NW Fishletter #390, February 4, 2019
  1. Seattle Company Awaits Permits To Send Chinook Over Chief Joseph
  2. New Baby Orca, New Study Offer Hope For Survival
  3. WDFW Seeks $6.4 Million For New Hatchery Salmon For Orcas
  4. States, Tribes Gear Up To Remove Nuisance Steller Sea Lions
  5. Appeals Court Rules Against FERC In Klamath Project Clean Water Act Delays
  6. FERC Agrees 'Plan B' Needed For More Klamath Dam Removal Funds
  7. Washington's 'State of Salmon' Report Finds Much Work Is Still Needed
  8. Action Agencies Expedite Release Of Columbia Basin Federal Dam EIS To 2020
  9. Columbia Riverkeeper Appeals Court Decision That Allowed Another EPA Delay
  10. Fishermen Earn $1.4M Catching 180,271 Northern Pikeminnows
  11. BPA Offers Final Update On 2019 Fish And Wildlife Program Cuts
  12. Douglas County PUD Denies Lawsuit Claims
  13. Washington, Oregon Initiate Temporary Total Dissolved Gas Changes
  14. Vancouver Fined For Raw Sewage Spill Into Columbia
  15. Bill To Reclassify Bass, Walleye To Help Orcas Considered By Washington House Committee
  16. Washington, Oregon Meet To Develop Joint Fishing Policies
  17. Group Seeks Expedited Hearing On Willamette Spill And Drawdowns

[1] Seattle Company Awaits Permits To Send Chinook Over Chief Joseph

Whooshh Innovations, a Seattle company that developed a new fish passage system, is making plans to use its so-called "salmon cannon" to send returning adult Chinook over Chief Joseph Dam this summer.

Located below Grand Coulee Dam near Bridgeport, Wash., the 236-foot tall hydroelectric dam has no fish ladders and has blocked anadromous fish since it was built in 1955.

If the necessary permits are in place by July, these migratory fish will be finding their way to a temporary barge near the base of the dam and into a system that uses pressure differentials to push each fish through an irrigated flexible tube stretching up and over the dam. From there, they can continue through Rufus Woods Lake to the base of Grand Coulee Dam, which will block further passage.

Whooshh CEO Vince Bryan presented his company's system to the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee Jan. 29, and asked for $2 million to help fund the new barge. Another $100,000 in requested funds would help install a fish scanning device on one of the fish ladders at Bonneville Dam, so the company can design software to recognize the different species that make their way past the dam.

Providing safe fish passage, separating hatchery fish from wild fish, removing invasive species, producing more Chinook for orcas and leaving more water in the river for power production are all ways that Whooshh technology could help solve many of the salmon recovery problems facing the state today, Bryan said. He also asked for written support to help convince federal agencies of its importance.

The salmon cannon was first developed to efficiently move fruit in packing sheds without bruising, Michael Messina, Whooshh's director of market development, told the committee. He said the company recognized there was a far greater need to safely move fish past dams, and brought together experts not strictly involved in fisheries to find an innovative approach to problems that have plagued fish passage.

"Going up a ladder is exhausting for fish," Bryan said. "Going up the Whooshh system is like taking the first step of a ladder, and after that, taking an elevator the rest of the way."

Now, with numerous studies showing that the Whooshh process does not harm fish and that adult salmon survive in better shape than those that travel through fish ladders, Whooshh is putting its technology to work, he said.


Chief Joseph Dam. Photo: K.C. Mehaffey

Among the studies was one in 2016 where the company showed it could transport salmon a distance of 1,100 feet with a 100-foot elevation in about 35 seconds. The hatchery fish were then observed for one to three months and no differences were found in adult survival or egg viability.

The technology can also separate wild and hatchery fish by recognizing presence of an adipose fin. "It can sort the fish real time, as they're going upstream," Bryan told the committee, adding, "Our first sale in 2014 was because of a lawsuit on the Washougal River, where they had to separate the wild from the hatchery fish."

In an interview with NW Fishletter, Bryan explained that although the installations at Bonneville and Chief Joseph dams will further test the system, they could also be a first step toward stabilizing hydropower in the Columbia Basin and achieving a carbon-free energy grid in Washington state. "We have the opportunity to get there relatively quickly if we use hydropower in the right way," Bryan said. That's because the Whooshh system is only a fraction of the cost of a new fish ladder, and because it's not permanent, so permitting is faster.

Salmon cannons could also replace existing fish ladders in the Columbia River, where between 1.7 and 14 percent of the water is now going through fish ladders, depending on the dam, Messina said.


Whooshh scanners capture photo-like images, such as this steelhead. Credit: Whooshh Innovations

With Bonneville Power Administration struggling to survive in a changing energy market, Bryan said, their system could not only solve adult fish passage problems but also enable dam operators to use the water now diverted to the fish ladders and instead send it through turbines to produce more power and help Washington reach its clean energy goals.

More successful adult migration will result in far more juvenile fish, which should mitigate for concerns about juvenile passage, he added. "Really, a lot of the problem can be resolved simply by having more adults successfully spawning, and removing invasive predators so you have more juveniles," he said.

This year's projects at Bonneville Dam, and at Chief Joseph Dam, if permits are issued, will help move that effort forward, Bryan said, adding, "This is a real opportunity for a full demonstration of the system."

At Bonneville, the company will design and build the fish scanner, and is asking for funding so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can hire a contractor to install it. The scanner will enable fish managers to get a clear look at each fish passing through the ladder, capturing a photo-quality image in about one-half second, without handling or stressing the fish, Messina said. Scans are so detailed they show identifying marks or other things, such as scratches which are likely unsuccessful attempts by sea lions to capture them, he said.


The barge that Whooshh Innovations hopes to launch on the Columbia River below Chief Joseph Dam this summer. Credit: Whooshh Innovations

Information gathered at Bonneville this year will be shared with fishery managers, including the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which is interested in using the scans to help estimate the steelhead runs, he said.

At Chief Joseph Dam, only summer Chinook salmon will be sent over the dam, in order to avoid concerns with Endangered Species Act-listed species, Bryan said.

The reservoir above the dam is "a perfect lab," he said, because there is a hatchery at the base of the dam to ensure plenty of adults, but no salmon between Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dam.

In addition to survival and migration to Grand Coulee Dam, the company can also study other aspects of the salmon cannon, including how quickly the fish make it over the dam, their condition, size and time of day they migrate. "It's a full example of the capability of the system," he said.

Bryan said that although permitting efforts stalled during the partial government shutdown, he's hopeful the federal agencies can make up for lost time.

In the video shown to the Senate committee, Bryan noted the system could help save both fish and hydropower in areas where passage is an issue. "There are 85,000 dams or so in this country-only a fraction of those have fish passage," he said. "To take down 85,000 dams, if you took down one a day it's going to take over 230 years, and we're not going to have any fish by that point. Or we can put in 11 Whooshh systems, and in 20 years have fish passage on every dam in the country." -K.C. Mehaffey

[2] New Baby Orca, New Study Offer Hope For Survival

As whale watchers were celebrating sightings of a new baby orca in Puget Sound on Jan. 10, fisheries scientist Gregory Ruggerone took comfort knowing that--despite the loss of a baby orca last year--this newest member of the endangered southern resident killer whales has a better chance of surviving its first year.

