NW Climate Scientists Prepare To Help Fish Survive As Region's Rivers Warm
Salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest will face many challenges as the climate warms, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment released by 13 federal agencies on Nov. 23.
From ocean acidification and toxic algae blooms to earlier runoff and lower summer flows in rivers and streams, migratory fish will have numerous hurdles to overcome as the Earth warms.
But to Daniel Isaak--a fisheries research scientist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station whose studies were cited in the federal report--rising water temperatures in rivers and streams will be at the heart of their struggles.
That's why Isaak and other scientists developed a regional database for stream temperature, compiled by hundreds of biologists and hydrologists, logging in more than 200 million hourly water temperature readings at more than 20,000 stream sites.
Already, the information has been used to help scientists determine how much water temperatures in the Columbia Basin have increased, and to predict how much they will continue to rise under different climate change models.
Now, it's being used to figure out where fish and other aquatic species will have the best chance at survival as conditions worsen. "It's important for how we restore habitat, and where we might derive the most bang for the buck," Isaak told NW Fishletter.
Isaak said he started focusing on how fish will be impacted by changing stream temperatures 12 years ago. His ongoing work includes a website with GIS databases that highlight and summarize the streams that are predicted to be key climate refuges for bull trout and cutthroat trout. The same methods can be used to develop specific locations for preserving other species, he said. "I feel like we've built a good foundation, and proven the concept with a few species. Now, we can go down the same road with other species."
A look back to 2015 with its massive fish die-offs provides a good reason to be prepared. Isaak noted that 2015 brought weather conditions that, in the past, the Northwest might expect once every 100 years. Under climate change models, similar conditions will be likely every 10 years by 2050, and every five years by the end of the century, he said.
The federal climate report, too, points to 2015 as a glimpse of what's to come in the Pacific Northwest. An exceptionally warm winter left record-low mountain snowpack, and a dry spring led to severe drought, mega-wildfires and heat waves on land and at sea. Overall, temperatures were 3.4 degrees above normal, with wintertime temperatures at 6.2 degrees above normal.
"The warm 2015 winter temperatures are illustrative of conditions that may be considered "normal' by mid-century (higher scenario, RCP8.5) or late century (lower scenario, RCP4.5)," the report says.
But it was the warm summer temperatures that warmed the Columbia River to more than 70 degrees in July, resulting in the death of an estimated 250,000 adult sockeye as attempted their journey to spawning areas upstream.
According to a report on the die-off by NOAA Fisheries, flows and water temperatures in the Columbia River in June resembled conditions normally seen in late July and August. The impact was especially harsh between Bonneville and Lower Granite dams, where 95 percent of the Snake River sockeye listed under the Endangered Species Act perished.
NOAA's recommendations for avoiding a similar die-off in the future revolve mostly around monitoring water temperatures and setting triggers for taking action, developing plans to trap and transport sockeye when mainstem temperatures signal a problem, and finding ways to cool water in the river and at fish ladders.
Isaak agrees that the mainstem rivers at lower elevations will be more troublesome when it comes to helping migratory fish survive. "Those are going to be the places where we see the biggest, most dramatic impacts," he said.
This realization is relatively new. Many studies had previously predicted that--like the arctic--widespread extinctions would occur in higher elevations and cold mountain streams. But those predictions relied on small datasets and imprecise water temperature information.
As lead author of a 2016 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Isaak used the water temperature database from a network of 222,000 km of streams to show that "thermal habitat in mountain streams is highly resistant to temperature increases and that many populations of cold-water species exist where they are well-buffered from climate change."
That means instead of losing cold-water species at the highest elevations first, those areas can become important refuges which can be used to help preserve a species. Isaak noted that this was a revelation for scientists working in the headwaters, and it offers more hope that cold-water species can survive.
Indeed, despite the dire tone of the federal report, and the many challenges for salmon and steelhead--which depend on many different habitats throughout their lifecycle--Isaak believes salmon and steelhead will survive to the end of this century.
"Fish can adapt, to a certain degree," he said. "Migratory fish can migrate earlier in the year, or shift to migrate later in the year, and there's good evidence that's been happening over multiple decades," he said. There are tradeoffs that come with the adaptations, however.
Returning to spawn earlier can mean less time in the ocean to grow, resulting in smaller fish, Isaak also noted. Other changes made to accommodate warmer water temperatures may affect the health of the population. "So there's wiggle room, but there's a breaking point, too," he said.
Ultimately, Isaak believes that some runs will be detrimentally impacted as water temperatures in the Columbia Basin increase. "Summer Chinook, fall Chinook and summer steelhead--because they're migrating during peak temperatures--they're going to be a little more vulnerable," he said. Others, like winter steelhead, spring Chinook and coastal species like chum, won't be as vulnerable, he noted.
But, he added, there's a lot of diversity in the Columbia Basin, with five different salmon species and steelhead, and different runs within those that can adapt and survive. As some runs decline, others may be able to take advantage of the resulting loss of competition, and increase in numbers.
In the end, it will come down to how well-suited they are to adjusting to a warming climate, he said, predicting, "There's always going to be salmon somewhere." -K.C. Mehaffey
 Groups Seek Court-Ordered Drawdowns For Corps' Willamette Project
Taking a page out of the environmental playbook that led to spilling water over dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, three conservation groups are asking a federal judge to order deep drawdowns, spill and other operational changes at the Willamette Project to benefit Chinook and steelhead listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The Northwest Environmental Defense Center, WildEarth Guardians and the Native Fish Society filed its motion for preliminary injunction in Northwest Environmental Defense Center et al. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers et al. on Nov. 30.
The groups are asking U.S. District Magistrate Judge Jolie Russo to order operational changes at four dams in the Willamette Basin, including a two- to four-week spring spill at Lookout Point Dam, and drawdowns in winter and spring at four dams including Lookout Point to help juvenile fish migrate downstream.
They're also seeking the discharge of cold water through regulating outlets to reduce water temperatures at two dams, and the release of hatchery Chinook above a fifth dam to study spawning success and juvenile migration. Russo gave the defendants until Jan. 18 to respond.
Three of the four dams where operational changes are sought--Lookout Point, Detroit and Cougar--have a total generating capacity of 245 MW, while the fourth dam, Fall Creek, is not a hydroelectric project. All are part of the 13 dams that make up the Willamette Project, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with generated power marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).
