Nonprofit Group Takes Major Step Toward Klamath Dam Removal
A "Definite Plan" to tear down four dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon estimates the planning, removal and restoration costs will total $397.7 million, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation reported to the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) in a June 29 filing.
The "most probable" cost estimate is well within the $450 million already being generated from PacifiCorp customer surcharges and a California bond.
KRRC Executive Director Mark Bransom told NW Fishletter that removing the four Klamath River dams would be the largest and most expensive dam removal project in U.S. history. That's based on the number of dams to be removed (four), their combined height of 400 feet and the 76 miles of river and tributary habitat that would become accessible to fish also make this the nation's largest dam-removal project.
Filing the 2,300-page Definite Plan with FERC is a major step forward in the nonprofit group's ongoing efforts to remove the dams, as agreed to in the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. It keeps the project on track to begin site preparations in 2020, and actual removal work in 2021, if state and federal regulatory approvals are granted.
According to the plan's description, "The project involves the physical removal of each of the four dam developments (Iron Gate, Copco No. 1 and No. 2, and J.C. Boyle) to achieve at minimum a free-flowing condition and volitional fish passage, site remediation and restoration, including previously inundated lands, measures to avoid or minimize adverse downstream impacts, and all associated permitting for such actions."
Now that the Definite Plan is filed, FERC and an independent Board of Consultants--chosen by KRRC and approved by FERC--will review it and may offer suggestions or questions that could modify the plan, Bransom said. "We view this as a significant milestone, but we don't think this is the last word with regard to our proposal," he said. Details in the plan itself and the cost estimate will likely be refined after the federal agency and the consultants review it, he said.
The plan includes deconstruction and restoration blueprints and costs for both the preferred alternative for a full removal, which would tear out all structures associated with the four dams, and a partial removal that would remove all structures in the river and return it to a free-flowing state, but defer the removal of some structures that are not in the river such as powerhouses, foundations, tunnels and pipes.
The $397.7 million cost estimate for full removal includes $68 million in contingency funds--or 30 percent of the construction total--to account for uncertainties in design and construction. It also includes a "most probable high" estimate of $507.1 million, including $129.7 million in contingency funds. Bransom said the high estimate is calculated by identifying possible problems or changes that could arise and assigning them a likelihood of occurrence and associated cost. In the high estimate, 90 percent of those risks would occur, compared with the most likely estimate, in which 40 percent of them occur.
Costs estimates were also calculated for partial removal, at $352.2 million, with a most probable high estimate of $467.8 million.
In addition to the detailed plan, KRRC also filed a letter with answers to questions that FERC posed in a previous order to determine whether KRRC has the technical, legal and financial capabilities to take over the license for the lower Klamath River dams.
In answering the commission's question about how KRRC would obtain funds to operate the project if surrender is not approved before funding is in place, KRRC noted that PacifiCorp has a contractual agreement requiring it to pay all costs of operating and maintaining the facilities from the time the license is transferred until decommissioning.
KRRC also explained how it would respond if costs exceed funds from surcharges and the bond. Bransom noted those options include turning to partial removal instead of full removal. "We could save a significant amount by deferring removal of the out-of-water structures," he said, adding, "Either of the two would result in removal of all four dams and in water structures, so fish would be able to move up and down the river."
He said other options include raising additional funds; bringing the two states, PacifiCorp and KRRC together to discuss a solution; and terminating the project, "But that's not on anyone's mind. We have a high level of confidence that we have sufficient funds," he said.
Bransom said with the filing, FERC should have most if not all of the information it needs to make a determination on KRRC and PacifiCorp's joint application to transfer the license for the four dams to KRRC. Once a transfer is granted, KRRC would seek to surrender that license through FERC before decommissioning and removal can begin.
The settlement agreement calling for removing the four dams came about after PacifiCorp initially tried to relicense its eight dams in the Klamath Project with FERC before it expired in 2006, but found that the lower dams would operate at a loss with the new requirements set by FERC. The four dams have a total combined capacity of 163 MW, and average generation of 686 MWh annually.
PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said the company has supported the settlement agreement from the start, as long as it includes four things for PacifiCorp: a cost cap, liability protection from the removal phase, a third party to remove the dams, and the ability to generate power and operate the dams until the license is surrendered and decommissioning begins.
He said the loss of generation will not be an issue for the investor-owned utility. "It's kind of like having 70 hoses filling a bathtub. If you take one hose out, it's not like you're going to have trouble filling the bathtub," he said. "We're constantly adjusting to match our demand with our generation." -K.C. Mehaffey
 Conflicting Columbia River Uses May Need Balancing In New Treaty, Negotiators Say
The Columbia River Treaty's lead negotiators listened to varied and sometimes opposing views from both Canadians and Americans with a stake in a new treaty, during the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region's annual summit in Spokane on July 25.
Jill Smail, the treaty's lead negotiator for the U.S. Department of State, and Sylvain Fabi, lead negotiator for Global Affairs Canada, heard from nearly three dozen stakeholders, tribal leaders and legislative representatives from Canada and the states of Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon during the summit's Columbia River Treaty roundtable listening session.
Among the concerns expressed were the uncompensated sacrifices of Lincoln County, Mont., from Libby Dam; the ongoing impacts of three dams in Canada that claimed prime forests and farmland and isolated communities; the need to recognize fish and the environment for future generations; the need to recalculate the hydropower compensation to Canada paid by American electric customers; and the importance of the river to agriculture and transportation.
In remarks before the roundtable, Smail and Fabi offered positive comments and confidence in their work to date toward a fair and modernized treaty benefiting both countries. The two complimented each other frequently, smiled and nodded at one another's remarks, and Fabi even commented on the similarity of their prepared statements. "It doesn't mean we are agreeing on everything," he said. "But it does mean we are on solid footing."
Smail called Canada "our best ally," and said members of both teams have been building a common understanding by taking joint tours of several Columbia River Basin dams, including Libby, The Dalles and Grand Coulee dams in the U.S., and Hugh Keenleyside and Mica dams in Canada.