A research scientist at Natural Resources Consultants and a member of the Independent Scientific Review Panel, Ruggerone and three other scientists just completed a study finding that newborn orcas are twice as likely to survive in odd years--as in 2019--than they are in even years--like 2018.

They also found that overall mortality rates among both newborns and older whales are more than three times higher in even years compared with odd years. From 1998 to 2017, when the population dropped from 98 to 75 whales, these orcas saw only 16 successful births in even years--half as many compared with odd years, when 32 have survived their first year. The mortality rate for both newborn and older whales was 3.6 times higher--or 61 whales--in even years compared with just 17 whales that have died in odd years.

Scientists believe this biennial mortality is not just coincidence. To Ruggerone, who has spent years studying pink salmon and the impact that their every-other-year abundance has had on the ocean environment and other species, he and other authors of the study believe that somehow--even though orcas don't eat them--pink salmon are playing a key role in the orca's plight. But they're not yet sure whether that impact is positive or negative.


Whale watchers spotted a new member of the SRKW’s L pod in Puget Sound on Jan. 10. Courtesy: Center for Whale Research

"The data are quite simple and straightforward, and in my mind, totally unexpected," Ruggerone told NW Fishletter.

And while it's not clear why the whales are more likely to survive in years when pink salmon are ultra-abundant, the authors of the study have some ideas. "The biennial pattern is there. We need to understand it, because it could help us recover the whales," Ruggerone noted.

The new baby was spotted Jan. 10, and brings the southern resident population to 75 individuals. It is a member of the L pod, and is being identified by the Center for Whale Research as L124, calf of 31-year-old L77. The mother has had two prior calves--the first died the same year it was born in 2010, and the second is a living female born in 2012, the nonprofit group reports.

"Approximately 40 percent of newborn calves do not survive their first few years, but we hope that this one makes it to maturity," the group's website says.

It's been three years since the southern residents have successfully produced a new member. The population includes the J, K and L pods. The L pod, now with 35 individuals, is the largest. Unlike the J pod--which lost a baby and an adult female last year and spends most of its time in the inner Salish Sea--the K and L pods travel the West Coast, preying on salmon as far south as California.

Following news of the new baby orca, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted a new policy at its Jan. 11-12 meeting directing Fish and Wildlife managers to consider the dietary needs of orcas when setting this year's salmon fishing seasons.

"While state fishing seasons have long been subject to federal review, this new policy confirms that WDFW must play a leading role in orca recovery," Ron Warren, head of the agency's fish program, said in a prepared statement. "This year we plan to work with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop new tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for endangered orcas."

The agency is also asking the state Legislature for funds to improve salmon habitat and increase hatchery salmon by 24 million juveniles over the next two years, and is planning to increase production by 50 million in the 2021-2023 biennium budget.

The commission's policy also directs staff to enforce boating regulations and take steps to protect orcas from fishing vessel traffic disruptions.

Ruggerone said further investigation is needed before the indirect link between pink salmon abundance and orca survival can be used to develop other policies to help the southern resident population.

His study, published in the Jan. 3 edition of Marine Ecology Progress Series, notes that annual returns of pink salmon number about 17.8 million fish in odd years, and drop to about 400,000 fish in even years.

"This is the only biennial pattern in the physical or biological environment of the northeastern Pacific Ocean of which we are aware that could potentially drive the demographic pattern observed in [southern resident killer whales]," the study states.

One hypothesis as to why orcas do better in odd years is that they have a harder time finding their much-preferred prey--Chinook salmon--which are deeper in the ocean when there is a layer of highly abundant pink salmon closer to the ocean's surface. Pink and Chinook salmon both migrate through the same areas of the Salish Sea at the same time in summer and early fall. "Reduced foraging efficiency of the whales would lower their nutritional status, which would be expressed in the following even year because these large mammals have a strong physiological buffering capacity," the study suggests.

An alternative hypothesis is that pink salmon, when they are highly abundant, are indirectly helping the whale's ability to survive, even if they're not eating them directly. "[A]t present, we do not have a mechanistic explanation for how pink salmon would enhance SRKW foraging on Chinook salmon," the study said. The study also says that this biennial pattern also coincides with shifts in the orcas' foraging distribution.

The study's authors note that the biennial pattern linking orcas' birth and mortality rates to even or odd years cannot be explained by vessel disturbance, toxic contaminants or Chinook abundance, and that the extreme biennial abundance of pink salmon has been tied to effects on other species and ecosystem processes.

In prior studies, Ruggerone and other scientists found that the peaks and ebbs of annual pink salmon runs are causing the ocean's tiny plants and animals--its phytoplankton and zooplankton--to rise and fall dramatically each year.

His study and others have also found that increasing numbers of wild and hatchery pink salmon throughout the Pacific could be significantly impacting seabirds and other salmon species, including the growth and survival of sockeye, Chinook, coho and chum salmon, and steelhead. Pink salmon are now more abundant in the Pacific than at any other time since monitoring began in 1925. -K.C. Mehaffey

[3] WDFW Seeks $6.4 Million For New Hatchery Salmon For Orcas

With the goal of producing more fish for endangered orcas, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife raised 7 million additional hatchery salmon in 2018 to release this year in the Columbia River, Puget Sound and tributaries to Washington's coast.

And if state lawmakers agree, this boost in hatchery production is just the beginning.

In a Jan. 7 proposal to the state Legislature, the agency is asking for $6.4 million in the 2019-2021 budget to raise and release nearly 24.2 million additional Chinook, coho and chum at 21 state hatcheries from now through 2021.

After decades of decreasing hatchery production prompted by hatchery reforms and a lack of funding, the plight of southern resident killer whales is reversing that trend.

According to the report, total production at state hatcheries dropped from about 275 million salmon and steelhead in 1989 to about 145 million in 2017.

Fish and Wildlife's plan would increase those numbers to more than 150 million juveniles in 2020. And a new policy adopted by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in September seeks to boost Chinook production by 50 million additional smolts.


Hatchery production by region 1989-2019. Source: WDFW

The added 7 million juvenile Chinook and coho now being raised at 17 state hatcheries includes 900,000 more spring Chinook at the Lewis River Hatchery for release in the Columbia Basin. If the Legislature appropriates more funding for the 2019-2020 biennium, hatcheries at Beaver Creek, Lyons Ferry, Kalama and Ringold will join Lewis River to raise a total of 2.1 million Chinook and 675,000 coho to add to Columbia River hatchery releases at a projected cost of nearly $1.5 million.

The proposed ramp-up in operations is even greater in Puget Sound, where the agency has plans to raise an additional 11.5 million juvenile salmon, and on the Washington coast where 9.9 million juvenile salmon would be added.

The proposal to rear more hatchery salmon includes only state facilities and a few that are co-managed with tribes, and does not include the potential to increase production at hatcheries operated by Oregon, federal agencies, tribes or public utilities.

Scientists say a lack of available prey is one reason why this population of orcas is struggling to survive. Unlike the transient killer whales in the Pacific Ocean that prey on seals and sea lions, the three pods of whales that frequent the Puget Sound area rely almost solely on salmon, particularly Chinook, which make up 80 to 90 percent of their diet. They also consume coho and chum during certain times of the year. WDFW's three-year proposal would boost juvenile Chinook production by 15.7 million, chum by 5.5 million and coho by nearly 3 million juvenile fish.

