NW Fishletter #388, Dec. 3, 2018
  1. Climate Change Study To Help BPA Prepare For Warmer, Wetter Columbia Basin
  2. Orca Task Force Recommends More Spill But Punts On Dam Removal
  3. Columbia Basin Research 'Among Best In The World,' Independent Scientists Say
  4. Oregon Gets Go-Ahead To Kill Sea Lions At Willamette Falls
  5. Council Seeks Review Of Region's Salmon-Predator Control Efforts
  6. Washington, Oregon Eye 'Concurrent' Columbia River Fishing Policy
  7. Idaho Power, EPA Seek To Resolve Water Temperature Issue
  8. Lawsuit Prompts Suspension Of Idaho's Steelhead Fishing
  9. Group Appeals Dismissal Of Lawsuit Against PGE
  10. Columbia River Spill Could Cost Coleman Oil More Than $1 Million
  11. EPA Preserves Appeal Option On Water Temperature Ruling
  12. Siskiyou County, Water Users Ask FERC To Deny Klamath Dam Removal
  13. Chum Are Spawning, Despite Low Precipitation

[1] Climate Change Study To Help BPA Prepare For Warmer, Wetter Columbia Basin

Imagine a Columbia Basin where February's biggest storm brings rain to the Cascade Mountains instead of snow, prompting the winter snowpack to begin melting, causing peak runoff three months earlier than usual.

Erik Pytlak can, but it's not in his imagination.

Pytlak manages the Bonneville Power Administration's Weather and Streamflow Forecasting group, and when he isn't predicting availability of water for power generation over the next three months, he's working on the longer-term question of climate change, and how warmer temperatures will impact the weather and streamflows in the Snake and Columbia rivers. For the past four years, he's worked with other federal agencies and universities to produce their most recent analysis on climate change in the Columbia Basin.

Released in June, with half the funding coming from Bonneville, the first part of the report, titled "Hydroclimate Projections and Analyses," will now be used in a second report analyzing how projected changes in temperature, precipitation, snowpack and streamflow will impact Columbia Basin hydropower through the rest of this century.

Pytlak gave a presentation to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council on Nov. 14, and answered follow-up questions the next day in an interview with NW Fishletter.

The report was produced by the River Management Joint Operating Committee--which includes BPA, Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers--with help from research teams at the University of Washington and Oregon State University. It uses more recent data and modeling to update RMJOC's 2011 climate change study.

Among major findings: By the 2030s, the Columbia Basin will very likely experience higher average winter flows, earlier peak spring runoff and longer periods of low summer flows. "And what I mean by 'very likely' is a greater than 90 percent chance," Pytlak told the Council.

Columbia Basin temperatures have already risen by about 1.5 degrees since the 1970s, and the warming is forecast to continue, he said. The report predicts they'll increase another 1 to 4 degrees by the 2030s, with the greatest warming in the interior and less warming near the Pacific Ocean. If greenhouse gas emissions are curbed soon and drop by 2050, temperatures by the 2070s are likely to warm another 3 to 6 degrees compared with current observations, according to the study. If emissions continue increasing on the current trajectory, basin temperatures will rise by 4 to 10 degrees above current observations.

Forecast precipitation trends are more uncertain, but most models now show winters in the Columbia Basin are likely to get wetter throughout the rest of the century, and summers could get drier, especially in drier areas. The earliest and greatest streamflow changes are likely to occur in the Snake River Basin, where the study predicts a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in winter precipitation, Pytlak said. But the Snake River is also the part of the Columbia Basin with the greatest uncertainty, he said. That's because historical data--such as streamflows prior to irrigation--is more uncertain, and because the Snake River has a lot of surface and groundwater exchange, making it harder to model, he said.

"Uncertainty does not mean that climate change is uncertain. Climate change is quite certain," he told NW Fishletter. But the degree of change, the rate of change, and what those changes will do to the atmosphere and hydrology are uncertainties, he said.

The study developed 172 different scenarios, and 19 of those that capture a full range of possibilities will be used to examine impacts to the hydroelectric system, Pytlak said. He noted that BPA is responsible to continuously evaluate and anticipate risks in the Federal Columbia River Power System so it can be prepared for the future. "When is our water supply going to come? What does that mean in terms of generation? This is part of our understanding of risk, and it's our responsibility to understand all the risk," he said. "It allows us to prepare, and know where our strengths and weaknesses are."

Pytlak told the Council that atmospheric carbon dioxide is at its highest level in hundreds of thousands of years--and possibly in millions of years. Scientists believe that 3 million years ago, when CO2 levels were this high, the earth's temperature was 5 to 7 degrees higher than today, and sea levels were 60 to 80 feet higher, he said.

Pytlak said carbon dioxide isn't the only greenhouse gas of concern. Methane, which is many times more efficient in re-emitting heat energy, is also increasing, and included in the climate change models. He noted that this current round of warming has been rapid and constant since the 1980s.

Changes in snowpack will be the biggest regional impact from a warming climate. Pytlak said initially, precipitation in the Canadian Cascades is expected to continue as snow, but in the U.S., more and more winter storms will bring rain to the Cascade Range instead of snow. That will translate to higher streamflows from November through April, and sometimes, an earlier snowmelt and runoff or multiple peaks, he said. Summer will bring lower flows, partly due to the earlier runoff, but also because glaciers will provide less water as they continue to melt.

Pytlak added the study is designed to be of value not only to Bonneville, but to the entire Northwest as well as other regions. The information is available to all, and is already being looked at by other hydropower systems across the country, Pytlak said, adding, "This work is contributing to the national discussion on climate modeling and change."

In a briefing to the Council following Pytlak's, scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory put some of the warming trends from the study in context of the impacts to hydropower, and adequacy of the region's power supply.

Sean Turner, PNNL's water resources management modeler, and Nathalie Voisin, its regional water-energy dynamics research lead, outlined how multiple climate "events" occurring at the same time can affect energy reliability more than the impacts of each event, added together.