She talked about seeking to ensure benefits are shared equitably, and said that the fact the Northwest has become much more energy-efficient and has experienced much lower load growth than expected must be taken into consideration in a new treaty.
Smail reiterated her commitment to using the Regional Recommendations as a guide. She also said both governments need to determine together how to seek opportunities to better address ecosystem functions in a way that "appropriately balances" with the treaty's other main objectives--flood control and hydropower.
Fabi also discussed the need to balance the goal of ecosystem functions in a new treaty. "These are complex issues with many interests at stake, as we will hear this morning, and some of these also contradict each other. It doesn't mean one's right," he said. In a new treaty, he said, Canada hopes to modernize the treaty based on the original goals of creating and equitably sharing benefits; to avoid negative impacts on the environment and communities, and to seek opportunities to focus on ecosystem functions; and to provide flexibility in the treaty through adaptive management.
"Both countries have also agreed to study the feasibility of salmon reintroduction in the upper Columbia River," he said.
As Fabi predicted, some statements from around the table came from vastly different perspectives. Andrew Munro, senior manager at Grant County PUD and a member of the Columbia River Treaty Power Group, said the rebalancing of equitable power benefit should be a top priority of a new treaty.
Compensation to Canada, which currently costs U.S. ratepayers about $150 million a year in exchange for storing water, is between 70 and 90 percent more than the downstream benefits that are generated. The payment is for about 3 billion kWh a year, he said.
In addition, he said, the U.S. government--and not electric customers--should compensate Canada for flood control, just as it pays for flood control in other parts of the country.
Some Canadian stakeholders, however, suggested the compensation isn't enough. Kathy Eichenberger, executive director for the Columbia River Treaty at the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, told the negotiators they need to look back at treaty harms done to communities--where some 2,300 people were displaced; to indigenous people, who were not consulted; and to the environment, and seek to redress some of those harms.
Deb Kozak, mayor of Nelson, B.C., said 12 communities and many of the roads leading to them were flooded when the reservoirs were filled, covering 15.5 million acres, isolating communities and destroying forests and farms.
"These are industrial reservoirs, they are not lakes," she said. "They were advertised to be lakes with great recreational benefits," she said.
But a tourist economy cannot be developed when water levels fluctuate as much as a 15-story building, and drawdowns leave behind miles of dust flats detrimental to human health and a healthy ecosystem. "We're saying, 'Enough is enough.' Now that we know more, we can do better," Kozak said.
Katrine Conroy, B.C. Minister Responsible for the Columbia River Treaty, added that a lot of anger and distrust remains, even after 50 years. "I think it's important to say, as we enter into this treaty, we have to make sure we come out with benefits that are equitable to nations on both sides of the border," she said. "And the bottom line--we have to think about the future, our kids and grandkids."
Meanwhile, commissioners from Lincoln County, Mont., said they'd like some of the compensation Canada now receives to help pay for what it lost, and continues to lose, from the construction of Libby Dam.
The dam holds back 20 percent of the water held for flood control and hydropower through the treaty. Commissioner Mike Cole said both of his grandparents' homes were lost to Lake Koocanusa behind the dam, and the county's economic base in ranching, mining and logging disappeared. Once one of the wealthiest counties in Montana, it's now "close to dead last," he said.
While several people spoke of inserting ecosystem function as a third priority of the treaty, Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman JoDe Goudy offered one of the most impassioned pleas. Dressed in full regalia, he stood and asked, "I have to ask everyone in this room, What do you value? What do you truly value?"
He said the Canadian Entitlement to compensation has been shared by those who have reaped the benefits to "turn on light switches and build in floodplains." At the same time, temperatures in the river have risen beyond the salmon survival rate. Goudy also told the negotiators that, by law, his nation should have a seat at the table.
Others spoke of their reliance on the river, as it operates today.
Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, said farmers rely heavily on barges to get their products to market, including 60 percent of Washington's wheat, which is barged down the river--a reliable and environmentally responsible form of transportation.
Tom Myrum, executive director of the Washington State Water Resources Association, said irrigators rely on water from the Columbia River to water all kinds of crops. Any changes in the storage system that lowers reservoirs below their intakes would have a major impact on farmers. "We don't mind the status quo," he told the negotiators.
The many people concerned about the Columbia River Treaty didn't surprise Tom Karier, a member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, who represented Washington state when many interests were brought together to come up with a Regional Recommendation on the treaty.
Karier said whether they rely on hydropower from the Columbia River, eat food from crops irrigated by it, or benefit from the economy generated by the system, "Every single one of our seven million residents are affected," he said.
Karier said the Regional Recommendation offers a broad outlook, and he told negotiators that each one of them should be addressed. He said he thinks renegotiations provide an opportunity to improve upon the current treaty. He mused that the experience could be similar to his recent decision to replace his old, well-loved car with a new one. "It's safer, cheaper and better for the environment. I think we need to do that with the treaty."
Many participants spent the afternoon touring Grand Coulee Dam, the largest hydropower producer in the United States, with a total generating capacity of 6,809 MW.
Participants were also invited to continue the tour in British Columbia on July 26 and 27, visiting several significant spots on the Columbia River in Canada, including Castlegar, Hugh Keenleyside Dam and Nakusp.
A town hall led by Smail will be held in Portland on Sept. 6 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the BPA Rates Hearing Room, and is open to the public. The public is invited to submit questions in advance to ColumbiaRiverTreaty@state.gov. More information about the town hall meeting, including call-in details, is available through the Federal Register notice.
The Portland event will take place soon after a second negotiation session scheduled for Aug. 15-16 in British Columbia, and in advance of the scheduled third round of negotiations Oct. 17-18 in Portland. Negotiations began May 29-30 this year with an initial meeting in Washington, D.C. Leading up to this, Smail led a town hall in Spokane on April 25 and spoke at the Lake Roosevelt Forum conference. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Columbia River Chinook Rate High On List Of Stocks Needed For Orca Recovery
With their sights set on saving the dwindling population of southern resident killer whales, NOAA Fisheries scientists have rated 31 populations of Chinook salmon based on how useful they may be to recovery of the orcas, which rely on the fish for food.