Last spring, when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order to help the southern resident population, the Legislature provided funds to help WDFW carry out the order's directives to take immediate actions to help the whales. An $837,000 appropriation from the general fund was earmarked for increasing hatchery production, which included identifying "within hatchery standards and endangered species act constraints" how to best increase production to most benefit the needs of orcas. The hatcheries and species earmarked for increased production were selected after a close examination of the salmon stocks the orcas prefer, combined with a look at when salmon migration coincides with the migratory patterns of the orcas.

Working with NOAA Fisheries, the agency produced a report last summer determining which stocks of Chinook are most important to the whales' recovery. Fall Chinook from both the northern and southern Puget Sound stocks were deemed their top priority, followed by lower Columbia River and Straight of Georgia fall Chinook.

The agency also worked with Inslee's Southern Resident Orca Task Force, which in November issued three dozen recommendations to offer immediate help to the whales, including significantly increasing hatchery production "consistent with sustainable fisheries and stock management, available habitat, recovery plans and the Endangered Species Act."

But even before the task force recommendation, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted a policy statement in September that proposed increasing hatchery Chinook production by 50 million smolts above 2018 levels, including 30 million in Puget Sound and 20 million in the Columbia Basin.

WDFW, in its proposal to the Legislature, stressed that increases in hatchery production should occur in conjunction with more habitat protection and restoration so both hatchery and wild fish can be successful. It should have minimal effects on natural stocks, and be monitored closely, the report says.

In order to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the agency found places where production could be increased with the least impact to natural stocks, and where hatchery production could be boosted within the scope of existing Endangered Species Act permits, the report says.

For facilities where increased production is not included in existing Endangered Species Act permits, the agency has initiated consultation with federal agencies to discuss that potential. The state agency says it plans to incorporate hatchery reform measures in its expanded programs, and monitor the proportion of hatchery fish found on spawning grounds.

Inslee, in his proposed 2019-2021 budget includes $6.35 million to increase hatchery production, along with $70 million for hatchery renovations, and $1 million so the agency can develop a master plan on hatchery infrastructure. The agency's funding request includes $381,660 for a pilot study on how to improve smolt-to-adult survival rates, Dunlop said. -K.C. Mehaffey

[4] States, Tribes Gear Up To Remove Nuisance Steller Sea Lions

States and tribes preparing a joint application for the lethal removal of California and Steller sea lions that prey on salmon below Bonneville Dam were given funds to by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council to build barges needed in the effort.

The group has obtained permission in the past for lethal removal of California sea lions at Bonneville Dam, and later at Willamette Falls under an extensive vetting process to identify problem pinnipeds. Under the new federal law some of the requirements have been eased in light of the growing magnitude of the problem.

Until recently, California sea lions posed the main problem for fish managers. But Stellers--with males weighing up to 2,500 pounds (compared to the 800-pound California sea lions)--roam along the Columbia River and are now consuming about three-quarters of the total salmonid population taken by sea lions at Bonneville Dam, Kessina Lee, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Regional Director, told the Council Jan. 16.

These massive marine mammals initially preferred sturgeon, but have acquired a taste for salmon and steelhead. In an email to NW Fishletter, Lee said Steller sea lions now stick around the dam for 10 months of the year and are consuming about 4 percent of the steelhead run and 2 percent of the spring Chinook just below the dam.


A mother and her pup. Courtesy: WDFW

Lee and other fish managers from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission asked the Council for a one-time appropriation of up to $51,485 so they can safely trap and euthanize as many as 100 Steller sea lions that now spend most of the year below Bonneville Dam, gobbling up between 2,000 and 3,000 adult salmon and steelhead as they make their way toward the fish ladders.

The Council agreed to provide up to $52,000 from its unspent cost savings program. The money will be used to fabricate a new 10-foot by 32-foot barge that will hold and transport these massive marine mammals, and to purchase three new traps and other equipment to help catch them. The allocation allows the states and tribes to build a new barge in time for the fall Chinook and steelhead returns.

Trapping and euthanizing Steller sea lions at Bonneville Dam has become a priority partly because their numbers continue to grow, as does their impact on salmon and steelhead runs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began seeing Stellers at the dam in 2003, when just three joined the 104 California sea lions camped out below the dam. Now, between 50 and 90 of the larger predators are counted at the dam each year. By contrast, the number of California sea lions at the base of the dam has fluctuated between 40 and 104 individuals since 2003. Their numbers jumped to 195 in 2015 but dropped back to 92 in 2017.

The Corps estimates that in 2017, California and Steller sea lions together ate between 4,700 and 5,230 salmon and steelhead just below Bonneville Dam. And that's just a fraction of the 24,242 salmonids consumed by both sea lion types between the dam and the mouth of the Columbia that year, researchers say.

California sea lions were initially the larger problem in the Columbia River. In 2008--five years after they started roaming up the Columbia River in large numbers--Washington, Oregon and Idaho received a permit from NOAA Fisheries to kill as many as 93 California sea lions at the dam each year, if they're observed eating salmon or steelhead in the tailrace of the dam.

In order to euthanize them, the states had to individually identify the pinniped--which requires trapping, marking and releasing them--and then document their presence at the dam for five days and attempt non-lethal removal through hazing. Under these requirements, the states have killed an average of 19 California sea lions a year. They unsuccessfully tried relocating the sea lions, only to have them return within days.


A Steller sea lion rookery, or colony with birthing mothers, on Rogue Reef in Oregon. Courtesy: ODFW

Late last year, Oregon received a new permit to euthanize California sea lions at Willamette Falls, where the sea lions are eating about one-quarter of the river's steelhead run. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said that process of removal has recently begun. So far, at least four California sea lions have been trapped at the falls and killed, said ODFW spokesman Rick Swart. He said their goal is to remove about 40. "That's the peak we've seen in recent years," he said.

Swart said it's important to realize that these sea lions are all males roaming into new territories to determine whether the habitat and food source is promising. "The importance of getting these early ones is, they aren't going back to California and taking that information back to the herd," he said. "We hope that, not only are we saving these fish, but we're also saving sea lions by short-circuiting that communication from one sea lion to another."

Swart said that while problems with Steller sea lions are part of the conversation, Oregon hasn't yet made plans to remove any at Willamette Falls. That's because they don't yet have permission for lethal removal, which only recently became possible.

The population of Stellers that live in Washington and Oregon were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act until 2013, and were still under special protection until 2016. But those protections were lifted with a growing population, which now includes about 12,000 animals in Washington and Oregon.

A new law also gives fish managers in the Columbia Basin additional authority to euthanize both California and Steller sea lions to help protect not only salmon and steelhead, but also sturgeon and lamprey. In December, after a decade-long effort, Congress passed the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, which allows states and tribes to trap and kill pinnipeds throughout the Columbia River below McNary Dam and in its tributaries that support Endangered Species Act-listed fish.

In a Jan. 7 letter to the Council, Lee noted that a joint application from the states and tribes seeking authority under the new law will include a request to lethally remove both California and Steller sea lions.