As an example, he said, a warming climate will likely result in increased power demand in the summer, as needs go up to cool buildings and pump water to irrigate crops and landscaping. "It might be that the system has enough redundancy to handle that," he said. In addition, the system may produce less hydropower in summer due to lower flows, and the system may be prepared to handle that as well, Turner said.

But, he said, in order to prepare for both changes at the same time, the region should be ready for a combined impact greater than the sum of both, he said.

Turner said their analysis shows that under one scenario, the changes will prompt inadequate supply due to low flows twice in 100 years, and an inadequate supply due to additional load five times in 100 years. But when both events occur simultaneously, supply will be inadequate 13 times in 100 years, he said. "If you want to be considering climate impacts to the system, you need to look at lots of different impacts, and simulate them at the same time," he explained. -K.C. Mehaffey

[2] Orca Task Force Recommends More Spill But Punts On Dam Removal

A final report by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's Southern Resident Orca Task Force does not call for removal of lower Snake River dams, and instead recommends establishing a stakeholder group to discuss whether removing the dams would benefit orcas in Puget Sound.

The report, released Nov. 16, includes three dozen recommendations that, "if implemented, would collectively have the impact needed to achieve the vision of a thriving and resilient Southern Resident orca population."

With lack of prey identified as a major reason for the orca's decline, nearly half the proposals are aimed at improving salmon runs--especially Chinook, which comprise 80 percent of the orcas' diet--in the Columbia Basin and throughout the orca's range. And while removing dams got significant attention, the report and its recommendations reflect the complexity and magnitude of actions needed to increase salmon numbers and help the struggling killer whales.

Recommendations for increasing prey availability include increasing spill; increasing hatchery production; re-establishing salmon runs above Chief Joseph, Grand Coulee and other dams; acquiring and restoring habitat that would most benefit Chinook; reducing Chinook bycatch by commercial fishermen; reducing nonnative predatory fish; and supporting actions to more effectively manage sea lion predation in the Columbia River.

In addition to tackling the orca's lack of prey through habitat, hatcheries, hydroelectric dams and harvest, many of the other recommendations attempt to help the killer whales by reducing impacts from contaminants and vessel traffic and noise, and include placing a 3- to 5-year moratorium on whale watching.

After Inslee formed the task force by executive order in March, the push to remove the Snake River's four lower dams quickly became the most publicized and controversial proposal for recovering the whales. But a working group on prey availability did not include that in its potential recommendations, and instead left the decision to the task force, which held a webinar to inform its members.

While the task force stopped short of recommending dam removal, it requested creation of a collaborative process with Washington, Oregon and Idaho to engage interested stakeholders, governments and tribes "to begin developing a regional understanding and potential recommendations for the lower Snake River dams. The process should include consideration of services provided by the dams, potential biological benefits/impacts to Chinook and Southern Resident orcas, as well as other costs and uncertainties related to the question of breaching or retaining the lower Snake River dams."

The task force wants an update on progress by summer 2019, when it expects to be working on its second report that will conclude its work by outlining progress made, lessons learned and outstanding needs by Oct. 1, 2019.

NOAA Fisheries commended the task force "for creating a broad package of recovery recommendations for this signature Washington species." In a news release, the agency responsible for the orca's recovery said the task force "has helped focus public attention and energy on Southern Resident recovery when it is so urgently needed," and pledged to continue the collaboration and help implement the recommendations as soon as possible.

Both pro- and anti-dam groups also applauded the report, but for different reasons.

Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, said her group is pleased the task force did not recommend removing the dams. "Clearly, task force members were not persuaded by the faulty arguments and emotional appeals made by anti-dam activists. The activists' myopic focus on breaching dams hundreds of miles away from the Salish Sea is a distraction from what the whales really need closer to home," Flores said in a news release, mentioning recommendations for a moratorium on whale watching, reductions in stormwater runoff, cleanup of toxic chemicals, and restoring habitat in and around Puget Sound.

However, the news release also objected to using funds on another stakeholder process when a thorough examination of Snake River dam removal is already underway by federal action agencies working to develop a biological opinion for the Federal Columbia River Power System.

Joseph Bogaard, spokesman for the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, called on the governor and state Legislature to quickly fund and implement the recommendations--especially the recommendation to modify water-quality standards to allow for increased spill at eight federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers to help deliver juvenile salmon more quickly and safely to the Pacific Ocean. In a news release, he noted that conservationists and fishing advocates have been calling for a regional discussion about the impacts of removing the Snake River dams.

"Restoring the lower Snake River would re-connect endangered salmon and steelhead populations to more than 5,000 river and stream miles of protected, high-quality habitat in southeast Washington State, central Idaho and northeast Oregon," the news release said. "Removing these four federal dams [has] been identified by scientists as our best opportunity anywhere on the West Coast to re-build the chinook populations that the orcas need," the release adds.

Members of groups pushing for dam removal commented abundantly on proposed recommendations--sometimes hundreds of times apiece. The task force report notes that of 12,720 responses to an Oct. 24 survey on work group proposals, only 3,898 had unique IP addresses; three addresses had more than 400 responses and 21 other addresses had more than 100 responses. And while habitat, hatcheries and harvest topics garnered a few hundred comments each, there were 8,687 comments on hydropower. "Of the 800 randomly reviewed comments, over 99 percent were comprised of one of two comments repeated verbatim," the report said. "Both comments were to request a forum to convene and develop a transition plan to remove the dams combined with increasing total dissolved gas to 125 percent."

While the task force did not recommend removing the dams, it did recommend increasing spill "to benefit Chinook for Southern Residents by adjusting total dissolved gas allowances at the Snake and Columbia River dams." It suggests directing the Washington Department of Ecology to increase the standard for dissolved gas from 115 percent in the forebay of eight dams on the lower Columbia and lower Snake rivers to 125 percent, and allowing use of best available science to determine the spill levels over the dams.

The recommendation would also involve coordinating with Oregon to align standards, monitoring impacts to juvenile Chinook and resident fish to ensure no negative impacts, and working with tribal, in-state regional and state entities "to minimize revenue losses and impacts to other fish and wildlife program funds."

