

In the Klamath River basin, most eyes are on July, when PacifiCorp and the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) plan to file what's known as the "Definite Plan" for removing four of eight dams now operated by PacifiCorp. That filing is expected to include an updated maximum and probable cost estimate, along with a plan for how KRRC will pay if removal and reclamation exceed the $450 million earmarked from PacifiCorp customer surcharges and a California bond. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is also expecting responses to other questions that must be answered before it considers transferring the four lower Klamath River dams to KRRC for removal.

But anticipation of the Definite Plan for removal hasn't stopped new filings in the FERC case, which holds the fate of the J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2 and Iron Gate dams in California and Oregon.

One of the motions was filed by PacifiCorps, in response to FERC's March 15 decision to separate four of the dams from its license. PacifiCorp and KRRC--a nonprofit corporation formed specifically to take out the dams and restore the land now inundated by reservoirs--had filed the application to amend the license and transfer four of the dams to KRRC in September 2016. FERC's decision agreed to create a new license for the four lower dams--effective immediately--but deferred its decision on whether to transfer them to KRRC.

In a motion filed April 16, PacifiCorp asked FERC to stay its decision to amend the license until it acts on the transfer request, or else for a "limited rehearing" to establish when the two licenses should become effective. FERC's order, PacifiCorp's motion states, "upsets the carefully crafted sequence of events" in the settlement agreement, and makes PacifiCorp immediately responsible for operating two separate licenses at a compliance cost that could exceed $3.1 million. PacifiCorp's motion states it does not dispute that the costs will be required, but it did not anticipate them until the license is transferred. Many of the requirements, it argues, would be unnecessary if FERC later decides not to grant the transfer.

On May 1, the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife filed a letter with FERC supporting PacifiCorp's request to stay FERC's decision. "requiring PacifiCorp to fulfill them at this time, while the transfer application is still pending, would divert resources and attention from PacifiCorp and KRRC preparing responses to the Commission's inquiries regarding transfer and obtaining the approvals of necessary state and federal regulatory agencies for the contemplated removal of the Lower Klamath Project dams," their letter stated.

PacifiCorp initially tried to relicense all eight dams before its license expired in 2006, but found the lower four dams would operate at a loss if it spent the hundreds of millions of dollars it would cost to adhere to new FERC requirements. Those dams have a total capacity of 163 MW, and average 686,000 kWh annually.

After reaching a settlement with numerous parties in 2010 to remove the dams, Congress failed to act on it. A new settlement agreement was reached in 2016, and signed by California, Oregon, the U.S. State and Commerce departments, the Karuk and Yurok tribes, Humboldt County, Calif. and nine conservation and fishing groups, which included a plan to decommission the dams through FERC.

That plan includes a total of $450 million is committed from three sources: $184 million from surcharges to Oregon customers, $16 million from surcharges to California customers, and $250 million from a bond measure passed by the California state legislature in 2009.

Some of the parties not involved in the second settlement agreement are not satisfied.

On April 24, the Siskiyou County Water Users Association filed a motion to dismiss the transfer application, saying it would be unconstitutional for FERC to agree to the transfer, since only Congress can make that decision. Their argument relies on a provision known as the Compact Clause, saying, "No state shall, without the Consent of Congress enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State." They claim that the original settlement agreement required Congressional legislation, which was not obtained, and the amended settlement from 2016 "constitutes an agreement between California, Oregon and other parties, the implementation of which is barred by federal law."

On May 2, Siskiyou County, Calif. filed a motion for either a clarification or a declaration from FERC stating that it intends to prepare an EIS addressing the environmental impacts of decommissioning the dams before transferring the license for the lower dams to KRRC. The motion says FERC acknowledged that it "has not previously considered an application to transfer a license to a new entity whose sole purpose is to surrender the license and decommission the project, as is the case here." It says FERC has already noted that the pending decision as a "major federal action" with significant impacts. It also argues that the transfer and surrender processes must be treated as the same project. Siskiyou County says that NEPA emphasizes a comprehensive and up-front environmental analysis to ensure that an agency will not act on incomplete information. The motion raises environmental impacts that include potential harm to protected fish species, and the "anticipated release of millions of cubic yards of contaminated sediment," along with loss of water storage capacity that can be used to mitigate for drought and serve as protection from wildfires.