In a presentation to the Council's Fish and Wildlife Committee on Jan. 15, Lee showed pictures of Steller sea lions that had climbed into traps with some of the smaller California sea lions being trapped for removal. Their added weight on one side causes the traps to tilt heavily, which can prevent sea lion wranglers from moving the California sea lions out of the trap and onto the barge.

Council members--some of whom traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the new law--offered not only their financial support for a new barge and traps, but also praise for the efforts and collaboration between the three states and tribes now authorized to kill sea lions in the Columbia Basin.

"It is very good to hear the states and tribes are looking at additional resources," said Councilman Guy Norman, who chairs the Council's Fish and Wildlife Committee, pointing to added staffing commitments by the states and funding requests before state legislatures. -K.C. Mehaffey

[5] Appeals Court Rules Against FERC In Klamath Project Clean Water Act Delays

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down a common practice in hydroelectric dam relicensing--the annual submitting and withdrawing of water quality certification applications in order to avoid a Clean Water Act rule that gives states one year to complete the process, or waive their authority.

The Jan. 25 ruling--which found Oregon and California had waived their authority in the Klamath Hydroelectric Project relicensing process--will have no impact on a current proposal before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that aims to remove the four lower Klamath River projects. It could, however, come back to haunt the states if FERC does not approve the pending applications for license transfer and surrender.

In Hoopa Valley Tribe v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the D.C. Circuit judges noted that PacifiCorp first filed requests for water quality certification with Oregon and California in 2006. "Now, more than a decade later, the states still have not rendered certification decisions," Senior Judge David Sentelle wrote. "According to FERC, it is now commonplace for states to use Section 401 [of the Clean Water Act] to hold federal licensing hostage. At the time of briefing, 27 of the 43 licensing applications before FERC were awaiting a state's water quality certification, and four of those had been pending for more than a decade."

The Hoopa Valley Tribe, whose reservation lies just west of the Trinity River, a tributary of the Klamath, first petitioned FERC in May 2012, saying that California and Oregon had waived their authority to review water quality because of the repeated applications from PacifiCorp, and the case should go forward without them. But FERC denied the petition, finding that each yearly re-submission was a new request.

"In doing so, FERC acted arbitrarily and capriciously," Sentelle wrote. In explaining the decision, the judge quoted a previous D.C. Circuit decision that found the "purpose of the waiver provision is to prevent a State from indefinitely delaying a federal licensing proceeding by failing to issue a timely water quality certification under Section 401."

Vivienna Orcutt, a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council, told NW Fishletter she is both heartened by the court victory and discouraged it took so long.

She said although the dams have not been in environmental compliance since PacifiCorp's license expired in 2006, the utility has been able to continue to operate them, and profit from them, by delaying relicensing. She said the tribe did not sign a settlement agreement with PacifiCorp and several other parties to remove the dams because the tribe believes the pact over-allocates water to other uses upstream. Despite the victory, she said, "I'm also a little worried about staying the course."

Her husband and the tribe's fisheries director, Mike Orcutt, said the Klamath River--California's second largest--is a complex system with many competing interests. The dams have prevented fish passage in large parts of the Klamath River for more than 100 years, and fish that are there often suffer from disease caused by severely degraded water quality. He said that in 2002, a massive fish kill occurred in the Klamath River, and between 30,000 and 70,000 adult fish died, mainly fall Chinook. Orcutt said he believes the river is on the verge of ecologic collapse. "Even if the dams are removed and water quality is improved, there are still major challenges in the upper basin that need to be addressed," he added.

The court's decision isn't expected to have any impact on the dam removal process.

Matt Cox, spokesman for the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, said in an email that the decision doesn't change FERC's authority to continue with KRRC's transfer and surrender applications. KRRC was created through an amended agreement to remove the dams and pay for it with $450 million from a California bond and PacifiCorp rate surcharges. "The DC Circuit held that the states of California and Oregon have waived their water quality certification authorities with respect to relicensing," he wrote. "The case does not affect Oregon's 2018 water quality certification, or California's pending certification proceeding, related to license surrender."

PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said company attorneys are still reviewing the decision, but noted, "We're going to continue to proceed under the settlement agreement that's in place." Gravely added that PacifiCorp has not been withdrawing and resubmitting water quality certification applications in recent years, since an amended settlement agreement was signed.

That practice, of annually submitting and withdrawing applications for a water quality permit, was spelled out in the original settlement agreement, which the court found to be a "deliberate and contractual idleness" that defies requirements in the Clean Water Act. "Such an arrangement does not exploit a statutory loophole; it serves to circumvent a congressionally granted authority over the licensing, conditioning, and developing of a hydropower project," Sentelle wrote, later adding, "Regardless, had FERC properly interpreted Section 401 and found waiver when it first manifested more than a decade ago, decommissioning of the Project might very well be underway."

Thomas Schlosser, attorney for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, said so many years have passed that the tribe's victory will have little effect, but it could speed up the process if KRRC's plan fails to win FERC's approval for a license transfer and surrender. That plan is still under scrutiny, and will depend at least partly on whether KRRC can show sufficient funding is available to completely remove the dams and to restore the lower Klamath River.

Schlosser said that although FERC has put PacifiCorp's relicensing process on hold, "It's still out there. And we're not confident the KRRC proposal is going to work, so this ruling will give us a backstop if the KRRC proposal fails and relicensing is reactivated."

The decision could also impact other relicensing efforts. According to a story in the National Law Review, the "D.C. Circuit's opinion does not appear limited to the particular facts of the case and thus could radically alter the relationship between FERC and state water quality agencies in the relicensing process." -K.C. Mehaffey

[6] FERC Agrees 'Plan B' Needed For More Klamath Dam Removal Funds

A top Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) official approved Klamath River Renewal Corp.'s request to develop a "Plan B" for additional funding in case the cost of removing four dams and restoring the lower Klamath River exceeds the $450 million committed to the project.

In a Jan. 23 letter to KRRC and PacifiCorp--which still holds the license and operates the four dams slated for removal--David Capka, Director of the FERC's Division of Dam Safety and Inspections, accepted a proposal to revise KRRC's dam removal plan and its cost estimate, to be submitted to the agency by April 29.

The revisions will supplement KRRC's Definite Plan for removing the dams, a key part of its FERC application with PacifiCorp to transfer the license for four PacifiCorp dams on the lower Klamath River to KRRC, and to surrender that license for decommissioning. The dams are the J.C. Boyle in Oregon, and Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2 and Iron Gate dams in California.

The decision to revise the plan--which includes an analysis estimating project costs at $397.7 million--follows the recommendations made by an independent board of consultants. The board was created at FERC's direction and is asked to assess the feasibility and costs of the project, along with KRRC's financial ability to complete it.

The consultants met in October and provided a report to FERC in November with two main recommendations--a "Plan B" for additional funding in case financing from a California bond and PacifiCorp surcharges are inadequate, and a new cost estimate to be prepared by KRRC's technical consultants. The Renewal Corporation accepted those recommendations and offered its own comments in a Dec. 12, 2018, letter to FERC.

Capka, in response, provided comments to the consultants' recommendations, and raised another potential issue, indicating that KRRC cannot simply switch to a plan to partially remove the dam facilities if it discovers full removal will exceed costs.

