NW Fishletter #391, March 4, 2019
  1. Washington State Jumps Into Water Temperature Certification At Federal Dams
  2. Bipartisan Support Delivers Wins For Farmers, Fish In Once-Contentious Yakima Basin
  3. Report: Stable Snowpack Not Likely To Continue In Coming Decades
  4. NW Power And Conservation Council Gets Spill Overview From Feds, States, Tribes
  5. Orca Recovery, Flexible Spill Agreement Among Reasons For Dissolved Gas Proposal
  6. Walleye: Ravenous Salmon Predator Or Popular Sport Fish?
  7. Montana Intercepts 16 Out-Of-State Vessels With Mussels
  8. Oregon Releases Fourth Climate Assessment Report
  9. Orca Bills Aim To Help Whales With Prey, Noise And Pollution
  10. Poor Return Forecasts Curtail Columbia River Chinook Fishing
  11. Marion County, Salem Ask Judge To Deny Injunction, Halt Detroit Dam Tower

[1] Washington State Jumps Into Water Temperature Certification At Federal Dams

Settlements between an environmental group and two federal agencies put Washington state in an unusual position of authority over nine federal dams on the Columbia and Snake river and their impacts on water quality, including temperature.

But that authority disappeared--at least temporarily--when the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew its application for 401 Water Quality Certification at the dams on Feb. 1.

"EPA has determined that the preliminary draft permits for which we had requested water quality certification need additional review," a statement from EPA said. "Therefore, we have withdrawn our requests for water quality certification at this time. We fully intend to reinitiate our requests for water quality certification after we have completed our internal review and updated the preliminary draft permits, as appropriate."

Maia Bellon, director of the Washington State Department of Ecology, expressed concern about the federal agency's decision to withdraw its application, also in a prepared statement. "Absent a timeline from EPA to deliver an updated permit request, I remain concerned about when the federal government will protect the Columbia and Snake rivers," she wrote. "Our salmon runs and endangered orcas cannot continue to suffer. Time is not on our side. Washington state will continue to make progress in protecting and restoring these rivers and if necessary, we will look for alternative options to ensure our water quality standards are met."

And in a Feb. 29 letter to the EPA, Ecology made clear that the EPA cannot move forward with pollution discharge permits at the dams without the state's approval, and that the federal agency will have to submit a new request for 401 certification which will start a new review and public comment period for Ecology. "This letter shall not be considered a waiver of Washington State's Section 401 certification authority," it said. "In the event that EPA decides to move forward with any of the permits referenced in your October 19, 2018 letter without submitting a new request for certification to Ecology, this letter is a denial of the Section 401 certifications you requested."

In late January, the state's Department of Ecology signaled it planned to use the unexpected authority to ensure federal agencies are held to the same standards as private companies and public utility districts which must show plans to adhere to state water quality standards when licensing or relicensing a hydroelectric project with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Federal projects don't have the same requirement under the Clean Water Act, but an EPA action to resolve the lawsuits had triggered the 401 Water Quality Certification for these federal dams.

On Jan. 30, Ecology issued a notice seeking public input on the EPA's request for 401 certification from the state for National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for Grand Coulee Dam, the four lower Snake and the four lower Columbia river dams. The permits are part of settlement agreements between Columbia Riverkeeper and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation. Ecology is accepting public comment until Feb. 19.

"This is an opportunity for us to work toward parity with all the other dams," Ecology spokeswoman Colleen Keltz told Clearing Up before the applications were withdrawn. "We've done this with 64 other dams in the state," she added.

Under the 401 certification process, Keltz said that Ecology was planning to use public comments on what should be considered in issuing the certifications, and the EPA would then use Ecology's conditions to issue its NPDES permits. "We have to certify that we think this permit, if followed, will meet Washington's water quality standards."

She said Ecology will work with the federal agencies, and they will determine how to meet the state standards, including preventing water temperatures from exceeding 68 F (20 C).

While the certification would cover all forms of pollution, getting dams into compliance with water temperature standards is expected to be one of the biggest hurdles.

Lauren Goldberg, legal and program director for Columbia Riverkeeper, said there's no scientific reason why private dams should be treated differently than those owned and operated by federal agencies, but states do not usually have the authority to issue 401 certifications for federal operations.

"This is a big deal that Washington state is planning to issue 401 certifications and tackle the longstanding issue of hot water in the Columbia and Snake rivers," she said before the EPA withdrew its applications. "It's a huge opportunity for Washington state to help struggling orcas and salmon populations throughout the Pacific Northwest."