And while fall Chinook from both northern and southern Puget Sound come out on top, Chinook from the Columbia and Snake rivers make an impressive showing on the list, which was developed to help managers prioritize salmon-recovery efforts.
Of the top 10 populations, five are from the Columbia and Snake, and all seven Columbia and Snake stocks are on the list's top 15.
A higher-priority rating will mean extra effort--and potentially additional funding--will go toward recovering those stocks through projects like habitat protection and hatchery production, said Lynn Barre, NOAA's recovery coordinator for southern resident orcas and a member of Gov. Jay Inslee's task force formed in March to help recover this population of whales.
While killer whales are doing well worldwide, a Puget Sound population known as south resident killer whales is struggling. They were ESA-listed as endangered in 2005, but the population has continued to decline and is now believed to include just 76 individuals. Barre said NOAA Fisheries now considers the southern resident population as one of the eight most at-risk marine species nationwide for becoming extinct.
Scientists have identified three major threats to the orca's recovery--a lack of its preferred prey--Chinook salmon; noise and overcrowding from boat traffic; and water pollution that causes contaminants to build up in their blubber, resulting in immune system and reproduction problems.
The task force is working on all three problems, and expects to complete a list of comprehensive recommendations by October.
Barre said NOAA Fisheries has been studying the population's diet for several years in an effort to better understand what they eat, and when. The priority list offers new information on which Chinook salmon runs the orcas depend on most.
Developed by NOAA scientists, the prioritization model is based on three factors.
One factor is the orca's observed diet, gathered every summer since 2004 by following the orcas and collecting tissues and scales from its prey, and fecal samples left in the water, which are genetically identified to determine the specific Chinook stock.
Another factor is the proportion of each specific Chinook stock the whales are eating during their more vulnerable months in fall, winter and spring.
And finally, consideration is given to overlap between the whales and each Chinook stock, both in location and duration.
Mike Ford, head of the conservation biology division at NOAA Fisheries' Northwest Fisheries Science Center, said that while southern resident killer whales prefer Chinook, they eat other salmon and fish species, including coho, chum, steelhead, halibut and lingcod. The population makes its home in Puget Sound for some of the year, and then migrates along the West Coast from Northern California to southeast Alaska.
Most of NOAA's data on the population's diet has been gathered in the summer months. Ford said once the orcas head to Washington's outer coast after spending the summer in Puget Sound, there's less data to indicate what they're eating. However, he noted, existing data suggests it includes a significant amount of Columbia River Chinook--largely from the lower Columbia River, but also some from the upper Columbia and Snake rivers, along with Chinook from rivers on the Olympic Peninsula and from the Sacramento River. Scientists don't know, he said, how important extirpated stocks--like the Chinook runs that no longer exist above Hells Canyon or Grand Coulee dams--once were in the orca's diet.
Ford noted that while several Chinook runs in the Columbia River Basin are threatened, based on total returns of Chinook to the Columbia River in the last decade or so, "it has not really been bad, and the whale's behavior may be reflecting that. They seem to be spending more time out in the coastal area, and a little less time in the Salish Sea."
He said the priority list is weighted more heavily toward whether the Chinook population is in the right place at the right time to serve as prey for these orcas. "If it's present in their diet, there's an extra bonus if they have a large time-space overlap with the whales," he said, adding there's still much to be learned, and the priority list will be updated as new information becomes available.
In the meantime, agencies and organizations can look to the list to help prioritize salmon-recovery projects, or to develop new ones, Barre said.
In addition to providing the list to Inslee's task force, it has also been shared with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and will be made available to other salmon recovery partners.
Under the governor's proclamation, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was also asked to identify the highest-priority areas and watersheds for orca prey "in order to focus or adjust, as needed, restoration, protection, incentives, hatcheries, harvest levels, and passage policies and programs."
Initially, Barre said, NOAA Fisheries hopes the list will be used to prioritize habitat-recovery projects, and to guide decisions about hatchery production, although many more factors will be considered when prioritizing actions besides how much it can help the orca's recovery.
These added benefits to killer whales may help some Chinook recovery projects get past hurdles they are facing, whether in funding, permitting or other obstacles. Projects to improve runs of higher-priority salmon also have new funding potential, through the task force or other organizations, she said.
Barre said it may seem challenging to try to save an endangered species by boosting populations of its prey, many of which are also listed as threatened, but taking steps to help one may do a lot to help the other. "We're trying to look at things in more of that ecosystem scale, and not just the relationship between killer whales and Chinook salmon," she said, adding, "It's all interconnected." -K.C. Mehaffey
 Renewal Of Fish Accords Under Consideration, BPA Tells Council Committee
The Bonneville Power Administration is considering a four-year extension of the Columbia River Fish Accords, and--if it goes forward with a renewal--the agency expects to have a proposal out for public review by August, Bryan Mercier, executive manager of BPA's Fish and Wildlife Division, told a Northwest Power and Conservation Council committee on July 10.
Mercier said Bonneville is trying to negotiate a package with states and tribes to extend the agreement through 2022, the year federal agencies expect to have completed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and issued a decision on the Federal Columbia River Power System.
He told the Council's Fish and Wildlife Committee that BPA's consideration of new accords will be fully transparent, with ample opportunity for input. Once a new agreement is proposed and opened to public comment, BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer will "take a hard look at the comments and then make a decision." If he approves, Mercier said, he would likely sign the new accords before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
The few details about a possible renewal of the accords came out when committee members questioned Mercier during a discussion about BPA's budget cuts to the Fish and Wildlife Program. So far, BPA has been largely silent about whether it intends to continue funding the accords, given its efforts to cut costs in fish and wildlife and other BPA departments in order to stay competitive in a changing energy market. The agency told NW Fishletter in a recent email that there would be no information to share about the accords until the end of July.