The final package was approved by 33 members of the task force. One member--Brian Goodremont, representing the Pacific Whale Watch Association--did not consent. Six members abstained, and seven were absent from the Nov. 6 meeting when voting occurred.

Ken Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale Research who is a task force member and vocal proponent of dam removal, was not present for the vote. He wrote in a minority report to Inslee of his dismay that the discussion on bypassing Snake River dams "did not get more traction, given that action would offer the most immediate and dramatic increase in returning adult Chinook salmon to the mouth of the Columbia River and Washington coast (prime [southern resident killer whale] foraging areas) in the shortest time (2-3 years)."

Balcomb added, "I kept hoping that you would simply initiate a phone call to ... [leadership of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] to get the facts about who has the authority to order bypass of these dams, but it seems that the consensus of the Task Force was to establish a time-consuming several year stakeholder process to address issues associated with possible breaching or removal of the four lower Snake River dams, rather than get the facts now and/or make a bold recommendation."

Corps representatives have stated that congressional authorization is required to breach the dams.

As for the spill recommendation, Balcomb added, "My discussions with career salmon biologists who studied the spill option (#8) and NOAA's own reports conclude that following that recommendation will not lead to salmon recovery, either."

Another minority report was submitted by Kathy Pittis, representing the Port of Anacortes, and Gary Chandler, who represents the Association of Washington Businesses. In addition to their concerns about lack of identified funding to implement the recommendations, Pettis and Chandler specifically disagree with increasing spill by adjusting total dissolved gas. "Waivers must be sought for high levels of dissolved gas, because it causes gas bubble trauma and kills migrating juvenile salmon," they wrote. They also state that the recommendation ignores important improvements that have been made at the dams, and suggest that the issue of spill "is more appropriate for analysis and recommendations by federal and state fish managers." -K.C. Mehaffey

[3] Columbia Basin Research 'Among Best In The World,' Independent Scientists Say

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NWPCC) should be proud of the scientific research they're funding in the Columbia Basin, which is creating a legacy that will allow policymakers to prioritize funding for the most effective methods to recover salmon runs, according to Independent Scientific Review Panel Chair Steve Schroder.

In an Oct. 9 presentation to the Council, Schroder focused on the importance of the scientific research examined in the panel's project status review of 25 BPA-funded salmon studies. The review also included several suggestions on how to improve fish research in the region.

Schroder told the Council that of the 25 projects reviewed, 10 "were terrific and met all of our criteria. Four of them had been completed. And the 11 others just had some minor things we thought could be improved."

According to an NWPCC article, the review will help inform the Council as it considers recommendations to amend its fish and wildlife program, which was last updated in 2014.

The 25 projects reviewed by the ISRP fell into three categories--fish populations, including their growth, survival or migration and genetic diversity; habitat and its limiting factors; and fish propagation and the effectiveness of hatcheries in supplementing steelhead and spring Chinook runs.

The review notes that long-term studies are necessary, and that "decisions to interrupt, modify or terminate long-term studies must be made very carefully."

The value of incremental information acquired from each additional year of research can be "extremely high, particularly as the frequency of extreme weather events increases," it noted.

The review asked for continued support of NOAA Fisheries' Ocean Survival of Salmonids project, which should provide answers to key management questions, such as the effects of forage fish abundance on salmon survival.

The review also recommends that the Council evaluate salmon predators on an ecosystem-wide scale, expanding research to assess the impacts of fish, bird and mammal predation at all stages of the life cycles of salmon and steelhead.

It recommends support for and advances in genetic research, noting that "it may be time again to examine the potential of using parent-based tagging (PBT) and genetic stock identification (GSI) to identify the origin of salmonids caught in ocean fisheries."

Research should also consider climate change, which is expected to alter conditions in the Columbia Basin, the ISRP review said. "Climate and land use changes may determine where restoration is most beneficial and should be considered in prioritization of investments," the review said.

Many other recommendations were offered, including a comprehensive review of assessments into the reintroduction of anadromous salmon into blocked areas; incorporating monitoring protocols and data from long-term studies into future habitat assessments; improving practices for hatchery supplementation; and improvement in communication with the public and between researchers and decision makers about their research, ranging from peer-reviewed scientific papers to newspaper articles, podcasts and conferences.

In his presentation to the Council, Schroder detailed the importance of just some of the studies examined in the ISRP review. One involved ongoing research into the effectiveness in detecting PIT-tags in juvenile migration, of which only about half are now being detected due to the large number of fish now migrating over dam spillways, where the PIT-tags cannot be detected.

Another involves a genetic study by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which is working to estimate the arrival time and abundance of Chinook, steelhead, sockeye and coho. Schroder said this information can be used to help determine the potential to reintroduce extirpated populations in specific reaches.

He also said that detailed research into habitat improvements to determine which factors are most effective at improving salmon returns could help policymakers decide how best to use limited restoration funds to prioritize projects.

"You can see that there is a tremendous array, I think, of extremely interesting projects that come out," Schroder told the Council. "And you guys ought to be proud of the fact that you're supporting this work. BPA should be as well, because this work really, in many cases, is the best in the world. And it acts as a guide to many projects in additional research, really, around the world." -K.C. Mehaffey

[4] Oregon Gets Go-Ahead To Kill Sea Lions At Willamette Falls

The National Marine Fisheries Service has authorized lethal removal of California sea lions at Willamette Falls to benefit adult winter steelhead and spring Chinook populations returning to spawn. The Nov. 14 approval comes more than a year after the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife applied for permission to kill sea lions preying on migrating salmon and steelhead.

Oregon found that about 25 percent of adult steelhead were eaten by sea lions in 2017, when only about 1,000 adults returned to the Willamette River. State officials worried the run would go extinct, and estimated a nearly 90 percent probability of such without action. The sea lions were also eating 7 to 9 percent of returning spring Chinook, increasing their extinction risk by 10 percent to 15 percent.

"Before this decision, the state's hands were tied as far as limiting sea lion predation on the Willamette River," ODFW policy analyst Shaun Clements said in a news release. "We did put several years' effort into non-lethal deterrence, none of which worked."

