BPA's Strategic Plan Prompts Cuts From F&W Program
A handful of contractors with ongoing Bonneville Power Administration fish and wildlife projects were notified June 8 that some of their projects are on the chopping block for fiscal year 2019, which begins in October. Hundreds more found out that the BPA plans to cut a portion of their funds as the agency turns its five-year strategic plan into reality.
That plan calls for keeping the cost of its ever-growing Fish and Wildlife Program at or below inflation, even with the added costs from a court-ordered spill, or associated power purchases or forgone revenues.
Bryan Mercier, executive director of BPA's Fish and Wildlife Division, told NW Fishletter that the specific cuts were being announced in letters sent to some 600 entities that receive BPA funding for fish and wildlife projects, including government agencies, tribes, nonprofit organizations and other entities such as conservation districts. He and BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer also briefed the Northwest Power and Conservation Council about the program reductions during a regular meeting on June 12.
"There are programs we are going to propose to phase out. Based on our analysis, they're not performing well," Mercier said. He added, "There's only a handful of contracts we're going to stop funding. Much of this is little things--work elements that are not a good use of funds."
Mercier said it's not just BPA's Fish and Wildlife Division undergoing cost reductions, and noted that the upcoming cuts come after several years of scrutiny across all BPA programs. "We have reduced the size of our workforce by almost 10 percent. We've closed our library. There are a lot of things we're doing to manage our costs," he said. A close look at the agency's Fish and Wildlife Program is part of that larger effort.
Mercier said until now, BPA's Fish and Wildlife Program has largely escaped cuts, even as the agency recognized its financial situation and began finding ways to reduce costs in other areas. "As an agency, we really believe in our environmental stewardship and in the work that we do. The challenge is, we're no longer in a position where we're able to sustain this level of commitment," he said. The cuts, he said, are to lower-performing projects that aren't delivering for fish. "It's efficiencies we think we can reasonably justify and not negatively affect fish," he said.
At the Power Council meeting, Mercier and Mainzer told the council the cuts won't be easy. But with volatile energy markets causing fiscal uncertainty, these reductions are necessary to ensure BPA's Fish and Wildlife Program continues into the future.
Although the agency has identified some $30 million in Fish and Wildlife Program cuts in fiscal year 2019--or about 10 percent of its direct program costs--specific cuts can be negotiated if the entity receiving the funds can successfully defend theM. About $4 million of those reductions are being made internally at BPA, through overhead and internal costs, and the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan.
"It's very important to me that we sustain the heart and soul of what we're doing," Mainzer told the Council. To do that, projects must be more efficient and focused on aspects that directly impact fish and wildlife. He said BPA has a shared responsibility--along with the Council and its partners that carry out the projects--to protect fish and wildlife, but also to ensure the program is financially sustainable into the future.
In answer to a question about meeting the challenges of the next decade, Mainzer said that he doesn't like being "on opposite sides of the courtroom" from Oregon and some American Indian tribes. He said he hopes the collaborative process involved in making funding cuts will help all fish managers take a close look at their resources, and help find a strategy to "rebalance" limited dollars to most benefit fish and wildlife.
"My hope--and I'm not sure it's rational--is to try to find a way to really come together," Mainzer said. He noted that Bonneville's financial issues are real, and that the agency's partners need to consider "the carrying capacity of this organization."
The meeting followed BPA's June 8 letter to hundreds of contractors, notifying them of the upcoming line-item budget adjustments.
Mercier's presentation detailed how the proposed cuts were identified. "We haven't picked winners and losers," he said. "We're really trying to squeeze efficiencies out of the existing programs."
The agency has focused on continuing to fund work on the ground, with a direct connection to the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS), compliant with legal requirements and that has shown effective and efficient performance. Areas proposed for reductions include research, monitoring and evaluation (RM&E); data management; administrative costs; duplications; work with a weak connection to the FCRPS; and projects with poor performance.
BPA will also ask its contractors to find ways to share costs, either through nonprofit grants or by leveraging funds from other agencies, Mercier said.
Mercier said he planned to begin meeting with individual contractors immediately, beginning with those whose contracts expire at the end of this fiscal year, to go over next year's proposed budget that begins Oct. 1. "We'll be firm, but we will be convinced," he said. "If the information we have suggests the reductions we're making are not the right call, we'll be open to working with our partners on that."
During questions, Richard Devlin, an Oregon Council member, expressed concerns about reducing RM&E, noting they are necessary to determine project effectiveness.
Bodi responded that at $300 million a year, BPA believes its Fish and Wildlife Program is the largest ecosystem-restoration program in the country. She said the average benchmark for monitoring and evaluating effectiveness of a project is between 20 and 25 percent. "We're well above that," she said, adding that BPA has been gradually putting more into RM&E, particularly as the Independent Scientific Review Panel has requested it. "We, at Bonneville, don't need information that's good enough for scientific publications," she said. "We need information that's good enough to make a decision."She also said there is some duplication that can be eliminated.
Council Member Guy Norman of Washington noted that fish managers attending the Regional Coordinating Forum on June 11--who were also briefed on the upcoming cuts--seemed to reasonably accept and understand the cuts, and their necessity for stability of the Fish and Wildlife PrograM. He said he thinks part of that acceptance is due to BPA's pledge it will work with its contractors on the specifics. "I know when everyone quits whining and gets down to work, they can assist in this reduction that is so necessary . . . to preserve the goose that lays the golden eggs," added Idaho Council Member Jim Yost.