On May 9, Jackson County, Ore., filed a letter to FERC signed by its three commissioners, asking the agency to take no action that would allow the removal of the four dams. The letter called the dams "vitally important" to multiple counties, which at one point were participants in the Klamath River Basin Compact. It states that removing the dams could endanger the safety of its citizens, as water held back by the dams could be used to fight wildfires. "Siskiyou and Klamath Counties have met numerous times to stand united against dam removals and worked to develop alternative solutions. Jackson County also encourages the FERC Commissioners to explore all potential alternatives to the removal of the dams," the letter states.

FERC also approved six members to serve on a newly formed board of consultants, which will offer independent recommendations on PacifiCorp's proposal to remove four lower Klamath River dams.

The May 22 letter of approval, signed by the director of FERC's Division of Dam and Safety Inspections, David Capka, also outlined future steps to be taken.

The board members were initially proposed by the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC), which was formed to take over a license for the lower Klamath River dams and oversee their removal and river reclamation.

The group--Dan Hertel, James Borg, R. Craig Findlay, MaryLouise Keefe, Ted Chant and Robert Muncil--has expertise in civil engineering, geotechnical engineering, and aquatic and terrestrial biology, and experience with dam removal and restoration.

The new board will review and assess all aspects of the proposed dam-removal process and the financial ability of KRRC to carry it out.

The four-page {https://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/common/opennat.asp?fileID=14923731 letter} details expectations of the board, including holding meetings at important milestones for the initial review, design, investigations and analyses of dam removal. The meetings, the letter said, should be attended by PacifiCorp, KRRC, consultants and sometimes FERC staff.

Once PacifiCorp and KRRC file a definite plan for dam removal, expected in July, the board will meet to determine the adequacy of cost estimates, insurance, bonding and overall financial resources. FERC staff will then offer its comments or questions, and the board will address those with its independent views and recommendations.

The sequence of events, outlined in an attachment, will be:

The letter notes that still pending is FERC's decision on whether to stay its March 15 decision that amended PacifiCorp's license--basically splitting its Klamath River projects into two licenses--but did not transfer the license for the lower dams to KRRC.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is planning to hold two hearings to accept oral comments on KRRC's application for a Section 401 water quality certification related to decommissioning of the J.C. Boyle Dam and associated structures.

The agency finished a {http://www.oregon.gov/deq/wq/wqpermits/Pages/Section-401-Hydropower.aspx draft certification} for the proposal, finding the project would result in discharges to the Klamath River that may adversely affect short-term water quality by reducing dissolved oxygen levels and increasing sediment.

"However, DEQ has determined the action will result in a net ecological benefit by increasing access to salmon habitat and improving long-term water quality," a news release from the state agency said. The draft certification would require KRRC to limit sediment runoff, revegetate the reservoir, and monitor water quality to protect fish and other aquatic life.

The hearings are separate from KRRC and PacifiCorp's application to FERC to amend the license for eight Klamath River dams by splitting them into two separate licenses, and transferring the license for four of those dams to KRRC, a nonprofit corporation formed to remove the dams. In that process, currently underway, PacifiCorp and KRRC are working on a detailed plan to decommission the J.C. Boyle Dam and three other dams on the Klamath River in California.

The Oregon DEQ's hearings on water quality impacts of the proposed removal are at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on June 12 at the Oregon Institute of Technology's College Union Auditorium, 3201 Campus Drive, Klamath Falls.

Written comments, which must be submitted by 5 p.m. on July 6, can also be sent to Chris Stine, Hydroelectric Specialist, DEQ, 165 E. 7th Ave. Suite 100, Eugene, OR, 97401. -K.C. Mehaffey

[4] BPA's Fish And Wildlife Costs Plummeted In 2017, Largely From High Runoff

While direct program costs for BPA's fish and wildlife program remained stable in fiscal year 2017, total costs plummeted to $450.4 million, the lowest since 2002 and $170.6 million less than in FY 2016, according to a draft report by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

The drop is largely due to 2017's high runoff, resulting in drastically lower costs for forgone revenue and power purchases, which together accounted for a $137.8 million reduction compared to 2016 costs. On paper, for the first time ever, BPA actually made money on power purchases needed to operate the hydro system for fish.