In his letter, Capka notes that partial dam removal is examined in KRRC's definite plan, and that KRRC indicated it is "primarily for the purposes of environmental review." However, KRRC's response to the consultant recommendations states that it has the option to "de-scope" the project by implementing a partial dam removal. "Please verify that the proposed action in the Definite Plan for Commission approval is full dam removal," Capka's letter states.

Overall, the independent board of consultants (BOC) found that KRRC's Definite Plan appropriately recognizes the project's requirements and vulnerabilities, and that the types of insurance policies and bonds are appropriate for a project of this type, size and duration.

"[I]t is the BOC's opinion that it is likely that there will be sufficient funding within the state cost cap," their November report to FERC said. "However, the information reviewed also indicates that there is a possibility of exceeding the state cost cap for both full removal and partial removal schemes."

Because of that possibility, the consultants found it "imperative" to plan for cost overruns that are not covered by insurance, bonds, indemnification or a guaranteed maximum price with the contractor.

The state cost cap involves three sources of funding to decommission and remove the dams and restore the lower Klamath River. Totaling $450 million, they include a $250 million California bond measure, $184 million in surcharges from PacifiCorp's Oregon customers and $16 million in surcharges from PacifiCorp's California customers.

The consultants suggest that KRRC could seek agreements with the states "to obtain further contributions from rate payers or possibly co-licensing between the current Licensee and Transferee. There may well be other alternatives; however, leaving this aspect of the project underfunded carries the risk of incomplete dam removal and incomplete restorative efforts which could result in public safety issues and adversely affect the future of similar river restoration schemes."

The consultants' report also found "major shortcomings" in the plan's cost estimate, including an 8 percent allowance for contractor overhead and profit margin that consultants believe is very low. "A profit expectation in the order of 12 percent (or higher) would be more appropriate," and under some perspectives, a 20 percent margin for both corporate overhead and profit would be more accurate.

Their report also stated, "[A]ny unforeseen significant cost would not be covered by the proposed funding," and noted, "It is realistic to anticipate that a major change could occur on this project, as has happened on significant civil work in recent history (Calaveras Dam, Oakland Bay Bridge, Devil's Slide, the Boston Big Dig)."

KRRC's response letter outlines several finance methods it plans to use to compensate for unforeseen costs. A comprehensive insurance package will cover harm or damages to a third party; a surety bond in an amount equal to the value of the contract for removal will cover cost overruns or delays within the contractor's responsibility; KRRC will indemnify PacifiCorp and the states of Oregon and California against any damages from events such as a dam collapse, a major lawsuit by opponents or contaminated soils downstream, it says.

"Using our funds to pay premiums, KRRC will acquire and hold insurance, bond, and indemnification; and those financial instruments will cumulatively provide hundreds of millions of dollars of coverage against risks," the letter states.

In addition, once a contractor is selected, KRRC will establish a "guaranteed maximum price" for all work including a hatchery, pre-reservoir drawdown work, reservoir drawdowns, dam removal and habitat restoration. The only adjustments to that guarantee will be from "uncontrollable circumstances," such as changes in law and uninsurable forces, it states.

Clarifying FERC's expectations for the Definite Plan and cost estimate revisions, Capka asked KRRC to verify that its insurance, bonds and indemnification will be in place before decommissioning work begins, and to include an estimate of the cost of premiums and coverage extension above the $450 million. He also asked for an estimated date for reaching a guaranteed minimum price with the contractor.

Capka also asked for an explanation of how the project will be funded if work extends beyond expiration dates of funding agreements. Consultants had noted that the Oregon and California surcharges expire on Jan. 31, 2022, and the California bond measure expires on June 30, 2021, with exceptions for funds devoted to ongoing mitigation or monitoring. KRRC "only stated that it would seek extensions from the states, but provided no assurances that the states would be amenable to those extensions," his letter says. -K.C. Mehaffey

[7] Washington's 'State of Salmon' Report Finds Much Work Is Still Needed

A new report on the status of Endangered Species Act-listed salmon throughout Washington state finds that Snake River fall Chinook and Hood Canal summer chum are approaching recovery goals, while populations of upper Columbia River spring Chinook and Puget Sound Chinook have lost ground.

Meanwhile, five other stocks are making progress towards recovery and six are not.

The State of Salmon in Watersheds 2018 report offers a look at the condition of these 15 threatened or endangered populations--11 of them from the Columbia Basin--the health of the rivers and streams they depend on, and how far plans to recover them have come.

It's been 20 years since Washington passed the Salmon Recovery Act, which created the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. The six citizen groups that followed have developed plans and sought funding for specific projects to aid in salmon and steelhead recovery.

Four of the eight regions examined are in the Columbia Basin, including the upper, middle and lower Columbia River and the Snake River. The others are Hood Canal, Puget Sound, the Washington coast and northeast Washington.

"Reflecting on the past 20 years, we see thousands of people across the state doing good work to right mistakes and improve the plight of salmon," the report's executive summary says. "These efforts have saved some salmon populations from disappearing altogether and reversed or slowed the downward decline of others. . . . But far too many are still not improving. To stop investing in salmon is not an option."

While a tally of the stocks finds eight of the 15 runs are either not making progress or declining, Recreation and Conservation Office spokeswoman Susan Zemek said that overall, this report is more positive than previous reports. "This is a very large, complex and multi-year effort that is underway," she said. "It's not just a simple thing, and it's not going to be done in a couple of years. It's going to take that sustained effort over time to reverse all of the declining stocks."

The report suggests that substantially more funds are needed to fully implement recovery plans to save salmon and steelhead. It points to a study finding that the statewide need for habitat-related capital projects from 2010 through 2019 was $4.7 billion, based on funding requests from six salmon recovery regions.

Zemek said that state funds--intended to make up the bulk of the funding for the regional recovery plans--only provided about 16 percent of that need, or $770 million. However, she added, grants and funds from other sources, including the Bonneville Power Administration, are not included in the amount spent. In December, the Salmon Recovery Funding Board awarded nearly $18 million in grants to projects across the state--75 percent of them aimed at benefiting Chinook salmon which could also help southern resident orcas.

The report points to shoreline development and population growth as a major reason why more progress hasn't been made. The state's population has grown by 1.6 million people in the last 20 years, leading to significant habitat losses. Other reasons given for the lack of progress include climate change, predators and invasive species, and fish passage barriers.

"Progress in some sectors, such as hatcheries, harvest, and near-shore restoration, are being offset with challenges in other sectors such as general habitat loss, disease, predation and invasive species. In addition, warming oceans, changing stream environments, shifting food webs and other issues associated with climate change are playing a greater role," the executive summary said.

According to the report, the status of only one Columbia Basin population is getting worse--the upper Columbia River spring Chinook. It's also the only run listed under the Endangered Species Act as endangered in Washington, although Idaho's Snake River sockeye are also endangered. According to the report, the upper Columbia has seen major declines in salmon runs "due to poor ocean conditions and poor habitat conditions caused by drought and fire."

Despite the challenge of a 500-mile journey that includes six to eight dams, the upper Columbia region also claimed some successes. So far, 441 habitat and protection projects are complete, more than 100 miles of stream habitat are restored, 225 miles have been opened to fish passage and nearly 5,000 acres of habitat are protected, the report said.