According to figures previously provided by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council--which writes an annual report on Fish and Wildlife Program costs to the governors of the four states represented on the council--the direct program costs started at $2.3 million in 1980, and steadily rose to $32.8 million by 1990. Then, with the ESA-listing of several Columbia River salmon and steelhead species in the 1990s, the direct costs had tripled by 2000, when program spending hit $108.2 million. By 2010, the program nearly doubled again to just under $200 million, and by last year had risen to $254.7 million.
The direct-funded program pays for projects like habitat improvements, research, and some fish hatchery costs, and is the largest part of the program's total budget. The figures do not include BPA's reimbursement to the federal treasury for expenditures by other agencies, debt service for capital investments, or costs of forgone power sales and power purchases that result from fish and wildlife requirements, such as spilling water over federal dams to help juvenile fish passage. Those costs--especially power purchases and forgone power sales--can fluctuate significantly from year to year.
"My focus is largely going to be on the Fish and Wildlife Program, and those direct-funded programs we have control over," Mainzer said. "That's what's within our realm of influence right now." He added, "We, as a region, need to decide: Is water spilled over the dam--that revenue--is that better spent as spill, or better spent on the ground for fish and wildlife?" -K.C. Mehaffey
 Scientists Find New Link Showing Impact of Pink Salmon On Other Species
Scientists say pink salmon are causing a rarely detected "trophic cascade," which serves as one more piece of evidence that other salmon species--including sockeye, Chinook, coho and chum--are greatly impacted during their time in the Pacific Ocean by their smaller, but more abundant, cousin.
A new study, published this month in Fisheries Oceanography, describes why scientists believe the peaks and ebbs of annual pink salmon runs are causing the abundance of the Pacific Ocean's tiny plants (phytoplankton) and animals (zooplankton) to rise and fall dramatically each year as well.
And when one species has such a major impact on these basic building blocks of the ocean's ecosystem, the study says, it impacts everything else. This top-down influence of a predator on its prey--zooplankton, and on its prey's food source--phytoplankton, is known as a trophic, or food-chain, cascade.
The findings have important implications for the ocean's food web, and are already being studied by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as it considers whether to limit the production of hatchery pink salmon released in Prince William Sound in order to reduce their impact on other species, according to Gregory Ruggerone, a co-author of the study.
"This paper is, in my mind, really important because it provides much more solid evidence for how pink salmon actually do impact the North Pacific ecosystem," Ruggerone told NW Fishletter. A research scientist at Natural Resources Consultants. Ruggerone is also a member of the Independent Scientific Review Panel, and has extensively studied salmon abundance and the impacts of increasing numbers of pink salmon.
In his most recent abundance study, he found that pink salmon are now more abundant than at any other time since monitoring began in 1925. They dominate the Pacific's salmon species in both numbers and biomass, and now make up nearly 70 percent of the total hatchery and wild salmon, and almost half of their biomass. Unlike some other salmon species that suffer from warming ocean temperatures in southern areas, pink salmon have thrived in warmer ocean conditions, Ruggerone added.
Pink salmon spend only one year in the ocean, and run sizes trend quite high in odd-numbered years and significantly lower in even-numbered years. For example, from 2000 through 2012, numbers of eastern Kamchatka pink salmon, from far eastern Russia, averaged eight times higher in odd years, at about 122 million fish, compared with even years, with 15 million fish.
The study, "Pink Salmon induce a trophic cascade in plankton populations in the southern Bering Sea and around the Aleutian Islands," was also led by British Columbia oceanographer Sonia Batten and University of Washington oceanographer Ivonne Ortiz. The scientists used data collected by sampling machines, called continuous plankton recorders, towed by commercial ships each summer from 2000 through 2014 to determine the abundance of plankton across thousands of kilometers in the south Bering Sea and North Pacific.
When analyzed, the data showed zooplankton, a principle prey of pink salmon, dropped significantly in years when pink salmon populations were high, while phytoplankton, which are consumed by zooplankton, rose. The opposite was true in even numbered years.
The correlation was strengthened in 2013, when a usually high population of pinks in one part of their study area crashed, and abundance of zooplankton boomed. "Correlations don't necessarily mean cause-and-effect, but in this case, we think they do," Ruggerone said, largely because the study provided three lines of evidence to support their tropic cascade hypothesis.
Furthermore, the scientists concluded, the variability in plankton abundances caused by pink salmon during the 15-year study period was greater than variability caused by physical oceanography.
In its discussion section, the article notes growing evidence that indicates foraging pink salmon affect the feeding and reproduction of sea birds, and the growth and survival of sockeye, Chinook, coho and chum salmon. Ruggerone said that these prior studies have shown that pink salmon have a "major, major impact on sockeye salmon growth, survival and abundance, and age at maturation." Similar studies are exploring whether the same impacts are influencing the size and abundance of Chinook salmon throughout Alaska.
He said the work has caught the eye of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and influential sport fishing groups that have asked the state to reject a request by hatchery proponents to release some 20 million additional pink salmon in Prince William Sound--already the world's largest producer of hatchery pinks.
Ruggerone said Alaska releases approximately 900 million hatchery pink salmon every year, including about 650 million in the sound. Statewide, about 50 million adult hatchery pinks return each year to Alaskan waters. And even though pink salmon originating in hatcheries comprise only about 15 percent of the Pacific Ocean's 650 million adult pink salmon in odd years, it's still a lot of fish.
"On average, 82 million hatchery pink salmon return from the North Pacific each year," he said, adding, "That number is quite a bit greater than the total wild chum salmon production, and about the same as wild sockeye salmon production in the North Pacific."