The recently released figures come from the Council's draft report on BPA's fish and wildlife program costs, which is open to public comment until June 29.

John Harrison, NWPCC spokesman who created the report, said BPA provides the figures, and he draws up the annual report, which is sent to the governors of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

Fish and wildlife costs continued to account for about one-third of BPA's wholesale rates, the report says. Total fish and wildlife costs of $450.4 million comprise 18.2 percent of Bonneville's entire power business line costs of $2.46 billion, the report says, or 17.8 percent of its total power-related costs without forgone revenue included in the costs.

The report also shows reduced costs in all five categories compared with 2016, including a small reduction of $3.4 million the direct program, which makes up more than half of all costs. Direct annual program costs have generally increased from decade to decade, breaking the $200 million mark in 2011, where it has remained ever since. Direct program expenses dropped last year, from $258.1 million to $254.7 million.

Last year's power purchase costs were listed at negative $20.5 million--which was "an anomaly," the Council report says, and significantly lower than the $50.3 million spent on power purchases in 2016. Forgone revenue went from $76.6 million in 2016 to $9.6 million last year.

In an emailed response to questions posed by NW Fishletter, BPA said that 2017 "exhibited an unusual and unintuitive result" for power purchases and forgone revenues, "which approximate impact of fish operations on the hydro system by comparing the actual operation with a theoretical without-fish operation." Although BPA lost about 210 aMW in generation by operating for fish, that pushed some generation into months with higher power prices, "and the value of that generation more than offset the value of the overall generation lost," BPA said.

Harrison told NW Fishletter that power purchases and forgone revenue can fluctuate wildly from year to year, as those figures depend both on the level of runoff and power prices. Power purchases were on the other end of the spectrum in 2001, when water runoff was low, and power prices were high. That year--also an anomaly--BPA's power purchases for fish enhancement totaled nearly $1.4 billion--three times as high as all fish and wildlife program costs in 2017.

Harrison said there's been an ongoing debate over whether forgone revenue should even be considered a "real" cost of the F&W program.

"It's not dollars out the door," he noted. "But if you're an economist, it's a real cost. It's a lost opportunity. It's the result of an action Bonneville is required by law to do--they have to spill, and that takes water away from generation."

On the other side, he said, forgone revenue is a calculation of the difference between the cost of operating the dams with the fish operations, and operating them with no fish operations, which is purely hypothetical because it would be illegal and unreasonable to operate dams without considering fish needs.

The $450.5 million total cost for the fish and wildlife program does not include the $65.6 million BPA borrowed in 2017 from the U.S. Treasury for capital projects, software development and an appropriation from Congress for fish mitigation.

Nor does it include a credit of $53.7 million from the Treasury related to fish and wildlife costs that Bonneville must take under the Northwest Power Act. That credit also dropped significantly compared with FY 2016, when the credit was $72.6 million. The credit reduced Bonneville's total 2017 fish and wildlife-related costs to $396.7 million for which ratepayers are responsible.

Bonneville says the decline in credit was driven by the negative figure in power purchases.

"Prior to FY 2017, annual replacement power costs were always a positive value, which increased the credit amount, as hydro operations with fish mitigation measures resulted in additional power purchases," the agency said in its email.

"However, in FY 2017 the studies used to determine the amount of credit showed that operations with fish mitigation measures resulted in fewer replacement power purchases, and therefore net savings leading to a reduction to the credit amount." -K.C. Mehaffey

[5] High Flows Prompt Efforts To Reduce Dissolved Gas, Fish Trauma At Dams

After finding symptoms of gas bubble trauma in 17 percent of Chinook and steelhead below Bonneville Dam on May 15, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent more water through turbines first at McNary Dam, and later at John Day to help reduce spill over the dams, and potential impacts to both juvenile and adult fish migrating up and down the Columbia River.