"The runs are nearly double what they were 10 years ago, but endangered spring Chinook are in desperate need of continued recovery efforts to survive," it says.

Last February, the Independent Scientific Advisory Board reviewed recovery efforts for this population, meeting with the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board, tribes, state and federal managers, PUDs and local groups to look at habitat, research and monitoring, and prioritization of recovery actions for spring Chinook in the upper Columbia.

"The recovery program in the Upper Columbia Basin is one of the better examples of an explicit strategy to guide local recovery actions, monitoring, and adaptive management," the ISAB report said. It found that scientific principals and methods for identifying the factors limiting recovery are generally sound, but also offered recommendations to improve results.

On the other side of the coin, one Columbia Basin stock is listed as approaching its recovery goal but not yet ready to be delisted--the Snake River fall Chinook, which was listed as threatened in 1992. According to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission's website, wild adult returns at Lower Granite Dam went from a total of 78 in 1990 to 16,212 wild and 42,151 hatchery Chinook in 2015.

In 2015, the Chinook Futures Coalition petitioned to delist Snake River fall Chinook. NOAA Fisheries found that, while the average 10-year abundance of 6,418 wild fish returns exceeded the proposed recovery criteria, further review is needed and the species remains threatened.

The determination was based on uncertainties about the recent strong returns, including whether those returns can be sustained, whether improvements in natural productivity will continue, and resolving the influence of hatchery production on the wild population.

Three Columbia Basin runs were found to be showing signs of progress: mid-Columbia River steelhead, lower Columbia River steelhead, and Snake River steelhead.

Meanwhile, all six stocks characterized as "Not Making Progress" are from the Columbia Basin, and include upper Columbia River steelhead, Snake River spring/summer Chinook, and lower Columbia River fall Chinook, spring Chinook, chum and coho.

However, the report says, some stocks are in this category due to a recent drop in population, or a lack of information. "Since 2016, Snake River spring and summer Chinook appear to be declining, so these species shifted to the lower 'Not Making Progress' categorization.

For lower Columbia River coho, limited data before 2010 and marine survival rate decreases in recent years make progress difficult to assess and led to assigning coho to the 'Not Making Progress' category."

The report also includes 24 salmon recovery stories which offer a glimpse of the many ongoing efforts to improve salmon habitat throughout the state.

One recovery story highlights the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's research into providing fish passage over Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams for both adults and juveniles while the Colville and Spokane tribes assess the availability of stream habitat.

The two dams block about 40 percent of the habitat once available to upper Columbia salmon and steelhead. Access to the upper Columbia and its tributaries would provide salmon with a "climate refuge," and fishing opportunities for tribes that have been absent for the last 76 years, the report says. -K.C. Mehaffey

[8] Action Agencies Expedite Release Of Columbia Basin Federal Dam EIS To 2020

An environmental impact statement assessing the impacts of 14 federal dams in the Columbia Basin will be completed a year early, in 2020, the action agencies said in a Jan. 9 news release.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration released a new timeline that includes issuing a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in June 2020 instead of March 2021, and a record of decision on Sept. 30, 2020, instead of Sept. 24, 2021.

The change is the result of President Donald Trump's Oct. 19 Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West, which also speeds up water projects for irrigators in the Klamath Basin and California's Central Valley.

According to the news release, the agencies submitted a new schedule to the Council on Environmental Quality for consideration in December, and the CEQ recently confirmed that the schedule allows the agencies to produce an EIS that complies with the National Environmental Policy Act and the president's memorandum.

Under a federal court order to develop a new EIS for the Federal Columbia River Power System operations, the action agencies have been working since September 2016 on the document, which will include an examination of removing four lower Snake River dams.

The expedited schedule now completes a draft EIS in February 2020 instead of late March 2020, leaving four months to receive and review public comments before preparing a final EIS which identifies a preferred alternative.

"The co-lead agencies remain committed to developing and evaluating alternatives that best balance the multiple purposes of these 14 projects," the news release stated. -K.C. Mehaffey

[9] Columbia Riverkeeper Appeals Court Decision That Allowed Another EPA Delay

Columbia Riverkeeper and other conservation groups filed an appeal Jan. 14 in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to overturn a federal court ruling that allows the EPA to delay developing plans to deal with temperature issues in the Snake and Columbia rivers.

This means the court will be considering two appeals in Columbia Riverkeeper et al. v. Andrew Wheeler et al., one from defendant EPA and a second from the plaintiffs.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez on Oct. 17 found that Washington and Oregon had declined to create plans for adhering to temperature standards in the Snake and Columbia rivers, leaving the responsibility to the EPA. He gave them 60 days to complete the job.

EPA appealed that ruling, and convinced Martinez to delay his deadline until after the appeal was heard. Columbia Riverkeeper is now appealing Martinez's ruling that stays the EPA's requirement to issue total maximum daily loads pending its appeal.

"We feel like this appeal is a lot about when this TMDL will get issued," Miles Johnson, an attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper, told NW Fishletter, "The stay allows the EPA to drag its feet for the next year or two as the 9th Circuit decides this case. So we're moving to get the stay pending the appeal dissolved, which would require EPA to issue the TMDL in a more timely fashion," he said.

Johnson said that even though it appealed the judge's ruling, the EPA has told the court that it will keep working to finalize the TMDL as the appeal process goes forward. He said the agency could have the plans for meeting temperature standards on the two rivers completed, but delay releasing or implementing them until a final decision on its appeal is complete.

"If the EPA thinks the law about TMDLs should be different and wants to litigate that at the 9th Circuit, that's one thing," Johnson said. But that argument should not result in the continuing temperature pollution of the Columbia and Snake rivers, he said. "We're trying to get real relief on fish kills in the Columbia Basin, and we'd like to see that happen as soon as possible," he said. -K.C. Mehaffey

[10] Fishermen Earn $1.4M Catching 180,271 Northern Pikeminnows

It's far from a sure bet, but fishermen who know the secrets of catching northern pikeminnow in the Columbia River can actually quit their day jobs, go fishing and still earn a decent living.

Funded by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the Northern Pikeminnow Management Program paid out $1.4 million last year. The top angler reeled in 8,686 pikeminnows to take home $71,049 in reward money. Three other fishermen earned more than $50,000 apiece, and the top 20 anglers caught an average of 3,400 fish and took home nearly $29,000 each. Not bad for five months of fishing.

That's not to say it's easy.

Steve Williams, senior program manager for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, said the successful pikeminnow anglers declined to talk to the media about their accomplishments, but most of them have been at it for many years. Those who haven't probably won't be as successful, but can still have fun trying.

Rewards depend on the total number of fish caught. To add incentive to keep fishing, hauls of more than 200 pikeminnows receive $8 per fish, those taking 26 to 200 fish get $6 per fish, and totals of 25 or less get $5 each. Specially tagged fish are worth $500 each.

Northern pikeminnows are native to the Columbia and Snake rivers, where they eat millions of juvenile salmon and steelhead migrating to the ocean. For nearly 30 years, fish managers have been offering incentives to fishermen who catch pikeminnows from the mouth of the Columbia to Priest Rapids Dam on the Columbia, and to Hells Canyon Dam on the Snake River.