The agency says about 12 sea lions are now at the falls, most of which have come every year for the past decade. According to NOAA Fisheries, Oregon is authorized to remove as many as 92 sea lions each year if they are documented preying on salmon or steelhead in the area of Willamette Falls for at least two days. Those sea lions can be captured and euthanized if no home for them can be found at a zoo or aquarium. The federal agency will decide in five years whether to renew its permission for lethal removal.

Oregon, Washington and tribes have similar permission to lethally remove sea lions at Bonneville Dam. Clements noted that this authorization does not help prevent the recent influx of much larger Steller sea lions, which are currently preying on sturgeon in the lower Willamette River.

NOAA Fisheries says it received almost 800 comments on Oregon's application, and a task force recommended authorization last month. California sea lions are not threatened or endangered, but are federally protected. The population of pinnipeds--which numbered fewer than 90,000 in 1975--grew to more than 300,000 by 2012, and is now estimated at 258,000 due to recent ocean conditions, NOAA says. The agency says 9,200 animals could be removed with no impact to the population's productivity.

"This is an action we believe is urgently necessary to protect these highly vulnerable fish populations," Chris Yates, assistant regional administrator for protected resources in NOAA Fisheries' West Coast Region, said in a news release. "It is a choice we wish we did not have to make, but at this point it is a necessary step to improve survival of these fish that we all want to recover. The science tells us that the sooner we act to reduce predation, the better we will protect the fish and the fewer sea lions that would have to be removed in the long run. -K.C. Mehaffey

[5] Council Seeks Review Of Region's Salmon-Predator Control Efforts

Scientists and economists will be evaluating the impacts and costs of birds, mammals and other fish that prey on listed salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin and the programs designed to control them, focusing on the region's most emergent threat: northern pike.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NWPCC) voted Nov. 13 to seek a review by the Independent Science Advisory Board (ISAB) with the addition of one or two natural resource economists. They're also asking for an initial evaluation by May 2019 so findings can be considered alongside other recommendations to amend the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program, which is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).

In its decision, the Council agreed to fund the review at between $80,000 and $150,000, and approved a draft letter to the ISAB with specific questions they'd like answered.

The Fish and Wildlife Program funds several projects to monitor, suppress and manage predators, ranging from hazing sea lions that snatch up adult fish at Bonneville Dam, to offering rewards to anglers who catch northern pikeminnow, a native fish that eats juvenile salmon on their way to the ocean.

In September, the Council provided additional funding to help a joint effort by the Colville and Spokane tribes and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who have been working to suppress northern pike, a large and voracious non-native predatory fish that has colonized the Columbia River in Lake Roosevelt, above Grand Coulee Dam.

"We seek an overall evaluation of predator impacts and predation management effectiveness in the Basin with a particular focus on piscivorous fish," the Council's letter to the ISAB states. "While conducting this review, we ask that the ISAB consider aspects and gaps within all areas of predation, including avian and marine mammal predation, which may need a deeper investigation during follow-up ISAB reports," it adds.

In addition to the scientific questions, the Council wants the initial review to address what information will be needed to assess economic impacts to natural resources if northern pike spread to the rest of the Columbia Basin--where they would begin preying on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead--as well as the potential costs of suppressing them.

NWPCC staffer Laura Robinson told the Council that while a review of all predators is needed, staff would like the ISAB to prioritize their time on predatory fish, especially given the current threats posed by northern pike. She reported that the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation recently caught one near Grand Coulee Dam, much farther down the Columbia River and closer to the anadromous zone where they could then access the rest of the river through fish passage. "So, they're moving," she said.

The decision follows several presentations to the Council over the past few months on salmonid predators.

In November, The Kalispel Tribe outlined its successful efforts to slow the spread of northern pike, while staff from three mid-Columbia PUDs talked about their pikeminnow and Caspian tern programs. In September, an Oregon State University professor outlined a long-term effort to reduce Caspian tern numbers in the Columbia River estuary. And on Nov. 13--just prior to the decision to approve a review of predation--the Council heard from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about its role in managing predators in the Columbia Basin.

Tim Dykstra, the Corps' senior fish program manager, outlined the agency's management plans to control Caspian terns and double-crested cormorants in the Columbia River estuary, as well as its management plan for Caspian terns at inland locations near the Columbia and Snake rivers.

He said the agency also supports efforts by Washington, Oregon and tribes to manage California sea lions by monitoring and providing access at Bonneville Dam, where the larger Steller sea lions have recently become the more numerous problem after states began hazing, relocating, and sometimes euthanizing California sea lions. "The Corps is in a supporting role," Dykstra told the Council.

Dykstra said the Corps will continue to implement its three management plans for predator birds, and to monitor sea lions at Bonneville Dam, but has no plans for additional predator management until the Columbia River System environmental impact statement is complete.

He outlined successes so far in managing Caspian terns in the estuary.

In the 1990s, the Caspian tern population on Rice Island in the Columbia River estuary was believed to be the world's largest, at about 9,000 breeding pairs, Dykstra told the Council. He said salmon and steelhead from the Columbia Basin comprised about 83 percent of their diet.

The Corps first implemented a plan to convince the terns to move their nesting site from Rice Island to East Sand Island, which is still in the estuary but much closer to the Pacific Ocean in hopes that the birds would "diversify their diets." By 2001, the breeding pairs had nearly all relocated their nesting sites to East Sand Island, and studies found they reduced their consumption of Columbia Basin salmonids to about one-third of their diet.

The Corps then developed new nesting sites on their migration path, from San Francisco Bay to southern Oregon, where many of the terns now nest, he said. At the same time, the agency reduced the size of suitable nesting on East Sand Island from six acres to one acre, with a goal of reducing breeding pairs to about 3,125.

The agency came close to reaching that goal in 2017, when some 3,500 pairs nested on East Sand Island, but their numbers bounced back this year when around 5,000 pairs unexpectedly squeezed into the reduced habitat.

Dykstra told the Council that it's premature to determine that they need to further reduce the size of the island's nesting site, and noted it would require a supplemental environmental impact statement. And success of the program has been notable, he said. In 2006, the terns were consuming more than one out of six juvenile steelhead in the estuary, while by 2017 that dropped to one in twenty, he noted.