The agency said they will continue to make the operational change when total dissolved gas (TDG) levels are high during times of involuntary spill, expected to continue in the Columbia River through mid-June.

Gas bubble trauma in both juvenile and adult fish is caused by high TDG levels--water that's supersaturated with air bubbles--mostly nitrogen, which can be fatal to fish. Spill increases the total dissolved gas in water above its 100 percent saturation level.

Water-quality standards in Washington and Oregon limit TDG levels. Those limits vary, but generally range from 110 to 120 percent. By mid-May, with about 70 percent of the Columbia River flowing over spillways, TDG levels below the dams from McNary to Bonneville have ranged from 120 to 143 percent.

Ritchie Graves, NOAA Fisheries branch chief for the West Coast Region, told NW Fishletter that TDG levels in the 130s is considered high, and noted that not long ago some biologists were concerned when levels went above 110 percent.

He said fish biologists have been concerned about total dissolved gas and gas bubble disease since the 1960s. "As I understand it, when John Day Dam was built, there was a high-flow year shortly after construction, and the full complement of turbines had not been installed," he said. The spill resulted in TDG in the high 130 percent range, he said, which was blamed for significant mortality in adult fish.

Total dissolved gas tends to rise at the base of spillways, or natural waterfalls, as extra air is forced into the water. Graves said each spillway has its own signature for how much air it captures, and the amount of TDG in water at the top of the spillway has no correlation to TDG levels at the bottom. However, there is a cumulative effect going downstream, because water going through turbines carries with it TDG levels from water at the top of the dam.

Water depth also impacts TDG levels, due to the weight of water pressure counteracting the dissolved gas. Generally, he said, every meter in depth reduces the TDG by about 10 percent, so a fish swimming 1 meter below water with 110 percent TDG will have an actual exposure of 100 percent, he said. He added that fish have no way to detect high TDG levels, so they don't avoid them.

Scientists on the Columbia and Snake rivers monitor the impacts by collecting a sample of juvenile fish at most of the dams' bypass systems, with results tracked on the Fish Passage Center's website.

Generally, with a sample size of at least 100 fish, action should be taken under voluntary spill situations when 15 percent of juveniles show signs of gas bubble trauma. Although spill is now involuntary at all Columbia River dams, that threshold was met at Bonneville Dam on May 15, when 17 percent of juveniles exhibited symptoms.

The dam showed another relatively high reading May 22, with 11 percent of fish with gas bubble trauma. Rock Island Dam has also recorded high levels of trauma since May 15, but sample sizes there have not met the 100 fish criteria. Most recently, 38 juveniles of 88 sampled showed gas bubble trauma.

Alene Underwood, Chelan County PUD's fish and wildlife manager, said in an email to NW Fishletter that the high levels of trauma at Rock Island are due to the configuration of the dam's juvenile bypass trap, which collects less than 1 percent of salmon and steelhead passing the dam.

When used, it collects fish over a 24-hour period. The juveniles are then held in a relatively shallow trough, where the excess air in a fish's bloodstream can exit and form bubbles in its fins and eyes.

These bubbles may not have been present when the fish entered the bypass trap, so higher trauma levels result from holding the fish, which may not have been present in the juveniles that went past the dam, she wrote. She added that gas bubble trauma does not mean a fish will die.

Graves noted that the Columbia River Basin's gas-bubble monitoring system is inexact and "pretty coarse," and also varies from dam to dam. But, he added, it can be used to monitor trends.

"Overall, when the incidences start getting high, that should be cause for diligence and concern," he said.

When TDG started to rise in early May, the Corps brought a proposal to increase generation, and thereby reduce spill, at some of its Columbia River dams to the Technical Management Team (TMT). The team is made up of representatives from federal agencies, tribes and state fish agencies who meet weekly to work through issues that come up in the Fish Passage Plan, which specifies operations at eight federal dams on the Columbia and Snake river dams.

But after working through the TMT for two weeks on spill reduction plans, the Army Corps determined it has the authority in the Fish Passage Plan to make the spill reductions without permission from the multi-agency technical group.