Originally signed in May 2008, the 10-year agreement involving the federal action agencies, three of four Northwest states and several of the region's tribes has provided nearly $1 billion to supplement biological opinions and the Fish and Wildlife Program to help salmon and steelhead by providing firm commitments to improving hydro projects, habitat and hatcheries.
It was designed to avoid litigation and use funds that might be spent in court on these improvements, although the State of Oregon and some tribes did not sign the accords and litigation has continued.
Council members Bill Booth of Idaho and Ted Ferrioli of Oregon raised the question of the accord renewal while Mercier updated the committee about BPA's progress with its Fish and Wildlife Program funding cuts.
Booth wanted to know how the Council should deal with uncertainty of funding as they consider projects, such as a master plan for Pacific lamprey that had just been presented to the committee for approval. He asked Mercier when BPA might make a decision about extending the accords. "You're putting us in a little bit of a bind," he said. "I urge you to make it a priority to get those accord deals wrapped up."
Ferrioli said he doesn't think there has been enough transparency in the process. "I don't understand why there isn't coordination between Bonneville and the Council on the accords."
Mercier replied that "many of the Council states are accord partners as well," although he noted one is in litigation, which "created a bit of an odd forum." He said despite the uncertainties, the Council can still work to prioritize programs and offer policy on what should be funded first. He said he hopes to provide the committee with more information at the Council's August meeting.
Few details have emerged publicly about a new agreement, although Mainzer called it "a very, very big issue for us" during the agency's May 1 quarterly review session.
He pointed to successes over the last 10 years, which include restoring more than 8,000 acres of estuary floodplain and reopening nearly 4,000 miles of spawning grounds throughout the Columbia and Snake river basins.
Mainzer said that while the accords provide continuity and stability as agencies work to develop Biological Opinions and an EIS, a new agreement "could take away flexibility to quickly adjust programs and reduce costs in order to meet changing market, legal and compliance requirements that may recur over the coming years. So this is going to have to be a very thoughtful decision in terms of how we accomplish these competing objectives."
He also noted that the agreement expires in September. "Given that expiration date Bonneville is carefully considering the potential benefits, costs, risks, duration, spending allocation process and approach to customer engagement associated with extending the Fish Accords," he said. "The accords have certainly done much to strengthen tribal and state partnerships in the fish and wildlife realm. But we must also work within the financial constraints facing Bonneville and insure we're making investments that support the proposed actions in the next biological opinion."
The Fish and Wildlife Committee also learned about seven potential Fish and Wildlife Program reductions now under discussion. Mercier said he's had close to a dozen sit-down consultations with those receiving funds, and most funding recipients have taken a collaborative approach to finding ways to support BPA's effort to reduce costs of projects without adversely impacting fish. He said his conversations with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho were an example of how BPA hopes to work with partners to make budget adjustments. "They really met us part way, and we put together a work plan for the next four years" that reduces BPA's contribution with little to no anticipated negative impacts to fish projects," he said.
Other cutbacks reported to the committee were:
Tony Grover, director of the Council's fish and wildlife division, said he was impressed by Mercier's approach to the meetings with funding recipients, coming with ample information about the proposed cuts and staff who could immediately answer questions, which facilitated the atmosphere of cooperation. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Dam Operations Adjusted To Help Struggling Snake River Sockeye
With an eye on returning Snake River sockeye, fish managers and dam operators agreed July 18 to adjust operations at two dams, hoping to aid the fish in their long journey back to Redfish Lake.
The Technical Management Team (TMT) reached consensus to keep more of the cold North Fork Clearwater River water flowing through Dworshak Dam, to continue cooling the lower Snake River, where adult sockeye are working their way upstream.
And--although it's a long shot--team members also agreed to shut off the surface weir at Lower Monumental Dam on July 19 and 20, in case some sockeye are hanging back in the pool below. If they are, the changed hydraulics may convince them to continue to battle their way upstream.
Sockeye--which dropped to dangerously low numbers in the 1980s and 1990s--have been making a comeback in Idaho, thanks to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's captive broodstock program, which developed into a hatchery program. Adult returns crossing Lower Granite Dam that once measured in the dozens in good years have since increased to several hundred returning adults since 2008, with numbers as high as 2,786 in 2014.
But recovery efforts have suffered setbacks in recent years. After the agency started using a converted trout hatchery near Springfield in 2013 to raise sockeye, biologists discovered smolt survival had plummeted compared to previous releases. And in 2015, 99 percent of the returning adults that crossed Bonneville Dam died before reaching their spawning grounds due to high water temperatures in both the Snake and Columbia rivers.
Russ Kiefer, an IDFG fish biologist and a member of the TMT, NW Fishletter that 2015 was a setback in the agency's long-term goal of getting more of the sockeye population to complete their life cycle in the wild. But because of the captive broodstock program, it didn't significantly affect their ability to continue the hatchery program, which has been vital to retaining a genetically diverse population, and pulling the Redfish Lake sockeye back from the brink of extinction.
He said the larger concern has been death rates of Springfield Hatchery smolts--more than 70 percent were dying by the time they reached Lower Granite Dam, and more than 90 percent by Bonneville Dam. But last month, IDFG confirmed its theory that sockeye smolts could not handle the shock of the change from hard water conditions in the hatchery to the soft water chemistry in Redfish Lake Creek, where they were released. "Sockeye are notoriously sensitive to stress, and apparently messing up their water chemistry during smolting was not a good thing for them," Kiefer said.
This year, IDFG tested the theory by releasing smolts in four different groups: a small group of smolts that were raised at the Springfield Hatchery and released into the stream as in previous years, and three more that were allowed to acclimate in different ways before being released. According to the agency's report to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the most promising option--which produced a 75 percent survival rate at Lower Granite Dam--may be to release the smolts into Redfish Lake Creek after acclimating them at the Sawtooth Hatchery, where the water is harder than in the creek, but softer than at the hatchery. Regardless of which option they use next year, "It was clear water chemistry was the issue," Kiefer said.