Ruggerone said his main hope is that their study will help salmon managers make sound decisions as they begin to understand that the tremendous releases of hatchery salmon not only impact their wild counterparts, but also other species, including salmon that are now endangered, threatened or declining in numbers. -K.C. Mehaffey
 House Passes Bill Allowing Agencies, Tribes To Kill Sea Lions
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 288-116 on June 26 to allow tribal and government agencies to kill California and Steller sea lions, if they are endangering salmon-restoration efforts on the Columbia River.
House Resolution 2083 had support from a wide range of groups representing fishing, salmon conservation and hydropower, along with Northwest tribes, governors and state fish agencies.
The bill would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow NOAA Fisheries to issue one-year permits to the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho; the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama and Cowlitz tribes; and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission to kill additional sea lions in the Columbia River and certain tributaries, as long as they are not part of a depleted population. Washington and Oregon are currently authorized to kill sea lions, but only at Bonneville Dam under strict guidelines.
House members debated the bill for an hour before it passed with the bipartisan support of 220 Republicans and 68 Democrats, following largely supportive testimony by Pacific Northwest lawmakers. A companion bill, S. 1702, has been introduced in the Senate, and on June 27, the House bill was received in the Senate, read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Supporters of the bill were elated by its passage and hopeful the Senate will also act.
"I just think it's fantastic. Everyone in the region, with the exception of some of the animal rights groups, has rallied around this," Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, told NW Fishletter.
Flores added that she was pleased how Northwest legislators succinctly described the situation, despite the emotion that comes with killing sea lions.
Scott Corwin, executive director of the Public Power Council, added that with bipartisan support in the Senate from sponsor Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), he thinks the bill has a good chance of moving in the Senate.
"Also, there aren't good arguments against the bill. It makes too much sense," he told NW Fishletter. Corwin noted that the salmon and steelhead being eaten or maimed by sea lions are the adults, finally coming back to spawn. "With all the other efforts mostly focused on juveniles, these are the fish that have benefitted. It's important to get them back to spawn," he said.
PPC and CRITFC sent a joint letter on June 25 to both House and Senate leaders pushing for passage. Members of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council also traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the bills.
The most vocal opponent of the bill--the Humane Society of the United States--told NW Fishletter in an email that it has no statements regarding the legislation. Before its passage, the nonprofit group told other media outlets that H.R. 2083 is a distraction from the real problems facing salmon, such as dams, habitat loss, overfishing and climate change.
Those were the same arguments used by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, who testified against the bill on the House floor. He said that the threat from sea lions pales in comparison to the other dangers they face. "The killing of sea lions is not a silver bullet for salmon recovery," he said, noting that the bill does nothing to address any of the other causes of salmon decline.
Grijalva also accused Republican supporters of hypocrisy, pointing to the recent passage of H.R. 3144, "known in the fishing community as the Salmon Extinction Act," he said, which--if passed by the Senate--would return spring spill levels to those in the 2014 Biological Opinion. He listed several other bills and riders that he called the continuing "congressional war on salmon," and encouraged his colleagues to instead address the entire range of stressors that are threatening the fish.
Northwest representatives from both parties, however, offered counter-arguments, and cited support from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown--both Democrats, along with Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a Republican.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Washington Republican who sponsored the bill, said local fishing guides told her that between 70 and 100 percent of the salmon they catch show signs of barely escaping an encounter with a sea lion. "It's practically a miracle when a fish can make it upstream without getting caught in a sea lion's teeth," she said, adding, "Look, we're not anti-sea lion--oh my goodness no. We're just for protecting our native fish, a Pacific Northwest icon. And in order to do that, we need to be able to remove some of the most egregious offenders," she said.
Rep. Kurt Schrader, an Oregon Democrat and cosponsor, displayed a photo of five half-eaten salmon and declared, "So this is what our cuddly sea lions do to our iconic salmon." Schrader warned that if something isn't done now, Willamette River steelhead may face the same demise as the decimated runs lost to inaction at Seattle's Ballard Locks in the 1980s.
California sea lions have recovered exponentially, from about 70,000 a few decades ago to about 300,000 today, he noted. Hazing and relocation have been ineffective.
Schrader said he agrees a comprehensive approach must be taken, and to that end, he said Bonneville Power Administration hydroelectric customers are contributing nearly $1 billion a year to help improve habitat, fish passage and hatcheries. "This is not a radical bill. It is a thoughtful and narrow approach brought to us by the fish and wildlife departments of the three states," he said.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said that historically, salmon that made it 100 miles up the Columbia River did not have to contend with sea lions, which have only recently discovered the easy prey at the Willamette River, Bonneville Dam and other Columbia River tributaries. "We're talking about a few hundred problem animals which then teach other animals where they can get a free lunch," he said. Without control, Willamette River steelhead have an 89-percent chance of extinction, he said.
DeFazio added his support for the bill comes after sponsors agreed to public comment and a National Environmental Policy Act review.
Rep Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) testified he is disappointed by inaccurate and emotional statements made by the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee. "I've heard this legislation called 'The Slaughter Seals and Sea Lions Act,' and claims that it will authorize a massive increase in annual permits to kill sea lions and seals. Nothing could be further from the truth," he said, adding that the bill was carefully crafted with bipartisan input and support, and places strict limits on sea lion removal.
The bill got support from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which sent members to Washington, D.C. to lobby for its passage. The Council outlined the issue in a May 15 letter to Risch.
Bill Booth, a Council member from Idaho, said three Council members split up and teamed up with tribal representatives and arranged 25 meetings with House members, senators or staffers in two days. He said that, for the first time in the 11 years he's been working on this issue, he sees regionwide broad support for controlling sea lions. "It's right there on the front burner, and it really looks like things are moving," he said.