The ability to reduce spill comes from capacity normally held in reserve at a handful of dams in the system in case power generation somewhere else is disrupted. The dams are usually required to operate their turbines within 1 percent of peak efficiency to ensure the least impact to ESA-listed fish, but with TMT consensus, can exceed the peak.

One week after adjusting operations at McNary Dam on May 16, Dan Turner of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported to the TMT that river flow for generation jumped from about 113,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to about 154,000 cfs, enabling the dam to reduce spill by about 36,000 cfs. Total spill at the dam dropped from 371,000 cfs to 335,000 cfs.

This resulted in a 2.5 percent reduction in total dissolved gas in McNary's tailwater, which dropped to about 130.2 percent, Turner estimated. Reductions in TDG also occurred downstream, at John Day Dam's forebay. Part of the reduction in spill and dissolved gas levels were the result of two of 14 generating units coming back online at McNary at about the time generation levels were bumped up, he said.

Turner noted the operational changes did not trigger any need to operate turbines above the 1 percent peak-efficiency upper limit, as outlined in the fish passage plan.

The high gas levels aren't the only issues resulting from this spring's high water.

A floating log knocked out a gauge measuring total dissolved gas at Bonneville Dam on May 13, and the water is too high to try to replace it, said Matt Rabe, spokesman for the Corps.

He said flooding from rapid snowmelt in areas from eastern Washington to western Montana has provided an abundance of water in the Columbia and Snake rivers, causing constant adjustments at the Corps' projects, which are primarily operating now for flood control.

"We are making adjustments to how we store water, and how we release water in an effort to do what we can to minimize flooding in the rivers that flow into the Columbia, and along with the Columbia River itself," he said. The main objective, he added, is to minimize flooding in the Portland and Vancouver areas.

Rabe said the runoff brings large amounts of debris, which sometimes pass through the dams without notice, and other times can get hung up, and even damage components of the dams. The biggest focus right now is on safety, he said. While dam operators work around water every day, "the water's moving faster right now. In some places, it's higher, so we do remind folks, there's no such thing as an average day."

Taylor Dixon, development and operations hydrologist at the Northwest River Forecast Center, said this amount of runoff is unusual, especially for May. But despite forecasts for a hotter-than-average summer, "At this point, we don't anticipate below-normal runoff."

Dixon said it's tough to predict what river levels might be like in late summer, when there are no strong forecasts for precipitation for the next three months.

But, he said, although the snow right now is melting fast, and most of the runoff so far has been driven by hot weather and not rain, that won't necessarily mean less water in late summer. "Instead of coming off in a normal fashion, where June would be the high month, it's coming off sooner," he said. "It's an exceptional runoff at the front end."

One exception, he said, would be the middle and lower Snake River region, which didn't have a strong snowpack. "With a hot, dry summer, you might expect to see below-normal runoff," he said. But for the Columbia, he said, much of the water will continue to come from above Grand Coulee Dam, where the mountains still hold plenty of snow. -K.C. Mehaffey

[6] NOAA Fisheries Confirms Plan To Complete BiOp This Year

A spokesman for NOAA Fisheries said federal agencies have decided to undertake and complete a new BiOp for the Columbia River's federal hydro system by the end of 2018.

The decision comes in spite of U.S. District Judge Michael Simon's April 17 ruling in National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service, delaying the deadline for a new BiOp until 2021, when federal agencies are also expected to complete an EIS with alternatives for operating the system that will include removal of four lower Snake River dams.

"Although the judge said we do not have to, the system would have no take coverage [incidental take] under ESA after the current BiOp runs out," NOAA Fisheries spokesman Michael Milstein said in an email to NW Fishletter.

Last month's decision by the court allowed, but did not require, NOAA Fisheries to complete the BiOp in conjunction with the EIS, but it also deferred the plaintiff's other request to allow the hydrosystem to operate under the 2014 BiOp.

Earthjustice lawyer Todd True said federal agencies have to make their own decisions about how to proceed with regard to the BiOp, but added, "I don't think there is any requirement or need. If they do one, we'll have to take a look at it and make our decision on how to proceed in light of that."