Corps spokesman Tom Conning said his agency is working with the U.S. Department of Justice to evaluate the motion. "I can tell you it would impact power production," he told NW Fishletter, adding that the amount of lost generation would vary at each project, and would change depending on the water year.
Marlies Wierenga, Pacific Northwest conservation manager for WildEarth Guardians, said she doesn't know how much power would be lost if the injunction is approved. "Part of the challenge is that BPA is reliant on power revenue from some of the dams, and they're struggling financially," she said.
She acknowledged that their request for a preliminary injunction references two well-known injunctions requiring federal agencies to spill water at eight Columbia and Snake river dams, which prevailed after review by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"The Columbia is a big deal, but at the same time, there are other rivers too that have these same concerns that are being run by federal agencies that could make changes, but they aren't doing them," she said. "It seemed to us some simple modifications could happen, but the Corps wasn't moving forward."
The groups initially filed the lawsuit in March against the Corps and the National Marine Fisheries Service; the City of Salem and Marion County were later approved as defendant-intervenors.
The plaintiffs claim that the agencies failed to reinitiate consultations after the Corps failed to meet deadlines laid out in its 2008 biological opinion (BiOp). They claim that dams block 40 to 90 percent of the habitat in four subbasins of the Willamette River, and that large reservoirs and high-head dams make it "nearly impossible" for juvenile fish to migrate downstream.
Over the past 10 years, "the Corps has routinely dodged the agreed-upon actions, missed deadlines, and sidelined state and federal agencies to avoid improving fish passage, flows, and water quality at the dams," the groups said in a joint statement.
And while the agencies have since agreed to reinitiate consultations under the Endangered Species Act, a process expected to take until 2023, "the Corps has refused to take steps necessary to stem the fish's rapid decline," the statement said, a claim echoed by the motion, which states that "no significant changes have occurred to operation of the Willamette dams to benefit fish."
The Corps disagrees with these claims.
Conning pointed to several fish projects that the agency has completed or that are now underway to improve both upstream and downstream passage. Those projects are listed in a February news release, when the agency had spent nearly $200 million to help spring Chinook and winter steelhead in the upper Willamette recover. Required under its 2008 BiOp, completed actions include construction of a water temperature control tower and adult collection facilities, drawing down Fall Creek Reservoir to help fish migrate downstream, and redesigning a weir at Foster Dam.
Conning said an environmental impact statement is necessary to build another temperature control tower on Detroit Dam, which is well underway. The Corps is also working on several other projects to address juvenile migration. However, he said, the agency must balance its mission to recover fish with other benefits of the Willamette Project authorized by Congress, including power generation, recreation, irrigation and flood control.
The requested injunction seeks only to prioritize the needs of salmon and steelhead that "do not impair flood control or human health and safety," the plaintiffs said in their motion, which also acknowledges that dams aren't the only problem that upper Willamette River salmonids face.
"When added to the detrimental effects of the Willamette Project, cumulative effects such as climate change, sea lion predation, and poor ocean conditions have increased the risk of extinction," the motion states. "Higher water temperatures and changes to water flows due to climate change are increasingly having an adverse effect on salmon and steelhead, which, when added to the effects of the dams, put the species at greater risk."
WildEarth's Wierenga said her conservation group is concerned about the added carbon that would likely result from reducing the amount of electricity produced at hydroelectric projects under the injunction they've requested.
"It's a difficult thing to consider, but these are tradeoffs, and in this situation, the fish are in such dire shape and some of the things we are asking for are not big impacts to power," she said.
She added that WildEarth Guardians fully supports continued access to hydropower, and is seeking only a temporary modification of operations rather than a permanent removal of the dams. -K.C. Mehaffey
 New Law Streamlining Sea Lion Removal In Columbia Basin Passes
A bill that gives states and tribes more authority to kill sea lions that threaten fish runs in the Columbia Basin passed both houses of Congress in early December, and was signed into law by President Donald Trump.
The Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, S. 3119, passed the U.S. Senate on Dec. 6, sailed through the House on Dec. 11 and became law on Dec. 18.
Sens. James Risch (R-Idaho) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) led the charge in the Senate, while Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) pushed for passage in the House. The votes included support of every House and Senate member from Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
The act is the culmination of a decade-long effort to resolve conflicts between the Endangered Species Act, which protects numerous salmon runs in the Columbia and Snake rivers, and the Marine Mammals Protection Act, which protects sea lions even when preying on endangered salmon and steelhead.
The bill got wide support throughout the Pacific Northwest, where over the past two decades a growing population of California sea lions have ventured north and started colonizing the Columbia Basin. Most congregated at the mouth of the Columbia near Astoria, but increasing numbers made their way up the river to feast on returning adult salmonids which become easy prey at the base of Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls.
Many supporters of the legislation recalled the lessons at Ballard Locks, where no action was taken to discourage sea lions when they became problematic in the 1980s, leaving a steelhead population that may never recover after dwindling to just 70 fish in the mid-1990s.
Shaun Clements, a policy analyst for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told NW Fishletter that the bill will usher in several changes compared with the agency's current authorization to euthanize sea lions under special permits from NOAA Fisheries.
Lethal removal will now be authorized for several American Indian tribes along with the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, who together co-manage fish runs in the Columbia Basin.
Currently, only the states are authorized to lethally remove California sea lions, and not Steller sea lions. Lethal removal is now permitted only near Bonneville Dam or since last month near Willamette Falls.
The bill, once permits are issued by NOAA Fisheries, will allow fish managers to kill both California and Steller sea lions throughout much of the lower Columbia River and its tributaries. Extra protections for Steller sea lions were recently lifted, Clements said, and the larger pinnipeds have become an increasing problem as their numbers grew over the last few years.
The new law also allows managers to kill sea lions that are negatively impacting not only Endangered Species Act-listed salmon or steelhead, but also ESA-listed smelt, and lamprey and sturgeon, which are species of concern.
Currently, Clements said, there's a long list of conditions that must be met before state agencies can capture and euthanize a sea lion. Each individual sea lion, before it can be removed, must be documented in the area for at least two days, and must be seen feeding on ESA-listed salmon or steelhead.