The problem with smolts has taken its toll on the recovery program. Last year, according to the Fish Passage Center, only 228 adults made it back to Lower Granite Dam; so far this year, 178 sockeye have done the same. The run generally peaks in late June and early July, and is over by August. With depressed returns expected again this year, IDFG and other fish managers are looking to help those that are still returning to the Snake River make their way back to Redfish Lake. At more than 900 miles and an elevation gain of 6,500 feet, it's the longest journey of any of Idaho's salmon runs.
Beginning July 9, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers increased the flow at Dworshak Dam to 12.9 kcfs, to add more of the North Fork Clearwater's 44-degree water into the rapidly warming Snake River.
On July 18, Steve Hall, the Corps' Walla Walla District reservoir manager, told TMT members that except for a few hours on July 17, the temperature in Lower Granite Dam's tailwater has remained below 68 degrees, which is when sockeye begin to experience stress.
He said that with cooling outside temperatures and a conservative estimate for how much warm water would be coming out of Hells Canyon Dam, modeling showed they could reduce those cold water flows through Dworshak Dam to 9 kcfs and still keep tailwater temperatures at about 67 degrees. Releasing less water means they can conserve the cooler water for later in the summer, he noted.
But after discussion, the team opted for keeping flows at Dworshak higher, at 10.5 kcfs. Kiefer said that while temperatures at Lower Granite Dam are the focus, adding more cool water will help cool temperatures throughout the lower Snake River. "I just want to be cautious and protective, since it's a critical time for the sockeye run," he told the team, and others agreed.
There was far less certainty in the team's second action to protect this year's adult sockeye--adjusting the flows at Lower Monumental Dam for 10 hours each day on July 19 and 20. While total flows will be maintained at 17 kcfs, dam operators will take the removable surface weir out of service and use a uniform spill pattern, just in case the current spill pattern was impacting returning sockeye's willingness to use fish ladders.
The suggestion arose because counts recorded by the Fish Passage Center through July 17 showed that 600 sockeye had crossed Ice Harbor Dam, but only 250 were counted at Lower Monumental, the next dam upstream. The team discussed the issue at length before agreeing to make the changes, although many members voted simply not to object.
In an interview, Kiefer said he thinks it's unlikely that a difference in spillway flows at Lower Monumental is causing a problem with conversion rates--how many of the sockeye that made it past Ice Harbor have continued past Lower Monumental.
However, because of the water chemistry issues and the loss of so many smolts, they don't have the PIT tag data to help explain why fish counters saw so many sockeye at Ice Harbor and not at Lower Monumental. In addition, counters at Ice Harbor don't check to see if fins on sockeye have been clipped, so it's impossible to know if they're mostly Snake River sockeye--which are mostly clipped, or Columbia River sockeye--which are mostly not clipped.
Kiefer said he and an IDFG sockeye researcher both calculated rough estimates of Snake River sockeye at Bonneville Dam at between 265 and 282 fish. "It just gives us an idea--a really ballpark estimate," he said. But it's another indication that the 350 sockeye lost somewhere between Ice Harbor and Lower Monumental dams may not be Snake River fish.
With a total run of almost 200,000 sockeye at Bonneville Dam so far this year, the vast majority are headed up the Columbia River. "We're thinking that likely what is going on is that a very small percentage of the much larger returns to the Mid-C are poking into the Snake a little and going over Ice Harbor, realizing they made a wrong turn and heading back down," Kiefer said.
So far, Kiefer said, all other indications--including the few Snake River sockeye that were PIT tagged--point toward a likelihood that the 350 extra fish are not Snake River sockeye. He said the lower numbers counted at other dams are also on track with preseason estimates, he said.
"The only warning light blinking is the count differential between Ice and LoMo," he said. But, he added, he supported changing the hydraulics in case he's wrong. "We would sure not like to miss them if we're wrong in our calculations, and they are Snake River fish," he said.
The Technical Management Team planned to revisit the decision after looking at sockeye counts at the two dams on July 20. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Two Years Later, Montana Hopeful About Overcoming Invasive Mussels
Less than two years after Montana officials detected invasive mussel larvae in water samples at two reservoirs, there's reason for optimism, according to Kate Wilson, invasive species outreach specialist for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
Wilson told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council on July 11 that since the detections, no adults have been found after intensive inspections at both water bodies. She said if sampling and inspections at both reservoirs continue to be mussel free, Canyon Ferry Reservoir will be delisted in 2019 and Tiber Reservoir in 2021.
"This is a pretty positive situation--the population may have failed," she told the Council. She said it's also possible that the 2016 water samples could have produced a "false positive," which would mean the mussel larvae never really were present.
Wilson updated the Council on Montana's efforts to prevent the mussels from taking hold in these reservoirs, and from spreading to other lakes or rivers--especially the Columbia River Basin, the last major waterway in the continental United States that has not been infested with invasive zebra or quagga mussels.
She also reported on the state's stepped-up efforts to inspect all watercraft and educate the public, and its concerns about upcoming challenges to fund the program.
The small mussels spread to new water bodies by attaching themselves to watercraft, where they can live for up to a month after they're taken out of the water. When the boat sets in at a new location, the mussels can quickly multiply, and soon cover underwater surfaces such as hydroelectric dams, fish passage facilities and irrigation equipment.
In 2014, Congress gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the authority to provide matching funds to the four Northwest states to establish and operate inspection and decontamination stations. This year, Congress appropriated $5 million for the program, and pending legislation would increase that to $6 million in fiscal year 2019.
Wilson said the funding has helped boost Montana's invasive species spending to nearly $6.3 million a year, the largest of all Western states, followed by California, at $5.98 million, and Idaho, at $5.4 million. Washington, which spends $1.2 million on invasive species, and Oregon, which spends $810,000, are lower on the list. Wilson noted the requirement of a 50 percent match has prevented some states from taking full advantage of the funds.