True said it's too soon to know whether the plaintiffs will file another injunction for spring spill, as the court's current order only covers 2018.

Federal hydro operations are now under the court's order to spill water at the four lower Columbia River and four lower Snake River dams to spill cap levels, which at all eight dams is 115 percent total dissolved gas (TDG) in forebays and 120 percent TDG in the tailwater.

Due to high flows, more water than required is flowing over each of the dams, putting operations under involuntary spill. That was not the case during most of April, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers filed its first report with the court on May 18 regarding its effort to keep spill at--but not above--the spill cap levels on multiple dams at once.

Tables in the report show when, during periods of voluntary spill, actual spill varied from target spill levels due to operational limitations, human error, maintenance or navigation, which occurred 20 times throughout the month, lasting from one to five hours apiece.

In all, the times when spill varied above target levels totaled three hours, while times when spill varied below targets totaled 42 hours, with some partial hours counted as full hours. The agency was operating on involuntary spill at some of the dams later in the month, when flows in both the Snake and Columbia were too high, and additional water had to be spilled to prevent flooding. Throughout the month, total dissolved gas hit 123 percent once, and rose above 120 percent less than a dozen times, mostly at Bonneville Dam's tailwater.

In an email, Corps spokesman Matt Rabe said his agency is committed to implementing the court-ordered spring spill and has been diligently managing spill each day.

"That said, implementing the gas cap spill operation has been challenging with the uncertainty associated with estimating TDG production in the river," he said. "Environmental factors such as wind, barometric pressure, and temperature dramatically impact TDG levels."

Rabe also confirmed there were no unanticipated or emergency situations in implementing the spill in April.

The report includes graphs for each of the eight dams showing total flow, generation flow, target spill, adjusted spill and actual spill. There's also a chart showing the 12-hour average TDG in the tailwater at each project, and the downstream forebay.

BPA spokesman David Wilson said in an email his agency has not calculated how much electricity would have been generated in April if the dams had not been under the court's spill order, or if it was operating under the 2014 BiOp.

Those determinations would involve complex calculations, and require a number of assumptions, he wrote.

Wilson added, "In implementing the spill surcharge, however, BPA's modeling forecast that the additional court-ordered spill for the entire spring fish passage season, will reduce hydropower generation at these eight federal dams by 253 annual average megawatts. This is based on a computational analysis of the impact of the increased spill across 80 water years in the historical record." -K.C. Mehaffey

[7] Northwest Power And Conservation Council Begins Amendment Process For Fish And Wildlife Program

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council sent a "letter to the region" on May 16, calling for recommendations for changing the Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.

The letter marks the beginning of a formal, year-long process to amend the Council's 2014 document guiding the region's comprehensive program for fish and wildlife projects to mitigate impacts from Columbia and Snake river hydroelectric dams.

The Council's Fish and Wildlife Committee and its staff have been developing the letter to ask interested parties to offer their thoughts on improving the current document. Required under the Northwest Power Act, the amendment process occurs every five years, and must be complete before the Council begins reviewing its next Northwest Power Plan.

Under the proposal presented to the Council, recommendations will be accepted until Sept. 14, followed by two months of public comment on those recommendations. The Council will then prepare a draft for a new Fish and Wildlife Program, which could be released as soon as next February. That release will be followed by more public comments, hearings and consultations before the Council develops and adopts its final amended program. The letter notes that the Independent Scientific Advisory Board--at the Council's request--reviewed the 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program and offered a discussion of its strengths and weaknesses. It invites those making recommendations to consider the ISAB review.

The letter is accompanied by a two-page attachment outlining the Fish and Wildlife Program's impact over the last 36 years, and noting recent developments that could influence amendments. Among those developments are BPA's strategic plan that calls for managing fish and wildlife costs at or below inflation; a federal court order to spill more water over eight dams; the ISAB's report on density dependence for salmon in the Columbia River Basin; an upcoming National Environmental Policy Act review and EIS evaluating alternatives for operating federal dams; and the quantitative and qualitative goals for fish recovery being developed by the Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force.