Meanwhile, Washington is getting comments on what should be included as requirements under its certification. In a Jan. 23 letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, 17 nonprofit groups that together formed the Orca Salmon Alliance urged the state to use its full authority in issuing a 401 certification.

"Many large- and small-scale modifications to the structure and operation of the dams and reservoirs could improve water quality and salmon survival," the letter states. "Ecology should use the 401 certification process to model and identify how changes to fish ladders, selectively drawing down certain reservoirs, increasing summer flows, possible dam breaching, and other measures can reduce temperature and enhance fish survival."

The letter notes that temperature has long been an issue in the Columbia River basin, and has prompted several lawsuits.

But the impact that dams have on water temperature is complicated. In December, a predraft analysis by EPA that assesses water temperatures in the Snake and Columbia rivers from 2011 through 2016 concludes that "climate change and dams are the dominant sources impacting river temperatures, with impacts that are an order-of-magnitude higher than point sources, agricultural withdrawals (Banks Lake project), and tributaries."

The analysis found that the Columbia Basin's waterways are strongly influenced by air temperatures, which have been increasing for decades with global warming. Since 1960, the Columbia Basin's water temperatures have increased by a total of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F). That amounts to between 0.2 and 0.4 C per decade (0.36 to 0.72 F), the analysis said.

The analysis includes estimated monthly impacts on water temperature of each dam impoundment from 2011-2016, for July through October. By impounding water, the dams often serve to cool the river temperatures in the spring and early summer, especially due to the influences of Grand Coulee Dam in the Columbia River, and Dworshak Dam in the Snake River, the analysis found. The dams add to the warming effects in the summer and fall, with the greatest impacts in August and September. However, the impacts from dams "vary substantially by month and by river location," the analysis noted.

Overall, it found that from July through September--depending on the year--the impact of dams in the Columbia ranged from decreasing water temperatures by 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 F) to increasing them by 2.2 C (3.96 F), while the impact of dams in the Snake River increased water temperatures from between 0.3 to 2.1 C (0.54 to 3.78 F).

Meanwhile, climate change has increased the Columbia River by between 0.3 and 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.54 to 0.72 F) each decade, while it has warmed Snake River dams by between 0.1 to 0.4 C (0.18 to 0.72 F) per decade.

The certification--which was expected to consider all pollutants, including temperature--is different from the total maximum daily load limits on pollutants--or TMDLs--that is the subject of another lawsuit currently stalled by appeals in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Preparations for NPDES permits for the dams stem from lawsuits brought by Columbia Riverkeeper, and its settlement agreements--first with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2014, and three years later with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation--over oils that seep into the river from operating the dams.

Matt Rabe, spokesman for the Corps which operates eight of the nine dams, said in an email that his agency has not seen drafts of either the NPDES permit, or the 401 certification that Washington state is planning to develop. "Until we see those, we do not know what the implications will be to the Corps," he wrote.

He noted that the agency already does a variety of things each summer to reduce temperatures in the lower Snake River. "Key among those are cold water releases from Dworshak Dam and water cooling structures at the adult fish ladders at both Lower Granite and Little Goose dams," his email states.

Installing the fish ladder cooling structures was the result of the catastrophic 2015 migration season for Columbia Basin sockeye. Water temperatures in June and July were 7 F higher than usual, and an estimated 250,000 adults died trying to make their way back up the Snake and Columbia rivers to spawn.

In early July, river temperatures peaked in the upper Columbia at 82 F in the Okanogan River near Malott, and at 77 F in the Salmon River's White Bird Gage in the Snake River basin, a 2016 NOAA Fisheries report on the 2015 sockeye migration season found.

The report noted that the difference in temperature on fish ladders--warmer at the top and cooler at the bottom--can prevent salmon from traveling upstream in warm water conditions. The ladder modifications were among 10 recommendations for salmon managers, who are likely to face similar conditions in the future due to climate change, the report notes.

That report outlined the unusual conditions preceding the die-off, including runoff levels in both the Snake and Columbia rivers ranking near the lowest recorded in winter, spring and summer, and air temperatures that were 5 to 7.6 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal from January through March, and again in June. Federal operators took many actions--especially cool water releases from upstream storage facilities--to reduce the water temperatures and help the migrating fish, it said.