The funds have allowed Montana to position 40 inspection stations around the state, up from 19 stations two years ago. Many are operated in partnership with other agencies, Wilson said. All watercraft--from commercial vessels to paddleboards and canoes--are required to stop for a thorough inspection. She said the state is now enforcing this requirement, and $85 fines are being issued to those who don't stop.
Inspections also happen at boat launches at the two reservoirs to prevent mussels from spreading. She said the state's attempt at Tiber Reservoir to close access points where there are no inspections was met with stiff opposition by boaters. Instead, those boat ramps are being gated and locked, but access codes will be given to boaters who complete a Tiber Certified Boater application.
Wilson said inspections produce results. Compared with 2016, Montana increased its inspections from 37,530 to 86,000 vessels in 2017. Seventeen detections were discovered, compared with seven in 2016. The inspections also produced 80 citations and 300 warnings.
But, Wilson noted, the funding may not be secure. She said federal legislation proposes to add five more states in the Missouri River basin to the four Northwest states now eligible for matching grants, which would increase competition for the funding. She said Montana may put some of its own funds into a state trust to help sustain the program into the future.
Montana's Environmental Quality Council is also drafting a bill that would pull funds from several sources in order to ensure continued funding for invasive mussels control. Those sources would include different fees from anglers; commercial, motorized, non-motorized and nonresident watercraft; along with funds from the state's general fund and, for the first time, redirecting a portion of the state's gas tax to account for fuel purchased for use in boats.
The ramped-up inspections are just one part of the effort. Wilson also talked about efforts to be prepared to respond to a new detection anywhere in the Columbia River Basin. Last year, in reaction to the first mussel detections in the state, the Montana Legislature established the Upper Columbia Conservation Commission to enhance early detection and rapid response. This year, an emergency response exercise will be held at Flathead Lake, which will require a coordinated response from multiple agencies.
Wilson said efforts are underway to develop maps that can be used by incident commanders showing the access points, infrastructure, booming opportunities and local contact information. She said Burlington Northern has developed similar maps for emergency response and is sharing that information.
Wilson said new concerns have also been raised about the potential for mussels to spread by equipment used to fight wildfires. Coordination with the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies is underway to identify possible issues and develop a mandatory protocol for helicopter bucket drops, foot valves, draft hoses or seaplanes, she said.
Despite the continued risk, "Regionally, we've made so much progress in the last five to 10 years," she said.
Council members commended her presentation, and Montana's effort, and posed a few questions.
Tom Karier of Washington noted that research has shown that mussels do much better under conditions with specific calcium levels, and some areas in the Pacific Northwest are within that range while others are not. Wilson confirmed that the two Montana reservoirs do fall within the range of optimal calcium levels to support a mussel population.
Guy Norman--also of Washington--and Bill Booth of Idaho both asked about treatment options if mussels are detected in a new location. Wilson said two substances are potential solutions--potash and a formula that contains copper. She said some products may already be registered for use, but the issue in a water body with an Endangered Species Act-listed species will be getting a permit to apply it, which has to be specific to each site. -K.C. Mehaffey
 NOAA Fisheries Turns To Newer Modeling To Assess Harvest Impacts On Chinook Abundance
When it comes to studying salmon and making predictions about their future, there's much room for error.
First, a multitude of variables change from year to year: fluctuating river temperatures, changing ocean conditions, toxins, predators and dam operations, plus impacts from an early or late, a high or low, or a fast or slow runoff. Then there's the human variable--whether biologists are looking in the right places, or at the right time, or during the right conditions to accurately assess population numbers.
A newly released technical memorandum from NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center uses a different kind of modeling to assess the impact of harvest rates on future abundance of 29 spring/summer Chinook salmon populations in the Columbia and Snake rivers, and on the likelihood numbers would drop so low they may be unable to recover--called quasi-extinction.
The lead author, Eric Buhle, said this study attempts to bring cutting-edge population modeling to salmon in the Columbia River Basin, which has lagged behind in the scientific world of life-cycle models. An ecologist, consultant for Biomark Applied Biological Services and affiliate with NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Buhle said this is his first formal effort to apply a more accurate form of modeling he's been working on for years. He said the integrated population model approach avoids some flaws in traditional modeling that have been identified in scientific literature for decades. And, while this study looks at the impact of harvest rates on future abundance, the same methods can be used in other life-cycle population assessments in the Columbia River Basin, Buhle said.
Modeling challenges are well known and regularly pointed out. For example, last fall, the Independent Scientific Advisory Board noted the problems of modeling in its review of NOAA Fisheries' ongoing effort to use life-cycle modeling in its adaptive management strategy for Columbia basin salmon and steelhead studies. "Life-cycle modeling remains a significant challenge because of the complexity of the wide-ranging life histories of these fish and the many locations where fish are affected by human activities and the changing environment," ISAB wrote, adding, "Models are always a tradeoff between realism and simplicity."
NOAA's new technical memo notes in its introduction that limited data, errors in population surveys or imprecise age estimates in a population can bias a study's outcome. "In turn, any management decisions based on such models could be misguided, potentially hindering recovery of the population. Therefore, proper consideration of all sources of uncertainty in the data is necessary to design robust conservation strategies," it states.
The outcome of the study itself--which allows fish managers to plug in a harvest rate and check the forecast spring or summer Chinook abundance in, say, 25 or 50 years--was no surprise. Abundance declines and extinction risks go up across a range of fixed harvest rates. "Large-scale environmental fluctuations (e.g., ocean conditions and hydrosystem operations represented by the shared process error) were at least as important as harvest in determining long-term population viability. If future environmental conditions are relatively poor, and especially if they are assumed to have undergone a persistent state shift at some point in the last 60 years, then quasi-extinction risks are dramatically elevated even in the absence of harvest," the study concludes.