Patty O'Toole, the Council's program implementation manager, told the Council the amendment is not designed to limit recommendations, but instead to lay out some issues that could be considered. -K.C. Mehaffey

[8] Clarifying Briefs Filed In Pelton Round Butte Case

Both plaintiffs and defendants filed briefs May 16 in Oregon's U.S. District Court attempting to clarify whether tribal sovereign immunity is waived in citizen suits allowed by the Clean Water Act, as District Judge Michael Simon continues to weigh whether to dismiss Deschutes River Alliance (DRA) v. Portland General Electric Company (PGE).

Simon invited a legislative history from both sides on May 9, after hearing oral arguments on motions to dismiss the case, filed by both PGE and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

DRA filed the lawsuit in 2016, alleging clean water violations from the Pelton Round Butte hydro project's selective water withdrawal tower, built in 2010 to aid fish passage.

Warm Springs joined with PGE as a friend of the court, claiming sovereign immunity. The tribe says it has substantial interests as co-owner of the project. Both have argued in previous filings that they are in compliance with their water quality permits, which require them to balance the downstream water temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen targets with new fish passage mandates. They say any disputes over water quality should be resolved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or a special committee set up by FERC to resolve disputes.

A new joint brief by PGE and the Warm Springs says DRA's entire argument hinges on a definition of municipality in the Clean Water Act that includes tribes, and notes there were no discussions or mentions of tribes during conference, Senate or House reports.

"Plaintiffs understate the high bar required to find a waiver of tribal sovereign immunity," the brief says. "Congressional intent to abrogate must be unmistakably clear and cannot be inferred. Absent such express intent, tribes retain their sovereign rights."

The alliance, however, says that while they found nothing in the legislative record related directly to whether Congress intended to abrogate tribal immunity, the Clean Water Act only expressly excludes states from citizen complaints, due to states rights in the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"Several courts have found that this language represents clear Congressional abrogation of tribal sovereign immunity with respect not only to the CWA but also, by virtue of identical language, with respect to the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act," the DRA brief says. -K.C. Mehaffey

[9] Montana Flood Warnings Issued While Northern Snowpack Remains High

An above-average snowpack throughout much of western Montana, northern Idaho and parts of Canada is good news for this summer's water supply throughout the Columbia River Basin. But it also had meant flooding, especially in Montana, where flood warnings were issued in early May for the Clark Fork and Bitterroot rivers near Missoula, and residents were evacuating.

The runoff isn't close to slowing, Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council at its meeting in Boise on May 8. He noted 70 percent of the snowpack around Missoula remains in the mountains, and has yet to melt.

Rivers in Pend Oreille, Ferry and Okanogan counties in Washington; in Bonner, Boundary, and Benewah counties in northern Idaho; and in Mineral and Missoula counties in Montana were under flood warnings on May 10, according to the National Weather Service. "Major flooding is occurring," the NWS website said of the Clark Fork River.

"We're going to need some cool weather to slow down the melt," Abramovich told the Council two days earlier. "This is just low valley snow that's melting now."

He said forecasts for variable temperatures in the coming weeks could help prevent the mountain snowpack from melting suddenly, and instead allow for multiple peaks in this spring's runoff. The snowpack on May 1 ranged from about 130 to 180 percent of normal at many sites in Montana, and above 180 percent of normal in some, he said.

In any case, it's likely to mean an extended runoff season, with river levels remaining high for a longer period of time from Montana into Idaho.

The healthy winter precipitation came immediately after 2017's high water-supply year, which left reservoirs and aquifers recharged. "We could get by with a below-normal snowpack," Abramovich noted. Instead, some areas, like the Clark Fork, are pushing record-high snowpack for the 30-year period from 1981 through 2010.

He said those recharged reservoirs mean irrigators from the Snake River basin, the Salmon Creek basin, and even into the Owyhee River basin where snowpack was well below average, have a 90 percent chance of an adequate irrigation supply this summer.

Abramovich's Council presentation also noted that precipitation in the coming weeks and months has a big impact on runoff, but was not included in his streamflow forecasts. -K.C. Mehaffey

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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