The new law puts a cap on the number of sea lions that can be killed--up to 10 percent of "annual potential biological removal level," which for California sea lions is 93 animals, Clements said.
He added that only a couple hundred California sea lions currently populate the entire basin, so it's unlikely they'll reach that cap. "This bill did not in any way expand the number of sea lions that can be killed--just the conditions," Clements added.
Congress' action comes less than a month after Oregon received authorization to remove sea lions at Willamette Falls, where Oregon fish managers determined that one-quarter of returning steelhead were consumed by sea lions in 2017. The run was exceedingly low--only about 1,000 adult fish returned--and biologists estimated that without action, the run had a 90 percent chance of going extinct.
The news that the House had passed the Senate's bill was met with enthusiasm at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NWPCC) meeting, where Council member Bill Booth reported the vote during the Dec. 11 meeting. "All that's left is a signature and the bill will be law," he told his fellow Council members. NWPCC members had lobbied for the bill's passage, traveling to Washington, D.C., to make their case to federal lawmakers.
After a listening to a presentation on salmon predators, Booth also commended Jaime Pinkham, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, for supporting the legislation. "There's no way it could have been achieved without the help of CRITFC, and, of course, Oregon coming in to help really gave us a boost," Booth said.
Pinkham later released his own statement about the bill's passage. "I suspect many would wish the times were different and this legislation wasn't necessary," he said in a news release. "But the reality is that this legislation has become necessary."
He added, "I'm grateful Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to give us the local flexibility to protect the tribal treaty resources we share with others in the Columbia and Willamette rivers."
CRITFC spokesman Jeremy Fivecrows said under current law, tribes are not authorized to participate in removal efforts, and the new law will give them co-manager status. But the tribes have been working with states to try to discourage sea lions that position themselves at the base of Bonneville Dam and pick off fish as they head up the fish ladders.
Fivecrows said efforts at hazing are only successful while the hazing boats are present and making loud noises to convince sea lions to leave the area. "These are marine mammals. They're smart. They say, 'Here comes the hazing boat. We're going to lie low for a while.'" Once the boats leave, they resume their positions in the tailraces again, he said.
Congressmen who sponsored the legislation released statements in a news release when the Senate bill passed the House.
"Today's passage of our bill to control sea lions was a hard-fought victory--it's a personal victory for each of us who treasure our Northwest salmon runs and want to see them preserved for generations to come," Herrera Beutler said.
Schrader added, "Ratepayers and my constituents are paying hundreds of millions of dollars annually towards the largest mitigation program in the country for threatened and endangered salmon. These sea lions, whose population has become totally inconsistent with their historic range, have been undoing all of that work by feasting on the endangered species."
The federal legislation also won the support of several groups, including the Southern Resident Orca Task Force, which released its first round of recommendations in November. Among them: "Recommendation 13: Support authorization and other actions to more effectively manage pinniped predation of salmon in the Columbia River."
Other groups, too, applauded passage of the act.
"This legislation represents a necessary step to restoring balance to this ecosystem, and we are very excited to have the bill pass both chambers of Congress," Ted Venker, director of conservation for the sportfishing advocate Coastal Conservation Association said in a release.
Opposition to the bill came from animal rights groups.
"This bill changes the core protective nature of the Marine Mammal Protection Act by allowing for the indiscriminate killing of sea lions throughout the Columbia River and its tributaries," Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute said in a prepared statement. "Simply, S. 3119 finds sea lions who exhibit natural behaviors--eating salmon--guilty of a crime punishable by death."
Clements said he can understand the views of those opposed to this legislation, and noted that ODFW officials do not relish their task. "We just feel this is a necessary action we have to take to protect fish and prevent their extinction," he said, adding, "We're going to kill as few as possible."
Clements also noted that despite efforts to haze and relocate sea lions, the problem has only gotten worse. Sea lions are continuing to venture into new tributaries, he said, including the Clackamas and Sandy rivers in Oregon, along with new tributaries in Washington.
"Both of these rivers have some of our strongest salmon and steelhead runs," he said. Their new authority will enable them to prevent new colonies from becoming habituated in a new area before other sea lions follow suit--as they did at Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls.
Only about 7 percent of the sea lions venture upstream in the Columbia Basin, he said. "Our goal is to remove all of these animals and reset the system," he said. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Inslee's Orca Budget Includes Funding For More Spill, Dam Breaching Task Force
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is asking the state Legislature to include $1.1 billion in its 2019-2021 budget to help Puget Sound's endangered orcas, including $750,000 to create a stakeholder process to look into breaching four lower Snake River dams.
The proposal would adopt a recommendation of his orca task force--which he impaneled earlier this year--that "requires the state to facilitate a stakeholder process to inform a path moving forward should the Lower Snake River dams be removed," a news release on his budget proposal states.
Inslee acknowledged the difficult task ahead for restoring orcas, and the salmon they depend on.
"We are undertaking a Herculean effort to save these iconic creatures. It will take action at every level of the environment across our entire state," he said in the release. "We need to restore the ecosystem to one that sustains orcas, salmon and the quality of life for all Washingtonians."
The orca-related funding--a small part of the overall $54.4 billion budget--is designed to help save the endangered southern resident killer whale, whose numbers have dropped from about 200 to 74 individuals over the past few decades. Scientists say the primary causes include a lack of food, contaminated water, and problems with vessel noise and traffic.
Also in Inslee's proposed budget is $580,000 to modify water quality standards to allow for more spill over Columbia and Snake river dams, and $524,000 to look into re-establishing salmon runs above Chief Joseph Dam and dams in the Puget Sound area.
The budget proposal would devote far more on other measures designed to boost salmon numbers for the orcas. It seeks $363 million for salmon recovery, culvert removal, water quality and water supply projects; $296 million to correct fish passage barriers on state highways; $75.7 million to improve hatcheries and water quality issues stemming from them; $17.8 million to provide incentives encouraging voluntary habitat improvements on private land; $12 million to boost hatchery production by an added 18.6 million smolts; $6.2 million to help enforce state and federal habitat protection laws; and $743,000 to improve monitoring and management of forage fish, a food source for Chinook.
And that's just to improve prey availability for the killer whales. The budget includes millions of dollars more for various actions to clean up toxic sites and resolve the orcas' problems with vessel traffic and noise.