Salmon managers generally set a target temperature below the 68-degree Fahrenheit standard at Lower Granite Dam to ensure the water is cool enough for migrating fish, but in 2015, two of the solar radiation monitoring sensors near Lewiston, Idaho, malfunctioned just before the July 4 weekend, so incorrect data led managers astray.

"Based on flawed modeling results, the Technical Management Team agreed to reduce discharge from Dworshak Dam while temperatures in the lower Snake River were increasing rapidly," the report said.

Water releases were adjusted once the error was discovered. For migrating sockeye in 2015, the releases of water from the system's large impoundments--including Brownlee Dam in Canada, Grand Coulee Dam in the Columbia, and Dworshak Dam in the Snake River basin--helped to cool the rivers and likely benefited adult migrants by preventing temperatures from increasing as much, although not enough to prevent the die-off, the report found. -K.C. Mehaffey

[2] Bipartisan Support Delivers Wins For Farmers, Fish In Once-Contentious Yakima Basin

While water users in some Columbia River tributaries have been busy arming themselves for the traditional dams-and-farmers-versus-fish fight, the major players in the Yakima Basin have been quietly working together to solve their water issues.

Now, five years into the 30-year Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, several projects have been completed, sockeye are returning to areas where they've been blocked by dams for a century, and Congress has approved the plan's first major water storage project to ensure everyone gets some water in drought years.

Those involved with the plan say it's much more than dozens of projects strung together to form a wish list. It's a comprehensive long-term program funded by state, tribal, federal and private dollars that sets out to prove that fish, farms and communities can coexist, even in the desert of eastern Washington.

"It's a huge effort, and it's been the highlight of my career as a Fish and Wildlife biologist and manager--to help contribute to something that's this broad and ecosystem-based, and that includes people," Mike Livingston, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's regional director, told Clearing Up.

"This is a coalition that really isn't Democrat or Republican. It's about the values we all want--both instream and out-of-stream, for fish and agriculture and the community," added Phil Rigdon, superintendent of natural resources for the Yakama Nation. "When you come together, really, you can get a lot done."

Wendy Christensen, the Bureau of Reclamation's manager of the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project, agreed. "It has been really rewarding to be part of this project, and we are making great strides," she said.

The plan is now seen as a model for other basins facing serious water issues, Joye Redfield-Wilder, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Ecology, told Clearing Up. It not only resolves current issues surrounding water supply, but prepares the Yakima Basin for earlier snowmelt and more frequent drought--the main consequences predicted to occur in this region due to climate change. Its success has led to a shift in her agency's approach, with a new policy that includes "integrated water solutions," she said, adding, "Seeking solutions that are balanced and that try to stay out of the courts is one of our strategic priorities."

Rigdon said an example of how the coalition is actually working together came in 2015, when drought tested the group's cooperative spirit, and its members' so-called opposing needs for water. It was the year that an estimated 250,000 adult sockeye died in the Snake and Columbia rivers, largely from warm water temperatures.

In the Yakima Basin, instead of fighting over the limited water supply, users turned to each other for help. Rigdon said fish in the Yakima's main stem were suffering from warm water temperatures, and also in trouble because smaller streams where they often hole up during the hottest parts of summer were drying up. The Kittitas Reclamation District stepped up and used its canals to supply the smaller tributaries with cooler water. "That probably saved a lot of fish that are now going to come back this year," he said.

One of seven main elements of the plan is to find a way for both juvenile and adult fish to get past five U.S. Bureau of Reclamation dams, all built between 1909 and 1933 with no fish passage. The dams help supply water to Washington's most productive agricultural region, and are vital to the $4.5-billion agricultural industry. They also blocked spawning areas for sockeye, coho and summer Chinook, which were extirpated from many Yakima Basin tributaries.

Christensen said dams in the Yakima Project were built largely for irrigation and flood control. New uses were later added, including recreation, protecting fish and wildlife, and producing hydroelectric power. Two of the projects--Chandler and Roza dams--produce a total of 25 MW, which is sold by the Bonneville Power Administration, she said. Six reservoirs in the project capture over a million acre-feet when snow in the central Cascades melts. "In a normal year, it's a reliable water supply," Christensen said; but in a drought year, it's not.

And droughts have become only too common in the 6,155 square-mile Yakima Basin. Redfield-Wilder noted that the basin has gone through 14 major droughts since the 1970s, occurring with more frequency in recent years. That makes water reliability an even bigger concern in this food-producing region.