At the Council's June 12 meeting, Booth said he was encouraged, and predicted the measure would pass the House. "It's still tough sledding, and we're running against time constraints" for getting the bill through the Senate this congressional session. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Northern Pike Suppression Proposal Gets $4.5 Million From NWPCC
Acknowledging that nonnative northern pike must be suppressed or eradicated before they make their way down the Columbia River where they can prey on salmon and steelhead, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council agreed June 13 to commit $4.5 million through 2022 to stop their progression at Lake Roosevelt.
The invasive northern pike was called an "apex predatory fish" that "quickly takes its place at the top of the food chain," in a letter supporting the proposed funding, sent by David Troutt, chairman of Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board.
"Pike eat any finfish that will fit in their mouths, including salmon and even other northern pike. Large adults also are known to eat voles, shrews, squirrels, waterfowl and bats," the letter states. "The Western Governors' Association identified northern pike as a top invasive species threat to our state, as has the Washington Invasive Species Council," it continues. If they escape downstream, northern pike will threaten not only salmon and steelhead recovery efforts, but the salmon fishing industry, valued at $1 billion annually, it said.
Council members did not need to be convinced.
Tom Karier, of Washington, expressed strong support for the proposal to quickly knock back the population, saying the Council does not want Lake Roosevelt to become a nursery for this invasive species. "I think northern pike are a particularly pernicious and dangerous species," he commented. "I think there are few projects that rise to this level of urgency, but this is one of them.
Karier also commended the Spokane Tribe and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation for reallocating money from other projects to fund this year's eradication efforts. According to a Council memo, the Spokane Tribe reallocated $269,222 and the Colvilles reallocated $292,858 to fund the suppression efforts this year while awaiting a continuing Independent Scientific Review Panel review and a Council decision.
Council Member Bill Booth, of Idaho, said his support comes with caveats, including an expectation that the tribes and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will provide annual updates, and seek funding from other sources as well. He acknowledged, "This group really recognized they need to bring in partnerships . . . They are aggressively seeking additional funding."
Council Member Guy Norman, of Washington, agreed this is a regional concern, and said he's encouraged additional funding help is being sought from agencies, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. National Park Service, along with mid-Columbia PUDs. "I don't hear any other opinion, other than the fact that this is a major issue, and the sooner we can be proactive, the risk is further reduced," he said.
Council Member Tim Baker, of Montana, said he has no doubts about the importance of the project, but added he will have to answer to his constituents who asked him to push for Bonneville Power Administration funding to control quagga mussels. "I basically said 'no,' because there isn't any money, and we're trying to protect Bonneville's future," he said.
Baker added he is more comfortable supporting the northern pike suppression funding with the understanding fish managers will come back to the Council to report how the suppression effort is going, including findings from the data requested by the ISRP, and how they are adapting their program from the information gathered.
The goal of the proposal passed by the Council is to suppress northern pike in the Lake Roosevelt watershed, and prevent them from spreading into other water bodies. The approach will include mechanical removal, angler incentives and limited monitoring and research, along with a public outreach.
Northern pike have been found in Lake Roosevelt since 2009, but in 2015, the tribes and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife became concerned by significant increases in their numbers. In addition to Lake Roosevelt, these fish were beginning to be routinely found in the Kettle, Spokane and Sanpoil rivers.
For the past few years, the Colville Confederated Tribes has sponsored a bounty in Lake Roosevelt and nearby rivers, rewarding anglers $10 for every pike head turned in at designated locations. Last year, 1,095 northern pike heads were turned in, according to a December newsletter from the tribe's fish and wildlife section.
Biologists believe they migrated downstream from the Pend Oreille River, where they have been an issue in the Box Canyon Reservoir for more than a decade. They were originally illegally introduced--possibly by anglers--in Montana, and have since moved down to the Clark Fork River before making their way to the Pend Oreille, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's website says. Washington state classifies them as a prohibited species, and anglers are allowed to catch them with no rules, and are required to kill them before leaving the water, the website says. -K.C. Mehaffey
 With Two Boat Inspection Stations, WDFW Looks To Mussel-Sniffing Dog For Help
It's not a done deal, but Eric Anderson of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has high hopes that by this time next year, the state will own its first invasive mussel-sniffing dog--a move that could help save hundreds of millions of dollars by preventing zebra and quagga mussels from taking hold in the Pacific Northwest.
And while that dog would be just one tool in his arsenal against invasive aquatics, Anderson sees it as a major step forward in the fight to keep the last major river in the continental U.S. free of these tiny yet formidable creatures.
With super-sensitive noses, mussel-sniffing dogs find their suspects at a boat inspection in seconds, and alert inspectors to look in a watercraft's crevasses that might otherwise be missed. Dogs are also good ambassadors and can help educate boaters to clean, dry and drain their boat every time they take it out of the water.
Anderson is the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's captain of invasive aquatic species enforcement, a duty with much at stake. The mussels are pervasive, and their potential damage is daunting.
"It's almost like a bad sci-fi movie, the way they take over a water body and start competing," Anderson said.
They've been a threat for decades. Native to the Caspian and Black seas in Eastern Europe, zebra mussels were first identified in the U.S. Great Lakes in 1989, and have since spread to 20 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. Quagga mussels arrived a year later. "They're a little more dangerous," Anderson said. "They reproduce faster, and can survive in colder water--almost like a zebra mussel on steroids." These mussels spread easily by attaching themselves to boats--even those hauled over land--because they can live out of water for up to 30 days, and infest new waterways once the boat puts in at a new location.