Dykstra also reported success controlling double crested cormorants on the island, where management actions began in 2015. He said the management plan included killing almost 5,600 cormorants, and destroying about 6,000 nests between 2015 and 2017.

He said the colony abandoned the island in 2017, but agency officials believe that was thanks to some "opportunistic eagles" that preyed on the birds. Breeding pairs dropped from more than 12,000 in 2015 to fewer than 4,000 in 2018.

Farther up the Columbia River, the Corps also manages Caspian tern colonies on Goose and Crescent islands, where the birds were consuming almost 16 percent of upper Columbia juvenile steelhead, and nearly 4 percent of juvenile steelhead from the Snake River, Dykstra said. Using the same approach used on Rice Island--attracting the terns to other nesting sites--those numbers have been reduced to fewer than 0.1 percent, he said.

He noted that the agency has also installed a series of wires at all of its dams, called avian arrays, that make it difficult for birds to dive in the water and pick off juveniles that are disoriented from migrating through the project. -K.C. Mehaffey

[6] Washington, Oregon Eye 'Concurrent' Columbia River Fishing Policy

A five-year review of Washington state's policy for managing recreational and commercial fishing in the Columbia River found that while some of its goals are being met, the policy is falling short of several expectations, including finding new ways to reduce numbers of hatchery fish that escape to spawn with wild fish, and efforts to develop and implement alternative fishing gear to replace gillnets.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's extensive review of the policy was a large part of the discussions at a joint meeting between the Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commissions on Nov. 1.

Concurrency--or how well Washington's fishing regulations match with Oregon's--was part of that review, and also a topic of discussion at the joint meeting, where staff and commissioners from both states expressed a desire to reduce or eliminate differences between their policies for fishing in the Columbia River. A Columbia River Compact between the two states ensures joint management of fishing, but also allows each state to have different rules and regulations on its side of the river.

Ryan Lothrop, Washington's Columbia River fishery manger, told commissioners that while many of the regulations for allocations between commercial and recreational fishing are either identical or similar in both states, there are several situations where they are not the same. This creates challenges when it comes to enforcing fishing regulations and ensuring that not too many hatchery fish go unharvested.

Tucker Jones, Oregon's program manager for ocean salmon and the Columbia River, gave commissioners a breakdown of all the areas where regulations are not concurrent for spring, summer and fall Chinook, and coho.

"Concurrency promotes orderly, enforceable fisheries. It increases the likelihood of allocations being achieved, but it's not required and each state can do what they need to," he told commissioners. "That being said, not having concurrent regulations is a real tough situation from a management standpoint. It's going to impact pretty substantially both recreational and commercial fisheries," especially boat fishing, where operators must determine whether they're in waters managed by Washington or Oregon.

Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Director Curt Melcher emphasized the value of concurrent regulations in his opening remarks at the joint meeting. "We view this, really, as an opportunity to reinitiate some relationship-building between the two commissions," which hadn't held a joint meeting in "at least three or four years," he said. During discussions, some commissioners indicated they'd like to see changes to align the two policies by the 2019 fishing season.

After the meeting, Lothrop told NW Fishletter that while no decisions were made to develop concurrent fishing regulations in the Columbia River, both states are planning to continue discussions. Meanwhile, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved its staff's comprehensive review of Washington's current policy, which will be finalized and published by December.

Based on the review and public input, the 10-year policy--which was adopted in 2013 and amended in 2017--could stay the same, be revised or completely replaced, Lothrop said. When adopted, it was designed to promote orderly fisheries, help conserve wild salmon and steelhead, and offer economic stability to the state's fishing industry. Compared with previous regulations, the new policy gave recreational fishermen a larger allocation and promoted the use of alternative gear for commercial fishing while phasing out gillnets.

In interviews with NW Fishletter, Lothrop and Bill Tweit, special assistant at Washington's Columbia River Policy Office, both said that the main conservation goal of the policy is to reduce the proportion of hatchery fish on spawning grounds, or pHOS, which the new policy has failed to do so far. It's the main conservation goal because other measures--such as meeting escapement of wild fish as required under the Endangered Species Act--are already being met outside of the policy.

Lothrop said reducing numbers of hatchery fish that escape to spawn with wild fish is dependent on increasing marked fisheries, and that has not happened. He said while pHOS decreased during the five years, the bulk of that reduction was due to the use of weirs that are set up in tributaries to physically remove hatchery fish and allow wild fish to continue upstream.

When commissioners asked about continuing efforts to ensure hatchery fish are not mixing with wild fish, Tweit explained, "Staff are very aware if we're going to achieve our goals on pHOS, we can't rely just on weirs. Over the five years, the weirs worked well, but we know they aren't going to work well every year, in all situations, in every river." He said a multi-tool approach will be essential over time for continuously removing the large numbers of returning hatchery fish and preventing strays from getting to spawning areas.

While allocating a higher percentage of fish to recreational fishing, the policy also included several changes for commercial fishermen. Those included exploring new select fishing areas, developing certification for sustainably managed fishing, offering a commercial license buy-back program, and developing and implementing alternative fishing gear to replace commercial gillnet fishing.

Lothrop told commissioners that most of those efforts were unsuccessful. New select areas were explored, but only one potential new site in Washington was attempted at Cathlamet Channel, which was not successful due to poor smolt survival. Certification for sustainable fishing has not yet been attempted due to costs, and a commercial license buy-back program was initiated and abandoned, although new efforts are now underway.

Lothrop said the use of gillnets for spring and summer Chinook were phased out in Washington waters in 2017, but not for fall Chinook.

He said they've successfully tested some new alternative fishing gear in the lower Columbia River, but have not yet found suitable replacements for gillnet fishing. He said tests showed some of the alternative gear resulted in higher mortality rates for Chinook and coho than anticipated, or significant handling of steelhead, which made it challenging to implement due to the potential impacts to Endangered Species Act-listed fish. In some cases, fishermen would need a larger crew or substantial investments, which may have hindered some from participating.