Federal lawmakers from eastern Washington had a swift response to Inslee's proposal to fund a task force on the Snake River dams.
"The people of Eastern Washington whose livelihoods depend on these dams should not be collateral damage for anyone's presidential ambitions," said a joint statement from Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who were both re-elected in November.
"The governor does not have the authority to breach our federal dams on the Lower Snake River, and allocating state taxpayers' funds to consider breaching them would be wasteful," they continued. "Congress has the sole authority to authorize breaching our federal dams, and as representatives of Eastern Washington communities that depend on the many benefits they provide, breaching them is out of the question. We commit to do everything in our power to save them," the statement concluded.
Elliot Mainzer, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, meanwhile, noted in a statement that federal agencies are already working on an environmental impact statement that will examine breaching the Snake River dams.
"We are deeply engaged in the Columbia River System Operations EIS [environmental impact statement] process with the other action agencies," he said, "and we look forward to working with the state of Washington, other cooperating agencies and the broader public, to complete this important process that is evaluating the alternative of breaching Snake River dams."
As for the governor's request to allow for increased spill, Mainzer offered, "We share Governor Inslee's concerns about orcas and we are encouraged by work actively underway with Washington State, Oregon and the region's tribes to develop an approach to increase spill which can better optimize for salmon survival and preserve affordable carbon free hydroelectric generation for the region's electricity customers."
Other groups set aside the issues surrounding dam breaching and spill, and praised the governor's bold funding request, including Puget Sound Partnership, which was charged with overseeing the orca task force.
"Governor Inslee's budget proposal revealed today demonstrates his strong commitment to recovering Southern Resident orcas, salmon, and the Puget Sound ecosystem," said the Partnership's director Sheida Sahandy in a news release. "The investments proposed by the Governor will go far in helping us turn the corner on sustaining the Puget Sound ecosystem and the creatures we share it with."
"We hope the legislature supports and funds these critical investments," Sahandy's statement added. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Agreement Breaks 'Groundhog Day Loop' For Hells Canyon Relicensing
After a decade-long stalemate over water quality certification at Idaho Power's Hells Canyon Complex, a major logjam in the company's quest for a new 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was broken in an agreement the utility reached Dec. 14 with the states of Oregon and Idaho.
Idaho Power agreed to spend an additional $20 million over the next 20 years to research fish habitat, boost hatchery production and improve habitat and water quality. For its part, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality dropped its requirement for fish passage above the three dams in the complex as part of its certification to ensure water quality standards are met within the reservoirs and downstream of the project. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, which opposed reintroduction, said there was "reasonable assurance" utility's proposal would comply with the CWA, Idaho water-quality standards and "other appropriate water quality requirements of state law."
The Hells Canyon Complex needs Clean Water Act Section 401 certification from both Oregon and Idaho to secure a FERC license, as the Snake River borders the two states. Idaho's and Oregon's DEQs have been in a stalemate over the fish passage issue for the past 11 years.
Brett Dumas, Idaho Power's director of environmental affairs, said the agreement doesn't completely clear the way for a new FERC license, but it breaks the "Groundhog Day loop" and removes the largest barrier by far.
"We certainly appreciate the states being willing to come together and find a common landing spot," Dumas said, adding, "It's a bit challenging to get the politics of Idaho and Oregon to land in the same spot."
Donnie Oliveira, spokesman for the Oregon DEQ, said Oregon values habitat restoration and fish passage solutions where they are appropriate.
"We decided to move forward, knowing there are other solutions that will allow Oregon to continue on the path," he said.
That path now includes a commitment by Idaho Power to improve water quality, fish habitat and vegetation along some 150 miles of the Snake River and several tributaries. Among other commitments, Idaho Power will increase spring Chinook production at its Rapid River Hatchery from 3.2 million juveniles to 4 million.
Oregon says full implementation of Idaho Power's plan will result in cooler water temperatures through revegetation projects, floodplain enhancement, and the creation of wetland and islands.
In addition, when water temperatures are high, Idaho Power will operate Brownlee Dam in ways that will help reduce those temperatures. Dumas explained that Brownlee Reservoir acts as somewhat of a heat sink, and by drafting down the reservoir, the utility can let the cold water coming into the reservoir pass through the system faster, keeping it cooler.
The proposed water quality certification--which is now open to public comment in both Oregon and Idaho--removes the fish passage requirement for a water quality certification needed for the FERC license, but does not completely take it off the table in the future.
Dumas said Oregon had been seeking passage for spring Chinook and summer steelhead, which are not listed under the Endangered Species Act above the complex, although wild spring Chinook and summer steelhead are listed below the dams.
As part of the agreement, Idaho Power will plant some of its hatchery adults in Pine Creek, a tributary that originates in both Oregon and Idaho, and flows into Hell's Canyon Reservoir in Idaho. The utility will research whether habitat and other biological needs are there to support naturally reproducing populations, Dumas said. "If the science indicates that either of those species could naturally reproduce above the dams, the states will reconsider [fish passage] at the end of 20 years."
He said the new $20-million commitment is in addition to $400 million that Idaho Power has already agreed to spend through the Snake River Stewardship Program as part of its water quality certification.
Even with the agreement, Dumas said, he doesn't expect a final license until 2022 at the earliest. He said FERC completed its environmental impact statement for the license in 2007, but needed the water quality certification to move forward.
If the two states finalize that certification in June after incorporating public comments, FERC will then likely require a supplemental environmental impact statement due to the length of time that has passed, he said. An Endangered Species Act-consultation process will then be required with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries, and once a biological opinion is issued, FERC can put together its final license, Dumas said.
He said Idaho Power expects the costs associated with applying for a new license to be about $300 million by the time a new license is issued. The total cost of implementing that license, including its myriad mitigation measures, is expected to cost about $1 billion over the anticipated 50-year license term.
Rates will be impacted, but the company does not yet have an estimate of the increases. Even with relicensing costs, the company says continued operation of the three dams is cost-effective for customers and critical for keeping electricity prices low while delivering clean, renewable energy.
The Hells Canyon Complex--which includes Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams--provides about 70 percent of Idaho Power's annual hydroelectric generation, and about 30 percent of the total energy produced. Brownlee has a capacity of 585.4 MW, Oxbow has a capacity of 190 MW and Hells Canyon has a capacity of 391.5 MW.