And once they take hold, they're impossible to eradicate. According to WDFW, they are the most expensive aquatic invasive species to invade the U.S., costing some $5 billion annually in prevention and control efforts. They multiply rapidly, plugging up pumps and pipes and attaching themselves to any hard surfaces in the water. Anderson said it would cost an average of $20 million a year at each hydroelectric dam to remove mussels from the many surfaces and maintain equipment. Irrigation districts, along with municipal and industrial water facilities, would also face significant costs.
In a body of water where they're not native, mussels disrupt the food web, and can even impact spawning areas for endangered salmon and steelhead, Anderson said. He envisions bypasses and fish ladders covered in mussels, their sharp shells slicing into the bodies of young salmon as they get flushed downstream, and affecting adults as they swim upstream.
In addition to work by states, preventing the spread of non-native and invasive species is one of the key priorities in the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Fish and Wildlife Program. Mussels have been identified as a significant threat to salmon and steelhead recovery. In 2016, invasive mussel larvae were discovered in eastern Montana in the Missouri River drainage, prompting federal aid and an emergency response by the state.
Despite the potential damage, Washington has lagged behind other states in trying to prevent these invaders from reaching the Columbia River. A 2016 WDFW report noted that compared to 12 other states with aquatic invasive species programs, Washington's ranked near the bottom--only Alaska's was smaller. While Idaho has about 21 boat inspection stations, Washington has just two, Anderson said. "We have the smallest budget out of four in the Pacific Northwest. We need to bump it up," he said, adding, "This is a case where an ounce of prevention is worth millions and millions of saved dollars in the state of Washington." Studies show once they're here, combating these mussels throughout the Pacific Northwest would cost an estimated $500 million every year.
Anderson said Washington's program has ramped up over the last few years, however, at least in part thanks to extra funding from the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which provided an additional $250,000 to the program last year and another $450,000 this year. A new state law also allows the agency to collect fees from nonresident boaters, he said.
"Those federal grants have helped us literally double the program," he said.
Before 2017, Washington set up roving inspection stations to check boats coming into the state. Last year, the state opened a permanent station in the Tri-Cities, on U.S. Route 395. And in April, it opened the permanent check station near Spokane, at Exit 299 off Interstate 90, near the border with Idaho. "We went from an average of 2,000 to 3,000 inspections a year to last year, just under 10,000, and this year we're almost up to 10,000 already," he said. "We figure we're going to probably come close to inspecting 20,000 boats this year."
Already, the effort has had success. Anderson said inspectors have intercepted two boats coming into the state with invasive mussels, including a pontoon boat found in May with dead zebra mussels, being transported from Michigan to Alaska, that had already made it through other inspection stations unnoticed.
If a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation grant to purchase a mussel-sniffing dog comes through--which Anderson said is now about 85-percent certain--the new dog will help sniff out mussels at the Spokane inspection station, and also be used as an early-detection device, sniffing for evidence on Columbia River shorelines, especially Lake Roosevelt, which is the top destination for boaters from outside the state.
Anderson said some people believe an invasion of mussels is inevitable. The way he sees it, every year delaying that invasion saves Washington citizens hundreds of thousands of dollars and gets scientists that much closer to figuring out how to prevent them from spreading.
Meanwhile, Anderson said, a new dog would help with his number-one prevention tool--education. Much more than a pamphlet or a fine, dogs are a great way to reach out to the public, he said. "We might have these little cards made up with a picture of the dog that say, 'You've been sniffed,'" and hand them out at inspection stations, he said. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Lawsuit Seeks To Force EPA Approval Of New Temperature Standard On Snake River
Idaho Power is asking a federal judge to issue an injunction that would force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to approve a new water temperature standard in a stretch of the Snake River below Hells Canyon Dam for two weeks each fall.
The suit claims the agency lacks discretion to deny the request, since the new standard--already adopted by Idaho--is within Clean Water Act standards and fully protects Snake River fall Chinook.
Filed June 6 in U.S. District Court in Idaho, the lawsuit claims a decision by the agency was mandatory within 60 to 90 days, yet EPA has failed to act ever since the State of Idaho requested approval on June 8, 2012. The change would allow a 2.7-degree increase in maximum water temperature from Oct. 23 to Nov. 7 along a stretch of the Snake River below the dam.
"The EPA has intentionally delayed action on Idaho's site-specific standard as a means of delaying and effectively disapproving the standard for reasons that Congress did not intend EPA to consider when acting on state water quality standards," the lawsuit alleges.
The suit also names EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladick as defendants. The EPA has not yet filed a response, and spokesman Mark MacIntyre said it is the agency's policy to not comment on lawsuits.
Although the new site-specific standard is already approved by Idaho's Department of Environmental Quality and its state Legislature, both EPA and the State of Oregon must also approve it before it can go into effect.
Brett Dumas, Idaho Power's director of environmental affairs, said the company had not filed suit over EPA's failure to act on the request while it continued to negotiate with both Idaho and Oregon for a Clean Water Act Section 401 water-quality certification--a necessary step to win a new 50-year license on the Hells Canyon Complex.
"Now, we are coming up against the statute of limitations to challenge EPA's inaction," he said, and by filing a lawsuit, the company preserves its right to pursue the issue. Meanwhile, it continues to seek agreement on a new certification, required under the Clean Water Act.
Water temperature isn't the only issue between Oregon and Idaho, as the two states work to agree on a new water-quality certification.
Dumas said if the new water temperature standard is approved, it could save Idaho Power and its 547,000-plus customers between $50 million and $100 million over a 50-year period. The estimated savings would come from mitigation fees the company would otherwise have to pay to a stewardship program when temperatures exceed state standards.