According to a draft summary of the policy review, substantial resources were invested to develop and test alternative methods of commercial fishing. "Some commercial licensees have made notable investments to use alternate gears; to date, there has been no return from those investments."

But, Lothrop said, it takes a full season to test one new method, so finding suitable alternative gear may take time. He said the agency and fishermen are continuing their efforts based on what has been learned so far. "It's a slow, methodical process of learning," he said.

Several other aspects of the policy were evaluated in the review, and members of the public offered many different perspectives on how to change--or recommendations not to change--the fishing policy, all of which will be considered before any policy decisions are made. -K.C. Mehaffey

[7] Idaho Power, EPA Seek To Resolve Water Temperature Issue

Idaho Power and the EPA have asked a federal court to delay all proceedings in Idaho Power Company v. United States Environmental Protection Agency et al. to provide time for the agency to "take certain steps toward resolving the issues in this litigation."

The company claims EPA failed to either approve or disapprove a water temperature standard in a section of the Snake River that was submitted by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

According to the lawsuit, the state asked the EPA in 2012 to change the water temperature standard below Hells Canyon Dam, as required under the Clean Water Act. The federal agency's failure to act has complicated Idaho Power's application for a new 50-year license to operate the three projects in the Hells Canyon Complex.

Idaho Power says the new standard, which would allow a 2.7-degree increase in maximum water temperature from Oct. 23 to Nov. 7 is within Clean Water Act standards and fully protects Snake River fall Chinook.

According to the joint request, EPA has not responded to Idaho Power's complaint, and after further court filings, the agency's answer is due by Nov. 12. The court also issued other deadlines in the case.

The joint filing notes that discussions between Idaho Power and EPA since the complaint was filed about expected EPA actions "may moot the issues in this litigation."

It says that EPA is consulting with other federal agencies, and anticipates that a biological evaluation will continue throughout the winter, and expects to either take action on the water quality standard submitted by the Idaho DEQ, or submit a relevant standard by March 1, 2019.

If EPA has not taken action by March 11, 2019, the parties agree the stay should end, and the agency will respond to Idaho Power's complaint by March 30, 2019, the filing says.

If EPA requests formal consultation with other agencies, both parties will seek a joint motion to continue the stay. -K.C. Mehaffey

[8] Lawsuit Prompts Suspension Of Idaho's Steelhead Fishing

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted Nov. 14 to suspend steelhead fishing season on Dec. 7 after six groups filed a notice they intend to sue the state for opening a season on hatchery steelhead without a federal Endangered Species Act permit allowing incidental take of wild steelhead.

In a news release, Idaho Fish and Game says it has not had a federal permit since 2010, when it unsuccessfully applied for renewal. Since then, the state has coordinated with federal agencies to operate a steelhead fishing season each year under the same rules as its prior permit that includes the release of wild fish. Idaho says a new permit to allow a hatchery steelhead fishing season is pending, and it intends to reopen steelhead fishing in 2019.

Fish and Game officials met with the organizations that threatened to sue, but no agreement was reached, the agency says.

The groups, led by The Conservation Angler, claim that fishing for hatchery steelhead sometimes results in death or injury to wild steelhead, which are facing "critically low" returns. They cite an Idaho Fish and Game estimation that almost 3 percent of wild steelhead die after they are caught and released.

Idaho agrees, but says those impacts are minimal, and do not jeopardize long-term recovery of wild steelhead populations. About 85 percent of wild steelhead spawning and rearing habitat is regularly closed to fishing, the agency says.

In August, Washington and Oregon closed sections of the main stem Columbia River to fishing to protect steelhead runs returning to the Snake River, and reduced the daily catch limit to one hatchery fish on the Snake River. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says steelhead fishing on the Snake River in Washington remains open.

In a letter to steelhead anglers, Idaho Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore said the agency recognizes the importance of steelhead fishing to Idaho fishermen and local economies. He also said the state is committed to recovering wild steelhead, but closing the fishery is unnecessary.

"The commission did not want to go to federal court, lose on a technicality because the federal agency dropped the ball on permit renewal, and have our anglers' and hunters' license dollars pay bills for advocacy-group lawyers instead of conservation," the letter states. -K.C. Mehaffey

[9] Group Appeals Dismissal Of Lawsuit Against PGE

The Deschutes River Alliance has filed an appeal in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, hoping to revive its lawsuit that claims Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon are violating a water quality permit for the Pelton Round Butte hydroelectric project.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon dismissed the case in U.S. District Court in Oregon on Aug. 3, ruling that the project is operating within conditions of its water quality certification.

"Essentially, we are asking the court to review Judge Simon's decision on summary judgment. We disagree with his ruling, and will be making that case for the 9th Circuit," Jonah Sandford, the Alliance's executive director and staff attorney, told NW Fishletter.

Sandford declined to talk about specific issues that the Alliance seeks to overturn in the appeal. "Ultimately for us, we believe it's really critical that the project comply with water quality standards. These are standards that were developed for the explicit purpose of protecting water quality in the lower Deschutes," he said.

PGE and the Warm Springs tribe filed separate cross-appeals "protectively," to be considered only if the appeals court reverses Simon's ruling. PGE's cross-appeal and the Warm Springs' cross-appeal both raise issue with a District Court ruling denying their June 11 motion to dismiss the case for failing to join a necessary party. PGE's cross-appeal also raises the District Court's March 27, 2017, ruling denying PGE's motion to dismiss due to lack of jurisdiction.

The court ultimately dismissed the lawsuit, in which the Alliance claimed that PGE and the Warm Springs routinely violated the Clean Water Act by exceeding water quality standards for temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen. PGE and the tribes successfully countered that the operations are consistent with the project's water quality certification, and must be balanced with new fish passage requirements.

The Alliance must file its opening brief in the appeal by Jan. 25, 2019, and replies from PGE and the Warm Springs are due Feb. 25, 2019. -K.C. Mehaffey

[10] Columbia River Spill Could Cost Coleman Oil More Than $1 Million

Coleman Oil could face more than $1 million in penalties, clean-up costs and damage assessments due to a 3,840-gallon biodiesel spill from one of its underground pipes, which leaked into the Columbia River over a period of years, the Washington Department of Ecology says.