Idaho Power's FERC license for the Hells Canyon Complex expired in 2005, and the company has been operating under annual licenses ever since. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Fish And Wildlife Program Recommendations Posted, Open For Comment
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council has posted the recommendations it received to amend its Fish and Wildlife Program, and is accepting comments on them until Feb. 8.
Under the Northwest Power Act, the Council amends its Fish and Wildlife Program every five years, following an 18-month process that includes a call for recommendations, public comment and review of those recommendations, issuance of a draft amended program, and more public comment before an amended program is adopted.
After calling for recommendations last May, the Council received by its Dec. 13 deadline responses from 51 entities--11 state fish and wildlife agencies and other state agencies, 16 tribes or tribal groups, four federal agencies, three utilities or utility-focused organizations, eight environmental groups, five entities that had implemented portions of the program, and four individuals.
The recommendations range from a two-sentence encouragement from individual Susan Crampton to support efforts to reintroduce anadromous fish above Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams, to a 46-page document from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife with very specific requests for changing the 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program, along with a cover letter and table of contents.
The Council will now read and organize the recommendations and comments and decide the scope of its process before moving forward with a draft amendment.
One of the decisions will be whether the Council will "focus and make progress on a few key issues rather than revise all the program elements," as suggested in its call for recommendations.
In its recommendation, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) agreed that the Council should largely retain its 2014 program, but also asked to incorporate the Columbia Basin Accord extensions and other new fish and wildlife mitigation agreements into the update.
"[T]he cumulative scope and scale of the Program's achievements to protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife are tremendous and should be recognized and taken into account before the Program is changed or expanded in any significant way," BPA stated in the cover letter to its recommendation.
Among its suggestions to the Council is to "look beyond" the incremental costs anticipated in the Fish and Wildlife Program, and consider the full context of the Northwest Power Act's requirements.
BPA's recommendation focuses on "the Northwest Power Act's criteria for minimum cost alternatives to achieve those sound biological objectives, and whether they can be achieved in a manner consistent with the purposes of the Act, in particular to assure the Pacific Northwest an adequate, efficient, economical and reliable power supply."
The recommendation later states, "The energy market has changed, the law governing operation of the Columbia River System has changed, and Bonneville's financial condition has changed. It can no longer be said, as we stated in the 2014 Program, that Bonneville is not in difficult financial circumstances." The agency asks the Council to adhere to BPA's strategic plan for holding overall program costs at or below the rate of inflation through 2023.
Environmental groups, meanwhile, asked the Council for an ambitious amended program, with recommendations ranging from an evaluation of breaching dams on the Snake River to adopting timelines and numerical goals for fish returns in the Columbia Basin.
In a recommendation signed by Earthjustice attorney Todd True--representing the Sierra Club, Save Our Wild Salmon, Idaho Rivers United and the Association of Northwest Steelheaders--the groups said that the amended program should identify and adopt "specific, quantitative biological objectives to measure Program progress even in the absence of a consensus regarding such measures among the regional fish and wildlife managers."
They also asked the Council to support a permanent increase in water quality standards to allow total dissolved gas levels up to 125 percent at dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers.
In addition, they asked it to support a review of the biological benefits to juvenile salmon from both a flexible spill and a voluntary spring spill at 125-percent TDG, 24 hours a day at all eight dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers; and a review of the biological benefits to salmon survival from breaching or removing the four lower Snake River dams, along with the development of an action to remove the dams.
The groups also want the Council update to support an evaluation of the biological benefits from structural modifications at other lower Snake and Columbia river dams, such as drawdowns; and identify and analyze actions to reduce state temperature water quality standard violations in the lower Snake and Columbia rivers.
A joint recommendation from the Public Power Council, Northwest RiverPartners, PNGC Power and Northwest Requirements Utilities pointed out that their organizations collectively represent BPA customers who fund the Fish and Wildlife Program. "The Pacific Northwest's fish and wildlife mitigation effort is the largest of its kind in the nation and likely the world, yet it is a finite resource," they noted.
With that in mind, the groups asked the Council to consider ensuring a direct link between the program's fish and wildlife mitigation measures, and hydroelectric projects on the Columbia River and its tributaries.
Noting that the program's objectives overlap with requirements of the Federal Columbia River Power System's biological opinion, they also asked the Council to incorporate the biological opinion requirements into the program to avoid conflicts. "The program should demonstrate awareness of these processes and be flexible enough to incorporate the related actions upon their completion."
The groups also asked the Council to maximize benefits by establishing a method for prioritizing projects that could be ranked based on several criteria, including whether they are linked to a hydropower impact, produce broad biological benefits, produce measurable results, represent the least cost alternative, utilize cost sharing, and are not duplicated by other projects.
While urging the Council to support independent scientific review of each funding proposal and adopt recent recommendations from the Independent Scientific Advisory Board, the groups also asked the Council to develop a better strategy for more cost-effective research, monitoring and evaluation, which now accounts for about one-third of the program costs.
Like BPA, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission also recommended that the Council largely retain the 2014 program, and also asked to incorporate projects in the Columbia Basin Accord extensions.
In its recommendation, CRITFC outlined 10 areas for the Council to focus on, including efforts for project administration efficiencies; regional alignment on hydro system operations; habitat strategies and research, monitoring and evaluation; adaptive and data management; lamprey; predator control; climate change; main stem habitat and cold water refugia; regional coordination, and the Columbia River System Operations environmental impact statement.
The Council is expected to discuss the recommendations at its Jan. 15-16 meeting. NWPCC spokesman John Harrison said due to the partial government shutdown, the Council may consider extending the deadline for comments in order to give federal agencies more time to weigh in. -K.C. Mehaffey
 EPA Faces New Court Order Over Oregon's Water Temperature Plans
After finding more than a year ago that water temperature cleanup plans for rivers across Oregon must meet the biological needs of fish, a federal judge has asked the EPA, the state of Oregon and an environmental group to work together to develop a schedule to update those plans.
In a Dec. 12 opinion and order in Northwest Environmental Advocates v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. District Judge Marco Hernández rejected both EPA's request for 12 years to come up with new plans, but also did not order new plans in 120 days, as NWEA sought. The state of Oregon is an intervenor-defendant in the case.