He said Idaho and Oregon have current standards requiring maximum water temperature in all rivers to be reduced from 66.2 degrees to 55.4 degrees on Oct. 23, and to remain at or below the lower temperature through April 15. The new site-specific standard would step down the maximum temperature to 58.1 degrees for two weeks beginning Oct. 23, and then drop again to 55.4 degrees on Nov. 7.
Dumas said the change would have no effect on fall Chinook spawning, according to a NOAA Fisheries fall Chinook recovery plan that says temperatures below 60.8 degrees have no detrimental impact. Listed as threatened in the 1990s, naturally spawning fall Chinook have made a comeback, and in recent years, scientists have counted a record number of redds, or nesting beds, in the river between Lower Granite and Hells Canyon dams.
"We have an obligation to protect these fish, and we have demonstrated our commitment to the fish for more than a quarter century. We also have an obligation to protect our customers and our shareholders from unnecessary costs related to relicensing," Dumas said in a news release.
The temperature of water flowing below Hells Canyon Dam is just one issue holding up a new 50-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license for three dams in the 1,167-MW complex--Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams--which provide 70 percent of the company's hydropower, or about one-third of their overall generation. Oregon has raised fish passage as an issue, and cited a state statute requiring passage at any dam project seeking a fundamental change in its permit status. Idaho says reintroduction above Hells Canyon Dam will not happen without consent from its governor and Legislature. Idaho Power tried to get FERC to break the deadlock, but the agency declined and the states are back at the negotiating table, Dumas said.
He noted Idaho Power applied to renew its license in 2003, but ongoing delays make the relicensing effort--now at 15 years--one of FERC's lengthiest, and likely one of the costliest. Idaho PUC recently confirmed the utility has spent $216.5 million between 1991 and 2015 to relicense the three dams, and costs continue to mount.
Dumas said a draft agreement between Idaho and Oregon has been close several times, but because the water-quality certification process is on a one-year cycle, the process starts over each time agreement isn't reached. He said the company has submitted its application every year for the past 17 years, only to withdraw it when final agreement hasn't been reached.
He said Idaho Power is now preparing to send another letter withdrawing this year's application, and at the same time submitting a new application for next year. Still, Dumas said, "We're close. Just, some of the details haven't been fully worked out."
He added, "Our hope is, it won't take the year cycle. If we can get this fish-passage issue resolved, the process of getting certification out for public review will move forward." -K.C. Mehaffey
 FERC Agrees To Delay Date On Order That Splits Klamath River Dam License
At PacifiCorp's request, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission agreed to delay the effective date on its March 15 order that split the utility's Klamath Project into two licenses, writing in its June 21 order that "PacifiCorp's arguments demonstrate that justice requires a stay."
The order is now delayed until the federal agency rules on whether to transfer one of the licenses to Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC), which was formed to decommission four of the project's eight dams and to restore the river and surrounding environment.
The commission noted that PacifiCorp, according to its motion, would be required to undertake costly compliance measures--estimated at more than $3.1 million--if the Klamath Project is split in two before the transfer takes place. Those costs include updating signage, public safety plans, emergency action plans and drawings that show the new project's numbers and boundaries. Citing PacifiCorp's request, FERC noted work would be duplicated if the license is later transferred to KRRC; or if the transfer is not approved, the work would serve no purpose and may later need to be reversed.
The decision noted PacifiCorp and KRRC filed the application to amend and concurrently transfer one of the project licenses to KRRC in accordance with the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement.
"In our March 15 order considering the application for amendment and transfer, we found that transferring a project to a newly-formed entity for the sole purpose of decommissioning and dam removal raises unique public interest concerns, specifically whether the transferee--the Renewal Corporation--will have the legal, technical, and financial capacity to safely remove project facilities and adequately protect project lands," FERC's new order states.
This is why FERC authorized only the amendment to divide PacifiCorp's license in two, but deferred a decision on whether to transfer one of the licenses until additional information is provided. The information sought by FERC is still required and necessary before it can consider acting on the transfer, FERC said. "In the meantime, PacifiCorp will continue to operate the Klamath Project and the Lower Klamath Project pursuant to annual licenses."
The decision comes on the heels of two other recent filings in the FERC case.
On June 14, the Upper Klamath Outfitters Association, which represents river rafters, asked FERC to allow it to weigh in as a late intervenor, saying it was unaware of the case and wants to ensure the river's world-class whitewater rafting is considered if the dams are removed.
And on June 19, an attorney representing Siskiyou County, Calif., filed a letter with FERC saying that removing the dams would harm the Lost River sucker and shortnose sucker, two endangered species with populations in the reservoirs above the four dams proposed for removal. Addressed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the letter says that initial impacts of removing the dams would be harmful to salmon, but acknowledges dam removal could eventually benefit salmon "provided it does not result in extinction of the runs in the near term."
However, it says, the proposal has no benefits for the two endangered species of suckers, and would eliminate the populations now living in those reservoirs, "thereby increasing the risk of extinction of both species." Suckers are a lake species and are not likely to survive in the river after it is returned to a free-flowing condition, the letter said. These subpopulations could help prevent a catastrophic loss of the overall group, it said.
The county claims the Fish and Wildlife Service has downplayed the importance of the reservoirs when designating critical habitat for Lost River and shortnose suckers in recent years. Those plans are contrary to the agency's 1993 recovery plan, which included the reservoirs as proposed critical habitat.