Buhle said these offer another piece of consistent evidence in Chinook salmon abundance predictions, especially if assuming a dramatic environmental shift in the 1970s, and future conditions look more like they have in the last few decades. This study's difference, Buhle said, is the model used to reduce uncertainties.
First, Buhle's method separates errors that occur in the environment, or process errors, from errors that occur in the gathering of information, or observation errors. Separating the two is important, he said, because an impact from the environment one year, like poor ocean conditions, will play out over several generations of salmon, while an observation error will have no impact in future years. "The fish don't care if we count them or not," he noted. "So it's really important to try to tease that out."
Buhle's modeling allows for these two kinds of errors as separate variables, and also uses a method known as partial pooling, or the Robin Hood Principle. With it, he said, "We're not just analyzing one population out of 29 at a time, we're pooling information across all of them." Buhle said some populations have been highly monitored, while others have significant holes in the information that's been gathered. Scientists can make key assumptions for populations with less data by assuming the population experienced certain similar impacts as populations with lots of data--borrowing data from the rich and giving it to the poor. It works because some things are shared--like ocean conditions, or flow in the main stem--and will have a similar impact on all populations, Buhle said. "All of the data is brought to bear, but weighted according to how much they contribute. The data-poor populations are leaning on the data-rich," he said.
One of the region's best known life-cycle studies--the Comparative Survival Study put out by the Fish Passage Center every year--does not use the classical spawner-recruitment modeling that is fraught with flaws, Buhle said, but it also does not separate the two kinds of errors, nor does it use partial pooling.
"It's fair to say the IPM approach we used is more cutting-edge, and the best available methodology," he said, adding that the CSS model "includes a lot of things we haven't done yet." And while the two approaches are different, Buhle said other differences may be even more consequential. He noted his study looked at 29 populations of spring/summer Chinook while the CSS examined six, but also included smolt abundance data and other components of hydro system survival that haven't been included in Buhle's study.
Although integrated population modeling has not been widely used to study salmon in the Pacific Northwest, it has been used in stock assessments in the ocean, and bird studies, he said. And scientists in Northern California have been using similar methods since the early 2000s, leading the way in advancing salmon population modeling, he said.
Buhle said in his application of the integrated population model, he used raw data that has been gathered since the 1950s on the number of Chinook spawners, their age structure, the fraction born in the wild versus in a hatchery, and harvest rates.
It's all basic and widely available information. Using more cutting-edge modeling to interpret the data is adding value to work already done, he said. "This is giving us the ability to make some inferences that haven't been possible, or certainly emphasized, in the past," he said. "To me, as a scientist, this is just a really exciting advance in our ability to model these populations that so many people care about, and that are super important ecologically and culturally." -K.C. Mehaffey
 Corps Responds To Detroit Reservoir Drawdown Concerns In Scoping Responses
A proposal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a fish collection facility and a temperature control tower on Detroit Dam near Salem drew nearly 200 comments with a full spectrum of concerns, now summarized in a report, released July 16.
The 40-page analysis of comments, and the Corps' responses to them, complete the scoping process for the Detroit Downstream Passage Project. The agency will now use those comments to help prepare a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which the agency expects to release next year.
The proposed facilities on the North Santiam River address some of the requirements in a 2008 Biological Opinion for the Willamette Valley Project, which includes 13 multipurpose dams. All are used for flood control, and eight are hydroelectric projects with a combined capacity of 409 MW and an average combined generation of 167 MWh annually, which is sold by the Bonneville Power Administration.
Corps spokesman Jeffrey Henon said in an email that since they are still evaluating different alternatives, it's too early to know what the impacts on power generation will be. But if an alternative with a deep drawdown is chosen, Detroit Dam, with a generating capacity of 100 MW, would not be able to produce power at all during construction; and Big Cliff Dam, with a generating capacity of 18 MW, may also be impacted due to reduced flow rates. Other reservoirs may also need to be drafted faster than normal through the summer, in order to meet minimum flow targets throughout the Willamette River.
The Biological Opinion found that Detroit Dam, with a generating capacity of 100 MW, is jeopardizing Endangered Species Act-listed upper Willamette River spring Chinook salmon and steelhead. It requires the Corps to provide downstream passage for juvenile fish and control the river's temperature to more closely reflect pre-dam conditions. The dam has caused cooler downstream temperatures in the spring and summer, and warmer temperatures in the fall and winter.
To build the fish collection facility and temperature control tower, the Corps is considering five alternatives, including its "No Action" alternative. One alternative involves building the project under regular reservoir levels, and three require a "deep" drawdown of the reservoir for up to two years.
In a March news release, Corps environmental resource specialist Kelly Janes said that the safest, easiest and highest-quality construction method for the temperature control tower would be to draw down the reservoir for the entire construction period. "However, due to the concerns we are hearing, we are looking at ways we can construct this to minimize impacts, which could include no drawdown--a job that would be the most dangerous, difficult and expensive."
A deep drawdown would impact an estimated 250,000 people, including businesses, farmers and the City of Salem, which relies on the reservoir as its primary supply of drinking water for 190,000 customers. Farmers in the area estimated the financial loss of crops at more than $2.45 million, the Corps' news release said.
Many of the scoping comments focused on impacts from alternatives that would draw down the reservoir for as long as two years. Impacts to summer tourism, Salem's water supply and farmers who need the water to irrigate crops were just some of the concerns outlined in 198 comments, which were summarized under 33 different code headings and provided with a brief response. The responses are considered preliminary, and concerns will be fully addressed in the draft EIS, the report says.
"Per NEPA (National Policy Act) requirements, the EIS effects analysis will assess the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of the alternatives on a variety of resources including, but not limited to socioeconomic conditions, recreation, water supply, water quality, public safety, biological communities, air quality, traffic, cultural resources, aesthetics etc. within the affected area," one of the Corps' responses says.