Recognizing it will take longer than three months, and also that 12 years is "unreasonable," Hernández encouraged the parties to meet and formulate a "TMDL-by-TMDL schedule" for changing each waterway's cleanup plan from one based on natural condition criteria to one based on the biological needs of salmon and steelhead. He wants a joint schedule by March 11. "If necessary, the court will schedule an additional hearing to resolve any remaining disputes," Hernández wrote.
The judge also rejected the EPA's request for more time to develop two specific TMDLs, and ordered the agency to adhere to an April 2017 order giving it two years--until April 11, 2019--to complete a TMDL for mercury pollution in the Willamette River, and for temperature in the Klamath River.
TMDLs, or total maximum daily loads, are plans to restore impaired water bodies required under the federal Clean Water Act. They identify the maximum amount of pollutants that water bodies can receive and still meet water quality standards, including standards for temperature.
NWEA applauded the decision. "After waiting decades for the agencies to establish and then use temperature goals for Oregon waters that are safe for salmon, it is gratifying to see the end in sight," Nina Bell, NWEA's executive director said in a news release.
The case is similar to an October ruling in U.S. District Court in Seattle--Columbia Riverkeeper et al. v. Scott Pruitt et al.--in which a judge ordered the EPA to develop TMDLs in large portions of the Snake and Columbia rivers. States are generally charged with developing the cleanup plans for their own waters, and the EPA approves them. The duty falls to the EPA when states fail to develop a plan.
The EPA is appealing that decision in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the Oregon case, the EPA had approved Oregon's TMDLs for temperature in numerous rivers and other water bodies throughout Oregon--including portions of the Snake and Columbia rivers that border Oregon--and the Willamette, Rogue, Umpqua, Grande Ronde, John Day, Klamath, Umatilla, Hood, Malheur and Sandy rivers.
Those TMDLs contained criteria requiring that the biological needs of salmonids are met at various life stages, but included "natural conditions criteria" that superseded the biological criteria. The natural conditions criteria allowed for higher water temperatures as long as those temperatures were not the result of human activities.
According to the judge's ruling, that allowed for higher water temperatures than the biologically-based criteria in most water bodies--in some instances, substantially higher. In a news release, NWEA said that biologically-based TMDLs would limit water temperatures to between 16 C and 18 C (61 F to 64 F), while under natural conditions criteria, water temperatures in some waterways could go as high as 32 C (90 F), which can kill salmon within seconds.
But, the judge wrote, the EPA and Oregon contend that practical differences between the natural conditions criteria and biological criteria are "modest or nonexistent," because the TMDLs also include a "human use allowance," meaning human activities can only cause water temperatures to exceed temperature limits by 0.3 C (0.54 F), including all point and nonpoint sources.
While the EPA and Oregon contend that the regulation is functionally controlled by the minimal increase allowed by human sources, Hernández found that the purpose of TMDLs is not only to set limits on pollution, but also to bring impaired waters into compliance with "applicable criteria."
Allowing for natural conditions criteria rather than biologically based criteria "could affect on-the-ground restoration and rehabilitation efforts because it could lead to the misprioritization of projects and the misallocation of state, municipal, and nongovernmental resources," the judge ruled. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Columbia Riverkeeper Sues Douglas County PUD Over Columbia River Oil Leaks
Columbia Riverkeeper filed a lawsuit against Douglas County PUD Dec. 11, alleging the discharge of pollutants--including oils, greases and other lubricants--at Wells Dam require a water pollution permit under the Clean Water Act.
Filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the lawsuit asks the court to find that the PUD violated, and continues to violate, the Clean Water Act, and seeks an injunction preventing Douglas from continuing to discharge pollutants.
The PUD declined to comment, and has not yet filed an official reply to the claims.
Columbia Riverkeeper announced in September that it intended to sue not only Douglas, but also Chelan and Grant county PUDs for failing to get pollution permits that would account for leaking oil and other lubricants at their mid-Columbia River dams.
Lauren Goldberg, the group's legal and program director, told NW Fishletter that cases against Chelan and Grant PUDs have not been filed, but are still pending.
According to Riverkeeper, Douglas reported a hydraulic line failure in 2014 that resulted in a 2,000-gallon leak of hydraulic oil, including five gallons that reached the Columbia River. It is one of many leaks described in the lawsuit.
"Oil pollution from dams must stop," Riverkeeper's executive director Brett VandenHeuvel said in a news release. "People rely on clean water and healthy salmon runs. It's past time for the Douglas County PUD to protect clean water in the Columbia River."
Goldberg said that without a permit, the PUDs can fail to monitor or report pollution, preventing the public from understanding the extent of the problem, which has included large leaks as well as smaller but chronic leaks.
"It's not a green light to pollute," she said. "It restricts the amount and the type of pollutant, and requires the company or PUD to monitor how much pollution and what types they're releasing into the river."
She said prior lawsuits filed by Columbia Riverkeeper against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation resulted in agreements by those agencies to obtain pollution discharge permits for nine Columbia and Snake river dams. Both agencies have also completed studies and taken steps to replace conventional oils with less harmful ones, she said. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Judge Stays Order Requiring EPA To Set Columbia Basin Temperature Standards
A federal judge in Seattle granted the EPA's request to delay requirements of an Oct. 17 order that requires the agency to issue standards for water temperature on the Snake and Columbia rivers until the appeals process is complete.
On Nov. 30, U.S. District Chief Judge Ricardo Martinez granted EPA's motion for a stay pending appeal in Columbia Riverkeeper et al. v. Andrew Wheeler et al.
Martinez had ruled that the EPA must issue total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for temperature throughout large segments of the two rivers by Dec. 17. That requirement is now on hold while the appeal is heard; the appeal was filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Nov. 23.
The agency has declined to comment.
Court filings indicated that the appeal was "protective," and that the agency was still deciding whether to pursue its appeal, but this ruling may convince the agency to move ahead with the appeal.
Miles Johnson, an attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper, confirmed in an interview with NW Fishletter that based on those court filings, the EPA hasn't technically decided to appeal.
Johnson said compared with state agencies, the EPA is in the best position to issue a TMDL for the Columbia and Snake rivers due to the technical nature and complexity of the multi-jurisdictional waterway. "I think they are working on it, and are relatively close to finishing it," he said.