USFWS has initiated a five-year status review of both endangered species, as required by law. The letter asks both agencies to complete status reviews before authorizing the removal of dams. The letter also asks the agencies to require KRRC and PacifiCorp to come up with a monitoring plan for both sucker species, and criticizes an "exceedingly rare" proposal before the California Legislature that would waive protections for these suckers.
The other filing, by the Upper Klamath Outfitters Association, asks FERC to approve its request to be a late intervenor in the case. Its motion says rafting guides do not intend to seek reconsideration of any issues that have already been determined, but would like to be a recognized party when PacifiCorp and KRRC file a final plan to remove the dams.
"UKOA fully supports a healthier Klamath River system including eventual dam removal and increased flows," their motion states. However, the outfitters worry that without mitigation and proper planning, summer whitewater opportunities could be decimated--even if just for a few years--which would hurt local economies.
The upper Klamath offers Class IV-plus rapids and exciting whitewater all summer long, the outfitters say. More than 10 companies have permits to guide guests on an especially challenging stretch of river, where over 90 percent of boating is commercial due to the difficult logistics and rapids. The outfitters serve from 3,000 to 5,000 visitors annually, and collect more than $500,000 a year from trips on this section of the Klamath River, the motion says.
"With the current river flows and water allocation plans, summer whitewater rafting and commercial rafting would cease to exist on the Hells Corner run post dam removal," the filing states. Instead, "there would only be a very short and unpredictable spring season post dams," it says. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Federal Judge Finds Warm Springs Tribe Can Be Sued In Deschutes River Case
A federal judge has found the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation is a necessary party in a lawsuit alleging water quality violations have occurred below the Pelton Round Butte hydro project on the Deschutes River, and is not protected by sovereign immunity under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
The June 11 opinion and ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael Simon in Deschutes River Alliance v. Portland General Electric Company denied motions by Warm Springs and PGE to dismiss the case under the Warm Springs' tribal sovereignty argument and ordered the tribe be joined as a defendant. DRA, which initially named only PGE in the lawsuit, has since amended its complaint to include the tribe.
In the lawsuit, filed last year, the Alliance claims PGE has routinely violated the Clean Water Act by exceeding water quality standards for temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen in the Deschutes River. PGE says its operations are consistent with its water quality certification, which also balances new fish passage operations.
In his ruling, Simon found the tribe has a legally protected interest in the case as a co-licensee in the Pelton Round Butte hydro project, holding an ownership interest and serving as operator of the generation at the Reregulating Dam. He also found the tribe has unique interests in the effects on surrounding natural resources, which are reserved through treaty rights.
On the issue of tribal sovereignty, Simon quoted prior case law: "Federally recognized Indian tribes enjoy sovereign immunity from suit, and may not be sued absent an express and unequivocal waiver of immunity by the tribe or abrogation of tribal immunity by Congress." He concluded that "Congress has made a clear and unequivocal waiver of tribal sovereign immunity" for citizen lawsuits under the Clean Water Act, citing previous federal court rulings.
The judge has not yet ruled whether to dismiss the case based on jurisdictional grounds. In a separate motion for dismissal, PGE is arguing that the Alliance's complaints would be more appropriately decided by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality; by a fish committee set up under the 2005 relicensing of the Pelton Round Butte hydro project to resolve implementation issues, including water quality; or ultimately by FERC. The fish committee includes representatives of state and federal agencies and nonprofit groups, but not the Deschutes River Alliance.
In its motion for dismissal on jurisdictional grounds, PGE claims FERC is the more appropriate forum to resolve the case because the project's Clean Water Act certification is included in the FERC license, which created the committee to resolve these kinds of claims. "FERC intended the committee to have a pivotal role," the motion says, because "the project was going to be adaptively managed to balance competing environmental objectives that include water quality and fish passage."
In a May 30 response, the Alliance says these arguments are without merit, and conflict with extensive case law that finds the primary jurisdiction doctrine is not applicable to citizen suits under the CWA, which was specifically set up to allow courts to ensure direct compliance. DRA also says the clean water issues are not too complex for a judge to resolve.
"PGE has asked the court to compel DRA to relinquish its right to prosecute a CWA citizen suit to halt PGE's violations of its 401 water quality requirements, and instead to put its claims in the hands of entities without the expertise or procedural protections to ensure a proper and appropriate resolution," the group's response says. "Such a ruling would be contrary to Congress' clear intent as provided in the CWA."
Simon will hear arguments on that motion for dismissal on July 17, along with motions by both sides for summary judgment. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Pend Oreille PUD Settles Dispute Over Turbine Replacement
The Pend Oreille County PUD has resolved a legal dispute with contractor Andritz Hydro over the costs of replacing four turbine units at its Box Canyon Dam in Ione, Wash.
In the settlement--reached after failed negotiations and after the start of binding arbitration--the PUD agreed to pay $10.9 million of about $23.9 million the company claimed was owed.
In a May 29 news release, the PUD says it avoided almost $13 million in additional debt. With the settlement, the total project cost $88 million, including Andritz's initial bid of $68.9 million, approved change orders totaling $13.6 million, plus sales taxes, interest and other costs.
The work, which the PUD says was completed 588 days behind schedule, replaced the dam's four five-blade turbines with the more fish-friendly four-blade turbines, and the capacity to generate 90 MW instead of 72 MW.
April Owen, the PUD's director of finance, told NW Fishletter the turbine replacement is part of the PUD's larger plan to increase generation while improving conditions for fish as required by their 50-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license.
The PUD issued $143.8 million in revenue bonds to cover the costs of the new turbines, upgrading step-up transformers, governors, plant wiring; and adding cool water piping on its Sullivan Creek project, which was built as a fish attractant.