Christensen noted that the basin holds a lot of potential to recover fish, because a lot of the upstream habitat is undeveloped, and much of it is on public land and likely to stay in tact. "We have a huge opportunity here," she said.

Before the dams, the Yakima River was one of the Columbia River's largest salmon-producing basins. With up to 800,000 adult returns each year, it was second only to the Snake River in its production, Livingston said. He said reviving a healthy population of salmon and steelhead in the basin is culturally important to the Yakama Nation, and also significant for recreational fishermen. "Few places in the state are we building brand new opportunities, but the Yakima Basin is one of them," he said.

Livingston said that, because of the cooperation, partners have been successful getting funding and legislative support for the plan. "When we meet with legislators at the state and federal levels, they're thanking us," he said. "We make it easier to fund because there's not much controversy around it."

On Feb. 12, by a vote of 92-8, the U.S. Senate passed S. 47, a comprehensive lands bill that includes authorization of the plan's Kachess Drought Relief Pumping Plant. In the House, Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse and Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier are also supporting the plan, and together introduced HR 1048, which awaits action.

The House followed with a 363-62 vote on Feb. 26, also passing the Natural Resources Management Act--a package of more than a hundred bills--with widespread bipartisan support.

If signed into law by President Donald Trump, a new $200-million floating station--to be paid for by Yakima Basin irrigation districts--would be used only in severe droughts to tap up to 200,000 acre-feet of water from Kachess Reservoir. The reservoir holds 825,000 acre-feet, and currently only the top 239,000 acre-feet are available each year for irrigation. The plan would still leave about 386,000 acre-feet in the reservoir in a drought year, and--under current climate conditions--would refill within five years.

Congressional support would also aid plans for juvenile passage at Cle Elum Reservoir, where the Yakama Nation reintroduced sockeye in 2009, and have since released as many as 10,000 adults in the lake each year. They're now working to improve downstream passage for the young sockeye.

Rigdon said while so many of the projects are important to fish recovery, they're currently focused on the Cle Elum project because it's the plan's first effort to complete juvenile passage.

Juveniles are now using a spillway constructed in 2005, but that's only effective in late May, when the reservoir is high enough for fish to swim out. The Bureau of Reclamation worked with the plan's partners to design a helix spillway with six different intakes that would provide passage at any reservoir elevation and allow smolts to leave on their own timing. With an estimated price tag of $140 million, the helix passage is already authorized, and construction began in 2015.

But more funding is needed. "Continuing to fund that effort is crucial, and the federal legislation opens the door to keeping that effort going," Livingston said.

Many other projects dealing with fish passage, habitat improvements, water storage, irrigation infrastructure upgrades and water conservation are completed, underway, or planned for future years.

"Sockeye are back in the Yakima Basin, and they'll be here from now on. That's a huge thing," Rigdon said. In the bigger picture, these efforts will not only bring fish back to the Yakima River and its tributaries, but, as habitat is restored, will also help improve conditions in the lower Columbia River. "That's our goal, and it takes the innovation of the coalition that has come together to look at this as a community," he said. -K.C. Mehaffey

[3] Report: Stable Snowpack Not Likely To Continue In Coming Decades

According to a Feb. 25 drought outlook webinar from the National Integrated Drought Information System, the Columbia Basin appears to be dodging the bullet expected to come with climate change--a large drop in the snowpack, as measured on April 1.

The outlook expects a replenished snowpack throughout much of the basin, thanks largely to February's cold weather and above normal precipitation in the Snake River and lower Columbia River basin, where it was most severely lacking at the end of January.

Although forecasters predict a warm and dry spring, for now the snowpack is much closer to normal than it was on Feb. 1, especially in the Snake River and lower Columbia, Karin Bumbaco, Washington's assistant state climatologist, said during the webinar.

In the first three weeks of February, the snowpack's snow water equivalent in the lower Snake River basin went from 88 percent of normal to 121 percent, and the middle Snake went from 92 percent of normal to 128 percent.

The Columbia River basin is still below normal, but big gains were made in the lower Columbia, which jumped from 66 percent of normal to 92 percent, and the middle Columbia, which went from 67 percent of normal to 95 percent.

Upper reaches of the Columbia River saw only slight a slight increase, from 86 percent of normal to 88 percent, she said.

While February was unusually cold and snowy throughout much of the Pacific Northwest, it was within the region's natural variability for both temperature and precipitation, Bumbaco added.