Photo: Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission

Williams said studies conducted before the program started in 1991 found that by removing 10 to 20 percent of the larger pikeminnows each year, managers could reduce predation by 40 to 50 percent. And that's exactly what happened, he said.

Last year, fishermen took about 11.5 percent of the pikeminnows measuring nine inches or longer. The percentage is figured based on how many of 1,000 specially tagged pikeminnows released each year are caught, which can be used to estimate the percentage of the pikeminnow population that was removed. "We want people to turn [the tagged pikeminnows] in, and that's why we put a $500 tag on them," he said. "But the main purpose is a biological one--so we can assess where we are."

Because northern pikeminnow are native, the strategy is not to eliminate them, Williams said. The goal is to reduce their impact on juvenile salmon. One way of doing that is to reduce the number of large pikeminnows, he said, noting, "The larger the pikeminnow, the more smolts they eat."

In addition to reducing the number of northern pikeminnows preying on young salmon in the Columbia Basin, the program has also reduced their size, so there are now fewer large pikeminnows in the system, he said.

Williams sees the program as part of a balancing act designed to retain a healthy population of pikeminnows, but one that has a much lower impact on juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean.

BPA spokeswoman Michelle Helms said harvest was down in 2018, even though the average catch per angler was up. "We had some pretty high river flows early in the season, and that makes it more difficult to be able to catch any," she said.

Still, more than 3,000 people registered for the 2018 reward program, which was open from May 1 through Sept. 30, and combined they spent some 23,000 angler days on the river, removing 180,271 fish, or an average of 7.52 fish per fisherman per day.

Total success was similar to recent years. In 2017, anglers hauled in 191,478 northern pikeminnows, with the top fisherman earning $83,877. In 2016, they pulled out 225,350 fish, and top fisherman made $119,341.

Since 1990, fishermen have removed nearly 5 million pikeminnows from the Columbia and Snake rivers through the program.

More information about it can be found at pikeminnow.org, where fishermen are urged to "Save a salmon (and make money doing it!)." -K.C. Mehaffey

[11] BPA Offers Final Update On 2019 Fish And Wildlife Program Cuts

After getting monthly reports on reductions to the Bonneville Power Administration's Fish and Wildlife Program, a committee of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council got a final update from the agency on Jan. 15 outlining a total of nearly $6.4 million in cuts to the program in 2019, affecting 35 projects.

Presented to the Council's Fish and Wildlife Committee, the cuts are part of Bonneville's agencywide attempt to control costs as outlined in its 2018 strategic plan to hold program costs at or below the rate of inflation through 2028. The effort is seen as an important strategy that will help BPA remain competitive in a changing market now flooded with sometimes cheaper renewable energy.

BPA officials had told the Council in March that they identified some $30 million in potential cuts to the program--or about 10 percent of its direct costs--with efforts focused on projects that did not directly impact fish or on finding ways to make projects more efficient.

A Council report on the cuts notes that "while the cuts to date don't total that much the budget-cutting is considered a work in progress." Some of the projects are on track to be eliminated after two years, with funding cut in half in 2019.

The reductions include cuts to the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan by between $2.3 million and $3 million. The program currently provides about $30 million for salmon and steelhead hatcheries to help mitigate for losses caused by four lower Snake River dams.

The Columbia Habitat Monitoring Program and the Integrated Status and Effectiveness Monitoring Program were reduced to about $1.5 million in 2019. Their budgets were already cut in 2018 after being funded at over $7 million in 2017.

Not considered part of the budget, the BPA's renewal of the Columbia Basin Fish Accords also reduced annual spending on these agreements with six tribes and two state governments by $3.6 million compared with 2018 spending. The BPA signed four-year extensions in October, but those agreements could be cut short now that action agencies plan to complete an environmental impact statement for Columbia River System Operations in 2020, a year ahead of schedule. -K.C. Mehaffey

[12] Douglas County PUD Denies Lawsuit Claims

Douglas County PUD has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit, where an environmental group claims it is allowing unpermitted pollutants to be discharged into the Columbia River from Wells Dam.

In the PUD's Jan. 7 answer to the claims in Columbia Riverkeeper v. Douglas County Public Utility District et al., it says the suit should be dismissed because the Washington Department of Ecology has issued a water quality certification permit for Wells Dam under the Clean Water Act, making a pollution discharge permit unnecessary.

Riverkeeper alleges that Douglas discharged pollutants, including oils, greases and other lubricants, which require a water pollution permit under the Clean Water Act. The group notified Douglas, Chelan and Grant county PUDs in September that it intended to sue for failing to get pollution permits to account for leaking oil and other lubricants at their mid-Columbia River dams. Riverkeeper then filed a lawsuit against only Douglas County PUD in December.

The group previously filed lawsuits against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation which resulted in agreements by those agencies to obtain permits for nine dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

In its reply, Douglas denies it has any obligation to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems permit to operate Wells Dam. The PUD admits that it has experienced "isolated and non-recurring accidents at the Wells Dam which have led to the one-time discharge of small amounts of pollutants into the Columbia River that were recaptured," but denies that similar accidents or discharges are likely to occur in the future. And a NPDES permit "is not appropriate or required for accidental discharges," the reply states.

The PUD has requested a jury trial in the lawsuit, filed on Dec. 11 in U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington. -K.C. Mehaffey

[13] Washington, Oregon Initiate Temporary Total Dissolved Gas Changes

Washington Department of Ecology has issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to increase total dissolved gas (TDG) limits in the lower Snake and lower Columbia rivers to 125 percent, while Oregon Department of Environmental Quality officials are preparing to present the same adjustments to the state's Environmental Quality Commission.

The planned change in both states is part of the flexible spill agreement reached by the states, federal agencies and the Nez Perce Tribe in December as a temporary alternative to continued court action for spilling water over the eight dams on the lower Snake and lower Columbia rivers.

The proposed change is not being sought for this spring's spill, but could be implemented in 2020. This year, compared with the 2018 court-ordered spill, the agreement increases spill at these dams for 16 hours each day during the spring spill period when market prices for electricity are lower, and allows federal agencies to spill below 2018 levels for eight hours per day during the spring spill period when prices are high.

Allowing dams to spill water to 125 percent TDG was also one of several recommendations from the Southern Resident Orca Task Force as a method of increasing prey for orcas. Modeling has shown that spilling up to 125 percent TDG will result in higher juvenile fish passage and greater smolt-to-adult return ratios.

Washington state says the purpose of its draft EIS is to evaluate the risks of adjusting TDG to allow more spill in the Snake and Columbia rivers. It is accepting comments on a short-term modification of the standards until Feb. 28.

"This temporary change for the 2019-2021 spring spill seasons at the dams would test the potential benefits for fish passage when higher levels of dissolved gases, mainly oxygen and nitrogen, are allowed," states a news release from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Oregon will consider the changes through an administrative process, said Paula Calvert, Columbia River coordinator for the Oregon DEQ. She said the temporary adjustments to the state's TDG criteria being proposed for the lower Snake and Columbia rivers can be changed by its commission.