In a Nov. 28 news release, Ecology said it is fining the Lewiston-based retailer $189,000 for the oil that leaked from a corroded underground pipe at the company's bulk oil plant in Wenatchee. The state agency says Coleman Oil was negligent for failing to monitor levels of fuel in its 20,000-gallon above-ground tank, which would have prevented the ongoing leakage into the surrounding soil, groundwater and river.

Coleman Oil is also responsible for $213,400 in costs to respond to the spill, and an undetermined amount in potential resource damage assessment from tribes, with the combined total expected to exceed $1 million, Ecology said.

An official at Coleman Oil did not respond to a call from NW Fishletter.

"This spill happened over a long period of time and impacted the health of the river system," Dale Jensen, manager of Ecology's spills program, said in the news release. "It could easily have been prevented if the company had been properly monitoring the fuel level in the tank."

The spill was first noticed in March 2017, when a sheen appeared on the river near Wenatchee.

An investigation traced the source to Coleman's tank and its underground pipe, which the company believes has been in place since 1935, the news release said.

The company has cooperated on cleanup, which includes groundwater monitoring, the agency said. If fuel is found in the monitoring wells, it is pumped out so it doesn't reach the river. Officials are still investigating whether river sediments are contaminated.

Coleman Oil can appeal the fine to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board. -K.C. Mehaffey

[11] EPA Preserves Appeal Option On Water Temperature Ruling

The EPA on Nov. 23 appealed a U.S. District Court order requiring the agency to issue standards for water temperature in the Snake and Columbia rivers in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But the agency revealed in a different motion that it is still deciding whether to pursue the appeal, called its notice of appeal "protective," and later states, "At this time, the United States Department of Justice's Office of the Solicitor General is determining whether to pursue an appeal in this case."

The agency has now asked the court to delay its Oct. 17 order in Columbia Riverkeeper et al., v. Andrew Wheeler et al. until the appeals process is complete, while plaintiffs in the case object.

In his Oct. 17 ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez determined that Washington and Oregon had declined to produce temperature standards for the rivers, in the form of a Total Maximum Daily Load, leaving the responsibility to the EPA. He gave the agency 60 days to complete the task.

A Nov. 21 motion asks Martinez to stay his order pending the appeal. The delay is warranted, the motion states, if the agency establishes several things, including that it is likely to succeed on appeal and that it is likely to suffer irreparable harm if a stay is not granted.

The motion then explains why the EPA is likely to succeed, and says if it complies with the order, the appeal would be moot. It also argues that issuing a TMDL within 60 days would impose a significant hardship for a process that routinely takes three to five years.

On Nov. 28, Columbia Riverkeepers asked the judge to deny EPA's motion.

"[R]ather than proceeding to issue the temperature TMDL within the 30-day deadline set by the [Clean Water Act] and the Court's order, or approaching Riverkeeper to negotiate a reasonable schedule for TMDL issuance as suggested by the Court, EPA is moving for an indefinite stay pending appeal," their filing said.

It added, "Delay has been the hallmark of EPA's approach to the TMDL for the last two decades, and EPA's requests for additional delays have punctuated this litigation. There is no reason for further delay and every reason for swift action to protect Columbia and Snake river salmon and steelhead."

The judge's Oct. 17 ruling held that EPA violated the Clean Water Act by failing to set limits for temperature in the Columbia and Snake rivers, and gave the agency 30 days to approve or disapprove a TMDL submissions by the states of Washington and Oregon for a TMDL (total maximum daily load for temperature)--which were never issued--and another 30 days to issue its own standards for water temperature.

According to the judge's ruling, EPA made agreements with both states in 2000 to issue the water temperature standards due to its expertise and the multi-jurisdictional nature of the rivers, while the states retained the authority to issue standards for total dissolved gas. The agency never issued the TMDLs, and environmental groups sued to force it to act.

Prompted by the death of some 250,000 sockeye in 2015--when river water temperatures reached lethal levels--the five environmental groups that sued the EPA objected to the agency's request for an extension of time in an Oct. 31 reply. -K.C. Mehaffey

Idaho Power and the EPA have asked a federal court to delay all proceedings in Idaho Power Company v. United States Environmental Protection Agency et al. to provide time for the agency to "take certain steps toward resolving the issues in this litigation."

The company claims EPA failed to either approve or disapprove a water temperature standard in a section of the Snake River that was submitted by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

According to the lawsuit, the state asked the EPA in 2012 to change the water temperature standard below Hells Canyon Dam, as required under the Clean Water Act. The federal agency's failure to act has complicated Idaho Power's application for a new 50-year license to operate the three projects in the Hells Canyon Complex.

Idaho Power says the new standard, which would allow a 2.7-degree increase in maximum water temperature from Oct. 23 to Nov. 7, is within Clean Water Act standards and fully protects Snake River fall Chinook.

According to the joint request, EPA has not responded to Idaho Power's complaint, and after further court filings, the agency's answer is due by Nov. 12. The court also issued other deadlines in the case.

The joint filing notes that discussions between Idaho Power and EPA since the complaint was filed about expected EPA actions "may moot the issues in this litigation."

It says that EPA is consulting with other federal agencies, and anticipates that a biological evaluation will continue throughout the winter, and expects to either take action on the water quality standard submitted by the Idaho DEQ, or submit a relevant standard by March 1, 2019.

If EPA has not taken action by March 11, 2019, the parties agree the stay should end, and the agency will respond to Idaho Power's complaint by March 30, 2019, the filing says.

If EPA requests formal consultation with other agencies, both parties will seek a joint motion to continue the stay. -K.C. Mehaffey

[12] Siskiyou County, Water Users Ask FERC To Deny Klamath Dam Removal

Siskiyou County, Calif., and the nonprofit Siskiyou County Water Users Association have asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to deny a plan to remove four dams in the Klamath River.

The county says the plan underestimates the costs and risks, has an unrealistic time schedule, and "substantively fails to address many critical aspects of the project," while the water users say removal could wipe out the river's endangered sucker fish and would do little to boost coho runs, which--the group claims--may not have been present above the dams before they were built.