That natural variability is also what's been keeping snowpack throughout the West relatively stable for the last 35 years, researchers say. And once those variabilities change, scientists believe the snowpack will begin to disappear at a much faster rate.

Nick Siler, assistant professor in Physics of Oceans and Atmospheres at Oregon State University and lead author of a new study comparing snowpack with oceanic and atmospheric climate data, presented his findings during the drought webinar. Written with colleagues from the University of Washington and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the study was published Jan. 11 in Geophysical Research Letters.

Siler noted that while snowpack throughout the West has declined between 15 and 30 percent since the 1950s, Western states have largely been spared the disappearing snowpack over the last 35 years.

"It's not that the region hasn't been warming," he said, noting that temperatures in the West have increased nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1984. This raises the question of why snowpack hasn't been declining as much as expected, he said.

Researchers looked at snowpack measurements at 329 SNOTEL sites across the West, leaving out the sites where the average snow water equivalent on April 1 was less than 10 inches, since they do not contribute significantly to summer streamflows, Siler said.

In all, 64 percent of the sites examined saw decreased snowpack on April 1, and 36 percent saw increased snowpack. "But none of these trends are statistically significant," he added. Only four sites had statistically significant declines in snow.

To determine whether the lack of response by snowpack is due to climate change, the researchers identified the atmospheric circulation patterns that correlate most strongly with each SNOTEL site, and then removed the variability that could be attributed to those circulation patterns. "The question, really, is: Are the sea surface temperatures and circulation part of the climate's response, or part of natural variability?" Siler said.

After looking at 86 variations from climate models, the researchers did not find that the trends observed over the last 35 years were represented by trends in any of the models. "Basically, these trends are likely not due to CO2 forcing, or human influence, but rather part of natural variability," he said, adding that there's a chance that the atmospheric changes are due to something unknown that the models are not capturing.

But assuming the climate models are correct, this "suggests that this phase of favorable variability isn't going to last forever, which suggests the declines are likely to accelerate in the coming decades."

Whether this year's snowpack will provide average runoff through the summer is still very much in question. With another month before the snowpack-building period is over, forecasters still aren't sure what to expect.

Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, said in the webinar that although El Nino had been predicted since early winter, it didn't actually arrive until a couple weeks ago. Because it's so late it's unlikely to play an important role in the weather this spring, he said.

The question now is whether El Nino will persist through the year, as it did in 2015, and become a consideration for next winter, or whether it will react more like the weak El Ninos of the early 1990s, which persisted for a few months before dying out.

In terms of the drought outlook through May, Halpert said, most of the region is showing no sign of drought, except for a large area in north-central Oregon and a small area in north-central Washington, where drought is predicted to persist.

"Oregon had drought last year, and is still recovering from that," climatologist Bumbaco explained. She said current drought conditions in Oregon are considered severe-to-extreme. But more telling is the improvement in drought conditions over the last two months throughout most of the Pacific Northwest, she said.

So far this water year--which began Oct. 1--the Northwest has been warmer than normal, and precipitation has been below normal, she said. But February helped bring both closer to normal, she said. eastern Washington and Montana have seen temperatures that are 11 to 12 degrees below normal, while western Washington has been hit with snow.

This was Seattle's snowiest February on record, with a total of 20.2 inches, Bumbaco said, and also the fourth snowiest month on record, in Seattle.

Portland, Ore., got 6.1 inches of snow in February, which was not a record. In south-central Washington, the storms and cold hit 15 dairy farms near Sunnyside, where 1,800 cows valued at $4 million died as a result of the storms. -K.C. Mehaffey

[4] NW Power And Conservation Council Gets Spill Overview From Feds, States, Tribes

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council got a first-hand explanation from the federal agencies, states and tribes involved in a new flexible spill agreement that goes into effect in April, if Washington state modifies its total dissolved gas limits.

The players who negotiated for almost a year to develop a spring spill regime to replace last year's 24-hours-a-day, spill-to-gas-cap program offered perspectives on their end of the deal in an hour-long presentation on Feb. 13.

More details about the new agreement--such as its potential impact on summer spill, and the uncertainty of the 2020 spring spill to be finalized based on what's learned this year--emerged during the presentation.

Bonneville Power Administration Administrator Elliot Mainzer introduced the presenters, commending them and others for the collaboration it took to work through the "incredibly divisive and incredibly challenging" issue of spring spill at eight federal dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

He said the team "built trust and tried to really understand each other's perspectives" to develop the three-year agreement that avoids continued litigation over the early April to mid-June spill. The agreement is designed to boost juvenile survival while protecting Bonneville's customers from additional rate increases from spill.