Staff intends to present the reasons for the proposed changes to commissioners in March, and is currently aiming for approval in November, she said. -K.C. Mehaffey

[14] Vancouver Fined For Raw Sewage Spill Into Columbia

The Washington Department of Ecology fined the city of Vancouver $60,000 for spilling almost 600,000 gallons of raw or partly treated sewage into the Columbia River in 2017, the agency reported in a Jan. 4 news release.

Heather Bartlett, Ecology's water quality program manager, called the two discharges of sewage preventable, blaming them on "unacceptable training, maintenance and operations."

According to the release, a power outage on Sept. 30, 2017, at Vancouver's West Side Wastewater Treatment Plant caused the plant to release about 395,000 gallons of raw sewage, and 109,000 gallons of sewage that had been treated but not disinfected.

Operators did not realize that power was available for about two-and-a-half hours, the release said. During the outage, only one of three generators came on, which was not enough to power the system. Ecology found violations because an operator with senior-level certification was not on duty, and the city failed to properly maintain the plant's backup system.

Another 80,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into the river 17 days later. The release said the large pumps were inadvertently disabled when controls were improperly set during an equipment calibration, and that an overflow system diverted sewage into the river for 15 minutes before operators corrected the problem.

The sewage spills put bacteria and other pathogens that cause diseases into the river. Oregon and Washington health officials issued temporary warnings for people to avoid contact with the river, and fish agencies considered closing the Columbia to sturgeon fishing but instead advised anglers to thoroughly wash their catch.

The city has since taken action with improved staff training, the release said. It has also conducted its own evaluation to make operational improvements, and added environmental safeguards including a $2.2 million emergency pumping system. -K.C. Mehaffey

[15] Bill To Reclassify Bass, Walleye To Help Orcas Considered By Washington House Committee

The Washington State House Rural Development, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee held a public hearing Jan. 29 on a bill that would allow unlimited fishing for certain fish that prey on salmon, and encourage state agencies to enforce the state's hydraulic codes that protect salmon habitat.

House Bill 1579 seeks to increase prey for endangered southern resident orcas, and would implement some of the recommendations made by the Southern Resident Orca Task Force.

Sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien), the bill would remove bass, channel catfish and walleye from a current classification as game fish, so that anglers would no longer need a license to catch them. Fishing for smelt--which currently requires no license--would require a license under the bill.

These changes would address two task force recommendations. One calls for reducing populations of non-native predatory fish that prey on or compete with Chinook--which include bass, walleye and catfish--and adjusting fishing regulations to remove catch and size limits when appropriate.

"I think we should do everything we can to encourage recreational fishers to catch as many of those fish as possible so that they're not predating Chinook salmon," Fitzgibbon said in support of his bill.

Another recommendation calls for monitoring forage fish--including smelt--which are important food sources for Chinook.

A third recommendation seeks to strengthen laws protecting Chinook and forage fish habitat by providing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife stronger authority for enforcing shoreline permits for bulkheads, shoreline armor or rock walls before they are issued. The bill includes several measures designed to improve compliance.

"If we pass this bill, I think we'll see a significant turnaround in the abundance of Chinook in our waterways, both for fishermen as well as for orcas," Fitzgibbon said at the hearing.

A public hearing on another bill aimed at reducing threats to the killer whales from oil tankers in Puget Sound was held Jan. 31 by the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee. Senate Bill 5578would require tug escorts for certain sized oil tankers through Rosario Straight and connected waterways, and provide other measures for tug escorts or emergency towing in other parts of Puget Sound. -K.C. Mehaffey

[16] Washington, Oregon Meet To Develop Joint Fishing Policies

A workgroup of fish and wildlife commissioners from Oregon and Washington hopes to resolve differences between the two states' fishing policies in the Columbia River.

Made up of three commissioners from each state, the joint policy review committee held its first meeting Jan. 17.

The workgroup formed after a joint commission meeting in November, when staff from both states expressed the difficulties for enforcement officers and boat fishermen when regulations in concurrent waters aren't aligned.

It will first focus on finding common ground for the 2019 fishing season before tackling other outstanding issues, said Tucker Jones, Columbia River program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The use of gillnets on the main stem of the Columbia River is part of the initial discussions, Jones said. Oregon currently allows the use of large-mesh commercial gillnets in the fall in two zones of the Columbia River and as of 2019, Washington does not. Both states had been working since 2013 to phase out non-tribal gillnets on the Columbia under a policy that prioritizes recreational fishing in the main-stem river.

That policy assumed that gillnet fishermen would be successful with alternative gear--such as purse seine or beach seine nets--and in newly identified off-channel areas. But even with low release mortality rates on a per fish basis, the seines encountered too many Endangered Species Act-listed steelhead for a successful transition for fall fisheries, Jones noted.

He said some of the potentially new off-channel areas haven't had high enough returns while others resulted in fishermen catching too many non-local fish rather than the hatchery Chinook and coho being targeted. Oregon kept parts of the main-stem river open to gillnets in the fall, and further increased production in off-channel areas so commercial fisheries could remain viable.

Commissioners, too, recognized that while survival rates of individual wild fish freed from the purse seine and beach seine nets is much higher, those nets catch far more wild fish than the gillnets, negating the benefits of those higher rates.

In a five-year review of the policy, Washington commissioners also learned that a suitable replacement for gillnet fishing has not yet been found.

Recommended changes by the workgroup must first be adopted by the full commissions in each state. Commissioners from Oregon are Bruce Buckmaster, Holly Akenson, and Bob Webber--as long as his term remains extended. Commissioners from Washington are David Graybill, Bob Kehoe and Don McIsaac. -K.C. Mehaffey

[17] Group Seeks Expedited Hearing On Willamette Spill And Drawdowns

A U.S. District Court in Oregon agreed Jan. 24 to lift a stay on court-imposed deadlines in Northwest Environmental Defense Center et al. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers et al., where environmental groups have asked for operational changes at the Willamette Project to benefit fish.

The Defense Center, WildEarth Guardians and the Native Fish Society asked for a preliminary injunction from the court to impose drawdowns, spills and other operational changes at the Willamette Project this year.

The stay was initially granted because U.S. Department of Justice attorneys and other federal agencies involved in the case were on furlough during the partial government shutdown. It was lifted the day before the shutdown ended on Jan. 25.

Magistrate Judge Jolie Russo agreed with the plaintiffs that the U.S. Department of Justice needs to file its reply to the groups' claims soon, and required a response to their motion for a preliminary injunction by Feb. 25. "Should the Court deem the preliminary injunction motion appropriate for disposition with oral argument upon review of the briefings, it will be scheduled accordingly," the court's order stated.

The plaintiffs had sought a response from federal agencies by Feb. 8 so that the matter could be decided, and the Corps could implement changes by spring.

The motion for a preliminary injunction asks the court to change operation of dams in the upper Willamette basin to improve passage for Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead past the dams this fall, and reduce temperatures below the dams using drawdowns and spill operations this spring and summer.

The federal defendants had objected to the effort to lift the stay. "The lapse in appropriations largely prevents DOJ and affected federal agency staff (including staff at NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service] and the Department of the Interior) from working on this case, even voluntarily," the reply stated.

In case the court opted to lift the stay--which it did, the federal agencies asked for 30 days after the order to respond--which it received. -K.C. Mehaffey

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