In a comment filed on Nov. 2, an attorney representing the county asks FERC to deny the application to transfer the license for the four projects from PacifiCorp to the Klamath River Renewal Corp. (KRRC); three of the hydroelectric projects are in Siskiyou County.

The comment states that KRRC's Definite Plan for removing the dams "is fatally flawed, and does not support a conclusion that KRRC will be able to undertake the project as proposed."

It says that KRRC's proposed schedule--to draw down the reservoirs on Jan. 1, 2021, to begin removal--doesn't take into account the lengthy environmental permitting requirements, from Endangered Species Act consultation and a National Environmental Policy Act review, to a Clean Water Act permit.

The short timeframe is one of the most significant flaws of the plan, the county claims, and "appears to be driven by KRRC's desire to make the cost of the Project ... fit within KRRC's budget."

The county also says that $450 million earmarked for dam removal and restoration is insufficient. Under KRRC's analysis, the project is likely to cost about $397.7 million; a "most probable low estimate," is $346.5 million, and a "most probable high estimate" is $507.1 million--$57 million more than the funding available from PacifiCorp customers and the California Legislature.

The county says that if the project is delayed by three to six years, the cost of the project can be expected to increase by $50 million to $100 million or more, but the plan includes no funding for delays.

Siskiyou County also argues that the plan does not attribute costs to several risks, and does not provide adequate funding to compensate landowners for lost property values or the county for lost revenue from decreases in property values and taxes.

The comment details many other components the county says are inadequately addressed, including aquatic and terrestrial resources and plans for road improvements, Yreka's water supply, downstream flood control, closing two fish hatcheries, water quality monitoring, groundwater well monitoring and fire and traffic management.

On Nov. 21, the water users association--an intervenor in the case--contends that the "entire stated reason for destruction of the dams rests on the belief that the coho salmon are indigenous to the Klamath, when in fact historical records show" they never were plentiful--if present at all--before the dams, its filed comments state. The filing asserts the fish have had to be replanted numerous times in recent history to keep the river stocked.

The association also claims that removing the dams is likely to impair water quality, and cause damages from flooding. And, it says, the Amended Klamath Hydroelectric Service Agreement that led to the current effort and to the FERC applications was illegal, as it circumvented prior unsuccessful efforts that required Congressional approval.

The eight-page letter suggests that KRRC is underfunded and offers no security to residents whose property may be damaged by flooding if the dams are removed. Additionally, it states, the dams now provide fire protection, flood control, sufficient flows for fish, recreation, improved property value, and a hatchery that raises more than 6 million smolts a year.

"We encourage the commission to reject this ill-founded attempt and underfunded effort by a shell corporation to remove these Klamath Dams, subjecting an entire population of endangered species as well as the human element to a major catastrophe," their letter states, adding that FERC "will be held fully accountable for a disaster occurring because of a failure to protect the public and the surrounding counties who will bear the brunt of any miscalculation." -K.C. Mehaffey

[13] Chum Are Spawning, Despite Low Precipitation

A dry November didn't stop the chum from spawning in the lower Columbia River, where federal agencies are operating dams to provide additional flow for the late-spawning fish.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Doug Baus, who chairs the Columbia River Technical Management Team (TMT), said biologists recently counted 355 chum spawning in the usual places below Bonneville Dam, and more potentially out there.

"This is about when we would see that next wave of chum arrive and spawn," he told fellow TMT members on Nov. 28.

Paul Wagner, the group's NOAA Fisheries representative, said fish counters at the dam also noticed an uptick of chum making it through the fish ladders, with latest numbers showing 163 chum passing the dam so far this year.

"So the early arriving chum, wherever they went, have been replaced or supplemented with this current population that is a reasonable number so far," he said. "Now, if the rain would just cooperate."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been increasing flows over Bonneville Dam to ensure eggs in chum salmon redds below the dam remain submerged as river levels fluctuate this fall and winter.

Beginning Nov. 2, the agency began its annual chum operations, holding the river level to between 11.5 feet and 13 feet above sea level to aid spawning at the mouth of Hamilton Creek in the Columbia River Gorge. Officials say that water is released from reservoirs as far away as Hungry Horse and Libby dams in Montana to help keep water flowing to the redds and compensate for the typically lower flows in late fall and early winter.

Columbia River chum were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999. Historically, more than 1 million returned to the lower Columbia River, but their numbers are now greatly diminished.

NOAA Fisheries' most recent status review for Columbia River chum in 2016 says the population remains at moderate to high risk. It notes that ocean conditions have a strong influence on the survival of emigrating juveniles, and that poor ocean conditions and land development in the lower river area could put further pressure on these populations.

A joint news release from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the Corps and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says chum salmon are the last to return to the Columbia River to spawn, and lay their eggs below the dam in areas where warm water pushes up through the gravel beds and quickly incubates their eggs.

BPA funds two hatchery programs and has built spawning habitat, efforts that appear to be succeeding, the news release said. More than 20,000 chum returned to the Columbia River in 2015, the highest number since 2002, it said.

November's precipitation has been below normal throughout much of the Columbia Basin, and well below normal in some of the more southern locations. As of Nov. 28, lower tributaries of the middle Columbia River received about1.5 inches, or 49 percent of normal precipitation for the month so far. The river above The Dalles had gotten 2.4 inches, or 76 percent of normal; and above Grand Coulee Dam had received 3.9 inches, or 89 percent of normal.

On the Snake River, locations above Hells Canyon Dam with 1.3 inches were sitting at 69 percent of normal; while the middle Snake River tributaries received 1.2 inches, which is 58 percent of normal. Upper Snake tributaries, however, were doing well with 2.6 inches, which is 103 percent of normal.

Baus reported that forecasts show below average chances for precipitation in the Columbia Basin through early December, with above average chances after that. "So, hopefully we can see some of that precipitation help with the chum operation," he said. -K.C. Mehaffey

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Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: K.C. Mehaffey
Phone: (206) 285-4848 Fax: (206) 281-8035