Most of the comments--159 of them--came from unaffiliated individuals, and the rest from businesses, organizations, city and county governments, state and federal agencies and a few elected officials.
According to the Corps' analysis, 164 of the comments had to do with the proposed alternatives. Socioeconomic impacts were high on the list and included 49 comments concerned with water supply, 40 with recreation, 29 with agriculture, and 10 or fewer concerned with reservoir fisheries, the downstream biological community, boater safety, fire safety, flood risk, hydropower, traffic and aesthetics.
The report said that 42 of the comments indicated support for the project, while 29 were in opposition. Further, 69 of the comments supported a specific alternative while 43 opposed a specific alternative.
Several of the comments quoted in the report recommended alternatives that could reduce the length of time a drawdown would be necessary. Many asked about constructing the project only in the winter; but, the Corps responded in the report, that alternative was assessed and screened out due largely to winter flooding.
There were also concerns about impacts of the project itself, and the potential for water quality issues similar to those experienced at PGE's Pelton Round Butte Facility, currently under litigation.
Twelve of the summarized comments were from WildEarth Guardians, Native Fish Society and Northwest Environmental Defense Council--three groups that filed a lawsuit against the Corps and National Marine Fisheries Service in March, claiming the Corps has failed to meet many of the deadlines in the Willamette Valley Project's 2008 Biological Opinion, and that the agencies should redo it. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Salem Files As Intervenor In Willamette River Suit, Plaintiffs Want Limits
The City of Salem, Ore. is asking a federal judge to be added as a defendant or intervenor in a lawsuit against two federal agencies regarding dams on the Willamette River, but the plaintiffs in the lawsuit say the city should be limited to issues related to Detroit Dam, which the city uses for its water supply.
Filed in U.S. District Court on March 13 by three environmental groups, the suit claims the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Marine Fisheries Service should be required to reinitiate Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultations for the Willamette Valley Project.
In the lawsuit, Northwest Environmental Defense Center et. al v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers et. al, plaintiffs claim the federal agencies are violating the ESA by failing to redo a Biological Opinion currently in place through 2023. It claims dams block habitat for ESA-threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead in the upper Willamette River and tributaries, and the Corps has missed mitigation deadlines outlined in the Biological Opinion.
In its motion filed June 25, the City of Salem says it has held a municipal water right for 75 years in the north Santiam River, which is its primary source of drinking water for more than 190,000 customers and three wholesale customers, including the City of Turner, Suburban East Salem Water District and Orchard Heights Water Association, the motion says. The city says that if flows drop below a minimum threshold, its intake will not function properly and it will not be able to operate its water treatment facility. Additionally, the motion says, the city is concerned the proposal will impair downstream water quality by releasing sediment, contamination and warm water from Detroit Lake.
Salem argues that the Corps has initiated public scoping on its preliminary plans to construct a 300-foot-high water temperature control tower and completely drain Detroit Lake for two or more years. "Draining Detroit Lake, even temporarily, would likely obliterate the city's drinking water supply," it says. The city says that, through the National Environmental Policy Act, the Corps will issue a draft Environmental Impact Statement with reasonable alternatives and a requirement for public input, which could influence the final decision.
Through the lawsuit, the city claims, the plaintiffs seek to "bypass the public process," preventing the city from seeking alternatives. In addition, the city argues that the plaintiffs and the Corps could attempt to settle the lawsuit without the city's input.
Plaintiffs in the case filed a response on July 9, stating they do not oppose the motion as long as the court limits the city's participation to subjects raised in the city's request. Defendants also filed a reply taking no position.
In their reply brief, the plaintiffs--Northwest Environmental Defense Center, WildEarth Guardians and Native Fish Society--say Salem has very narrow interests that relate only to Detroit Dam on the North Santiam River, one of 13 dams on the four rivers at issue in the case.
Courts routinely impose limitations on proposed intervenors, the reply states, and the city should be allowed to participate "solely for the purpose of addressing issues related to Detroit Dam and water rights on the North Santiam River with respect to both the merits of Plaintiffs' legal claims and any remedial relief related to those claims."
The reply also seeks similar limitations regarding the city's participation in settlement discussions.
Also according to the brief, the city inaccurately claimed in its motion that the plaintiffs are seeking to "bypass" the National Environmental Policy Act. The plaintiffs maintain that the court could require the Corps to re-engage in Endangered Species Act consultations and also comply with National Environmental Policy Act requirements with environmental alternatives for fish passage and temperature control at Detroit Dam.
Salem responded in a court brief that its participation should not be limited, and has asked the court to hear oral arguments on their request. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Bill Revising Fisheries Management Act Passes House
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a revised Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act on July 11 that would give local fisheries commissions more authority to set seasons and develop recovery plans for overfished stocks.
H.R. 200 passed 222-193 and was sent to the Senate. Supporters say the bill provides more flexibility for local fishery councils, which are now held to strict standards when stocks dip below certain levels. Those who oppose the bill credit the law with restoring many runs that had been depleted by overfishing, and worry the change will be a setback to those efforts.
The bill was introduced by Alaska Rep. Don Young, and none of its 11 cosponsors are from the Pacific Northwest. Votes from Congressmen representing Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana were strictly by party, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats voting against.
Revisions to the act, which was passed in 1976, would include changes in fishery management plans and catch limit requirements for overfished stocks, according to the House summary of the bill. It also replaces the term "overfished" with "depleted" throughout the act. Portions of the bill also relate specifically to the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, and offshore fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Media reports say the revisions hold sports fishers--who favor the bill--to looser standards than commercial fishers, pitting the two groups against each other.
Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportsfishing Industry Association, said she has been tracking the bill, but is not actively pushing for its passage. She said there are a range of views on the bill, and noted that the act has worked well for managing commercial fishing, but does not provide the same recognition for sports fishing.
"Many would say it needs tweaking," she said, adding, "Until we see a reform of the Magnuson-Stevens Act that does acknowledge sports fishing, we're going to continue to see bills like this." -K.C. M.
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