"Columbia Riverkeeper thinks that the best thing for Columbia River salmon and steelhead is to have a TMDL as soon as possible, because the temperature issue is developing into a crisis on the Columbia and Snake rivers," he added. "We're having fish kills and problems with temperature every summer. The EPA spinning this out for another two years is disappointing." -K.C. Mehaffey
 Idaho Reinstates Steelhead Fishing On Most Rivers
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved an agreement that allows the state's well-known Snake River steelhead season to remain open, except on two large tributaries, after five conservation groups agreed not to sue.
In an interim compromise, the commission agreed on Dec. 7 to close steelhead fishing on large sections of the Salmon River and South Fork of the Clearwater River, while keeping other areas open.
In addition, members of the Idaho River Community Alliance agreed to voluntary fishing restrictions designed to help wild steelhead survive if they're caught and released. The restrictions include keeping wild steelhead in the water while they are being released, using single barbless hooks, and retaining all hatchery steelhead that are captured.
The agreement is in effect until March 15, 2019, or until NOAA Fisheries, through its National Marine Fisheries Service, approves Idaho's steelhead fishing plan under the Endangered Species Act, if that comes sooner.
Commissioners had announced the season would close Dec. 7 after five conservation groups--The Conservation Angler, Friends of the Clearwater, Snake River Waterkeeper, Wild Fish Conservancy and Idaho Rivers United--threatened to sue because the state does not have an incidental take permit for threatened wild steelhead.
Idaho officials said in a news release that they sought to renew its permit in 2010, but a backlog at NMFS delayed approval for years.
NOAA Fisheries reopened public comments for Idaho's Snake River steelhead fishing through Dec. 13, and in a news release said they understand the importance of the steelhead fishing season to anglers, and are focused on completing its review promptly.
Conservation groups say that the Snake River's wild steelhead have been in a steep decline since 2014. David Moskowitz, executive director of The Conservation Angler said in a news release that this year's returns are likely to be the lowest since 1994.
"When we learned that Idaho had been conducting steelhead sportfishing without ESA [Endangered Species Act] authorization, we decided that wild steelhead deserved more protection than Idaho was providing," Moskowitz said.
Idaho's famous wild B-run steelhead, which return to the Clearwater and Salmon river drainages and tend to be larger after spending more time in the ocean, are in most serious trouble, he said. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Corps Investigates 192-Gallon Oil Spill At The Dalles
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is investigating the cause of a 192-gallon discharge of hydraulic turbine oil into the Columbia River at The Dalles Dam, and has initiated cleanup.
A news release from the Corps said that the agency discovered the leak on Dec. 18, when its control room received a low sump oil alarm for one of the dam's turbines. Operators removed the unit from service, isolated it from the river and deployed absorbent pads, the release said. The National Response Center, Washington, Oregon, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and Columbia Riverkeeper have been notified, according to the release.
The Corps will continue to monitor the river below The Dalles and prepare to clean up any oil sheens discovered, it said.
A news release from Columbia Riverkeeper said the event was just the latest spill at a Corps dam. Earlier this year, 474 gallons of turbine oil went unaccounted for at The Dalles Dam, and is presumed to have spilled into the Columbia River.
The nonprofit group credits a 2014 court settlement with the Corps for discovery of the most recent leak. It said the problem was detected while recording oil levels under its oil accountability program, which was required in the settlement. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Coleman Oil Disputes Ecology's Claims, Plans Appeal
A manager for Coleman Oil says his company disputes some of the Washington Department of Ecology's findings surrounding a Columbia River oil spill near Wenatchee, and plans to appeal its $189,000 fine to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board.
Jim Cach, operations manager for the Lewiston-based company, said they were unaware that an employee at its Wenatchee facility was not following proper procedures to ensure oil spills are discovered quickly. He said the company fully cooperated once the spill was traced back to one of its underground pipes. The product that spilled into the Columbia River is actually not biodiesel as reported in an Ecology news release, but a renewable oil called R99 made from natural fats and vegetables and not fossil fuel, Cach added.
Ecology said in a Nov. 28 news release that Coleman Oil was negligent for failing to monitor levels of fuel in its 20,000-gallon bulk oil tank, and that its actions resulted in a 3,840-gallon spill which leaked into the Columbia River over a period of years.
Cach said their own investigation found that the leak occurred only over a period of three months, from January to March 2017, through a "pin-prick sized hole" in the pipe. The employee, who no longer works for the company, was not taking daily physical measurements of the oil levels in one of its tanks as required, he said, but instead inferred how much oil should have been in the tank based on how much had been taken out.
He said as soon as the spill was traced to its tanks, they paid Ecology $213,400 for its response costs, and immediately took over the cleanup process.
So far, Cach said, they've spent $2.6 million on response, monitoring and cleanup. The measures include maintaining booms on the Columbia River, removing all fuel from the bulk plant, decommissioning and removing 10 oil tanks, and demolishing and removing three buildings.
The company also excavated 750 tons of soil, installed 38 monitoring and recovery wells, and are working with the EPA on a resource damage assessment, he said.
"Coleman Oil has worked diligently and cooperatively with federal and state agencies," Cach said, adding, "How is this going to encourage others" to cooperate? -K.C. Mehaffey
 Forecasters Await El Nino, Predict Below-Normal Runoff
Forecasters say this year's April through September water supply could be well below normal in Oregon, factoring in current conditions, precipitation forecasts over the next 10 days, and the likelihood that El Nino will influence weather over the next three months.
But predictions in a Jan. 3 briefing by NOAA's Northwest River Forecast Center also point to near-normal runoff in the upper Columbia River basin, and above-normal runoff in the Canadian portions of the basin.
The webinar was the first water supply forecast for 2019, with monthly predictions to continue through June.
"Many of the mid- and lower-Snake tributaries are well below normal," said Forecast Center senior hydrologist Kevin Berghoff, showing the forecast for this year's water supply. "The upper Snake is looking reasonably OK at this point--somewhere in the 85- to 90-percent range--but many of the mid- and lower-Snake tributaries are dropping down below the 75-percent range," he said.