"After over 50 years of Box Canyon operations, the commission made the difficult but prudent decision to invest in the future and modernize the plant," PUD Board President Dan Peterson said in the news release. "It's finally done after 10-plus years thanks to the hard work and dedication of our PUD management team and staff."
Owen said the remaining requirement on its FERC license will be an upstream fish passage facility, at an estimated cost of roughly $36 million. The PUD expects to issue a bond this fall to fund that project. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Some Columbia Basin Flows Drop, Prompting Irrigation Curtailments, Drought Plans
May's rapid runoff combined with a lack of precipitation has resulted in forecasts for well-below-normal flows in some areas. Irrigators in the Yakima River basin are preparing for possible curtailment of water allocations, while the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is releasing operations and drought plans to affected irrigators in the Klamath Project area.
Jeff Nettleton, Reclamation's Klamath Basin Area office manager, said in a news release that a lack of snowpack and legal obligations to mitigate for coho salmon will require water conservation and careful management of irrigation this year.
"On May 1, everybody's forecasts were very, very optimistic, especially for the mainstem Columbia," said Scott Pattee, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. "Then we had a rapid runoff, so everybody kind of backed off their forecast, but it still wasn't outside the normal range of 80 to 100 percent" of normal, he said.
Pattee noted that rivers with dams were able to hold back some of the water. "But even then, in the Yakima, on June 1, they thought they were going to have plenty of water; and then we had a dry and warm June, so they had to start drafting off their reservoir. That's what put them into curtailment," Pattee said.
The significance of May's hot weather is seen in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's spill report to U.S. District Court, noting that May's runoff on the Columbia River at The Dalles Dam was 176 percent of the 30-year average, at a volume of 44.6 million acre-feet. On the Snake River at Lower Granite Dam, it was 149 percent of the 30-year average, at 10.3 million acre-feet.
On June 27, NOAA's Northwest River Forecast Center's 120-day forecast showed a wide range of predicted flows on the Columbia and Snake rivers and their tributaries. The Clearwater River at Spalding is predicted to flow at 157 percent of the 30-year average, while the Walla Walla River near Touchet had forecasted flows of just 28 percent of normal. Many other flow forecasts, however, are still relatively close to normal, including the Columbia River at Grand Coulee Dam, which is forecast to flow at 87 percent of normal, and at Bonneville Dam at 93 percent of normal; while the Snake River from Lower Granite to Lower Monumental dams is predicted to have flows at 105 percent of normal.
In early June, the Forecast Center predicted that river flows would be below average in June and July, because so much of the mountain snow melted off in May. "We had a really warm and a really dry May," Ryan Lucas, a hydrologist for the center said in a June 7 webinar. His maps showed that almost the entire basin recorded average temperatures between May 1 and May 31 that were at least 3 degrees above normal, and often more than 6 degrees above normal.
This means many locations that still held well above average snowpack on May 2 were reduced to close to average snow on June 1. Sites above the Flathead River in Montana dropped from 161 percent of normal on May 2 to 115 percent of normal on June 1, Lucas noted. The Snake River above Palisades dropped from 125 percent to 102 percent of normal during the same timeframe.
At a Technical Management Team meeting on June 5, the Bureau of Reclamation's Joel Fenolio reported that Hungry Horse Dam saw its highest inflow volume by about 200,000 acre feet in May, beating the last record set in 1928.
But flows may still return to normal in August and September because aquifers have been fully recharged, and because the snowpack that started out significantly above normal in some areas.
In addition, total water supply for this water year--from April through September--is still predicted to be above normal in most parts of the basin, with more than twice as much water coming down the Clark Fork River above Missoula, with forecasts at 218 percent of normal. -K.C. Mehaffey
 NOAA Goes To Ecosystem Management, Seeks Public Input
NOAA Fisheries is proposing to take a more holistic view of managing fishing, and is seeking public comment on its West Coast Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management draft plan. The draft plan is part of a nationwide effort to shift from managing single species of fish to considering ecosystem needs, with separate draft plans for each region.
The Pacific Northwest is part of the California Current Ecosystem--a current upwelling that goes from Mexico's Baja Peninsula to Vancouver Island. The plans are designed to complement the work of regional fishery management councils.
Toby Garfield, head of the environmental research division at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center, said scientists have long been interested in moving to ecosystem-based fishing rules, and more recent data collection tools have made the change possible. He said it's likely the change to an ecosystem-based fishery will take a long time, starting with changes in the way stock assessments are done. Scientists can then look at life histories, predator-prey relationships and variables in the environment to build models that provide more information in stock assessments.
The draft plans identify priority actions and milestones for the next five years, 2018-2022. The West Coast draft plan notes, "EBFM requires thinking about resources, policies, and management in a different way than we have in the past, and combining that new way of thinking with a better understanding of ecosystem conditions and processes." It gives an example of the algae blooms resulting from warm ocean temperatures in 2014-2016, followed by a delay in the Dungeness crab fishery and unusual feeding locations for humpback whales. "Ultimately, the effects of the marine heat wave included an unusual spike in whale entanglements with crab gear. Piecing these clues together to better understand how we can reduce human interactions with whales took ecosystem-level thinking."
The EBFM has six guiding policies, each with action plans. The policies are: implement ecosystem-level planning; advance understanding of ecosystem processes; prioritize vulnerabilities and risks of ecosystems and their components; explore and address trade-offs within an ecosystem; incorporate ecosystem considerations into management advice; and maintain resilient ecosystems.
The draft plans are available for public comment, which can be sent to email@example.com through Sept. 30. Comments will be considered before implementation plans are finalized. -K.C. Mehaffey
THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.
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