Part of the problem is a poor start to snowpack this winter. Washington State Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a Dec. 31 tweet, that after suffering one of the slowest starts to the snowpack in 30 years, snowpack jumped to 94 percent of normal thanks to recent storms. But Oregon and parts of the Snake River basin haven't been as snow-fortunate.
"Oregon--while it's looking better than it did last year--it's still well below normal even after fairly decent snowpack accumulation over the last week," Berghoff reported. Since Oct. 1, the upper Columbia and Snake river basins have seen below-normal precipitation, while Oregon has been well below normal. The snow-water equivalent is also below normal across the upper Columbia and Snake river basins, and well below normal in the Oregon Cascades.
Berghoff said current three-month forecasts for January through March show an increased chance of below-normal precipitation throughout most of the Columbia Basin, although there's no clear signal for precipitation levels in the Snake River Basin. In addition, he said, there's an increased chance for above-normal temperatures across the Columbia and Snake river basins "during the snow-building months."
Berghoff noted that's partly because El Nino is still very likely to form this winter and continue into spring.
For two months now, forecasters with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center have reported a strong chance that El Nino will form in the Pacific Ocean, and bring warmer-than-average conditions to the Pacific Northwest.
But despite a continued strong likelihood, neutral conditions for the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) continued through November and December, even as sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator continued to be above average.
In early November, forecasters gave El Nino an 80 percent chance of developing. It's now up to 90 percent, the agency reported Dec. 13. The chance of it continuing into the spring is still about 60 percent, the report said.
"Typically, if it's going to develop, it would show its hands soon," Jeremy Wolf, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Spokane, Wash., told NW Fishletter. Wolf explained that, while surface water in the Pacific Ocean is already warm enough off the central and eastern equatorial coast, the atmosphere has not yet responded.
"They haven't seen that develop yet," Wolf said, adding, "That's the one missing piece, the atmospheric response." When that happens, the jet stream often shifts south into Oregon and California, which can move the storm track south, he said.
Still, Wolf said, even under El Nino conditions, the precipitation amounts in the Northwest are uncertain. However, because temperatures are usually warmer, some precipitation in the winter will fall as rain instead of snow.
"Each El Nino is different," he said. In some, the jet stream moves south, and the Columbia Basin gets less precipitation. Averaging every El Nino year since the 1950s, Wolf said, shows that "wet anomalies are to our south, and we tend to be drier" in the Columbia Basin. "But some El Nino winters have actually brought wetter conditions up here. There's never a guarantee."
A blog post by NOAA research scientist Emily Becker explained that the atmospheric response forecasters are looking for may not have occurred due to the Madden-Julian Oscillation, which affects global circulation in the atmosphere in a matter of weeks, compared to ENSO, which impacts the weather for months. So instead of settling into a seasonal pattern, the atmosphere is still being affected by this short-term circulation pattern.
"Why are forecasters confident that these two are destined for each other?" Becker asked, and then answered, "Most climate models predict that sea surface temperatures will remain higher than the El Nino threshold ... Adding support to this is that the amount of warmer-than-average water under the surface is still quite high, although slightly decreased from last month (the November average tied for sixth highest since 1979). This will provide a source of warmer-than-average water for the surface over the next few months." -K.C. Mehaffey
 Karier, Booth Retiring From Power Council
Two longtime members of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council--Tom Karier of Washington and Bill Booth of Idaho--bid farewell to fellow Council members Dec. 11, as their terms of service ended.
Karier, who was an economics professor at Eastern Washington University and associate dean from 1995 to 1998, has served on the Council for 20 years after his appointment in 1998.
Booth, a former U.S. Air Force officer, minerals industry executive, and economics and accounting instructor at North Idaho College, was appointed in 2007.
Both served terms as the Council's chairman. Booth chaired and served on the Fish and Wildlife Committee while Karier chaired and served on the Power Committee.
Karier said that over the years, he served with 27 other Council members who were all committed to the Northwest. He said it was an "honor" to work with some of the best analysts in the region.
"It's like a graduate seminar every month here," he told the Council.
He added that when he was appointed, "I literally went from one day counting freshmen to counting fall Chinook."
He said he plans to return to work at Eastern Washington University.
Booth congratulated Karier for his longevity on the Council, and said he made his farewell comments at the November meeting. "It's been an honor and a pleasure to work with you. I think we've achieved some good things together," he said.
The NWPCC is made up of eight members. Governors of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana each appoint two members. -K.C. Mehaffey
 California Files Draft Environmental Impact Report For Klamath Project
The California State Water Resources Board released a draft report outlining environmental impacts of a proposal to remove three Klamath River dams in California, and is accepting public comment until Feb. 26.
The draft Environmental Impact Report identifies "significant and unavoidable" impacts in 14 areas, including aesthetics; air quality; aquatic resources; flood hydrology; geology, soils and mineral resources; hazards and hazardous materials; historical and tribal cultural resources; noise, phytoplankton and periphyton; public services; recreation; terrestrial resources; transportation and traffic; and water quality.
Six of those impacts, plus water supply and water rights, were also identified as significant but with mitigation measures that will prevent or avoid significant impacts. "Additionally, the State Water Board has identified cumulatively considerable effects of the Proposed Project," the Board's letter announcing the release of its report states.
The analysis is part of California's process for issuing a final permit under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act for removing the dams. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has already issued its final water quality certification for removal of the J.C. Boyle Dam--a fourth dam in the proposal to restore the lower Klamath River to a free-flowing river.
Klamath River Renewal Corporation and PacifiCorp have filed joint applications with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to separate the four dams from PacifiCorp's license, transfer the license for those four dams to KRRC, and surrender the license so that dam removal can begin.
In a news release, the KRRC applauded release of the document. "This draft report is a key step to completing this critical project and rehabilitating one of the great rivers of the American west. It's a sign of meaningful progress and I look forward to a thorough KRRC review of this report and its proposals," Mark Bransom, KRRC's chief executive officer said in a prepared statement.
The Board will host public meetings and receive comments in Yreka, Arcata, Orleans and Sacramento from Feb. 5 through Feb. 15. Comments can also be sent to WR401Program@waterboards.ca.gov or Michelle Siebal, State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Water Rights - Water Quality Certification Program, PO Box 2000, Sacramento, CA 95812-2000. -K.C. Mehaffey
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