Its premise is based on three pillars--benefits to fish and to power generation, and operational feasibility.

Under the agreement, juvenile fish in 2019 will benefit at least as much as they did under the 2018 spill, and in 2020 will benefit more.

In both years, the Bonneville Power Administration's earnings from power generation at these dams will at least match its earnings under the 2018 court-ordered spring spill.

For the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the operational changes will be feasible, and not interfere with the Corps' Congressionally authorized purposes that--depending on the project--could include flood risk management, navigation, irrigation, water supply, fish and wildlife conservation, recreation, water quality control, and hydropower generation.

The agreement is in effect until a record of decision is issued for the Columbia River System Operations environmental impact statement. That was initially planned for release in 2021, but is now scheduled for 2020.

Mainzer said he's hoping the agreement and the trust that was developed will serve as a model as the region develops its long-term strategy for operating the hydroelectric system.

"It's kind of nice not to be the fly in the ointment on every issue," Ed Bowles, fish division administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Council while explaining the juvenile passage benefits his agency expects to see under the agreement.

Bowles said with a long history of tracking spill levels, the impacts to fish when TDG levels are raised to 120 percent this year and to 125 percent in 2020 are not untested. "Most of that is based on the bounty of spring runoff, and uncontrolled spill," he said.

Bowles said while the agreement focuses on spring operations, it may also reduce the summer spill, if necessary. He said the concept is to increase spill during the 16 hours of each day when hydroelectric demand is relatively lower, and then reduce spill for the eight hours when demand is higher. "This is primarily thought of on a daily basis, but it also applies spatially, among the dams," he said, noting that all eight dams are not required to operate in the same way.

According to key points listed as part of the agreement, only Little Goose Dam on the Snake River will be limited during its reduced spill periods to at least four hours--not to exceed five hours in the morning--and to no more than four hours in the evening, in order to help with adult passage issues.

All other projects can spill for either three or four hours in the morning, and then up to five hours in the evening, as long as the reduced spill time does not exceed eight hours in a day.

In addition, controlled spill will be capped at 150,000 cubic feet per second at Bonneville Dam due to erosion concerns, and will be contained between the walls (between bays 1 through 8) at The Dalles unless river flows exceed 350,000 cfs.

Bowles later noted that adaptive management is an essential piece of the agreement. He said that although the juvenile fish that benefit from the increased spill won't return before an environmental impact statement for Columbia River System Operations is issued, they will be closely monitoring and evaluating all aspects of the flexible spill.

Jay Hesse, director of research at the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho's fisheries department, said that, in developing the benefits for fish, the team needed a quantifiable way to compare operations, and settled on decreased powerhouse encounter probability, or the likelihood that juveniles would travel either through a turbine or a juvenile bypass facility. Increasing spill decreases the likelihood of those encounters, he said, and has also been shown to increase smolt-to-adult returns, which should increase adult abundance in the river system.

Compared with the court-ordered spill in 2018, the flexible spill this year--at 120 percent TDG--is expected to reduce powerhouse encounters only slightly, he said. That will drop even further under the 2020 flexible spill allowing up to 125 percent TDG, cutting those encounters in half compared with the 2014 biological opinion levels.

Dave Johnson, fisheries department manager for the Nez Perce Tribe, explained that the tribe is involved because the legal effort to force operational changes on the dams was one of its last alternatives for improving fishing opportunities for its members.

"Where we live--where we are on the Snake River--there are all these areas we really can't do anything about," he said. "We can't put fish there, we can't fix the habitat ... the harvest we have is always curtailed."

Jason Sweet, manager of BPA's Fish Operations Policy and Planning Group, noted that as part of the agreement this year, spill can be reduced to 2014 biological opinion levels for up to eight hours a day, and summer spill levels will be based on the performance standard results through Aug. 30. In 2020, there will likely be some variation on the six projects that will spill up to 125 percent TDG levels for 16 hours, with eight hours of flexible spill reductions. The Dalles and John Day dams will likely be held to current spill levels, and summer spill will be the same as this year, but reduced to minimum levels Aug. 15-30.

He said figuring out whether this will work economically was challenging, but BPA used 80-year runoff levels and daily pricing models to show how flexible spill can improve revenues under most flow conditions, and keep them at least at 2018 levels. But whether it works will depend on the actual flows and market values, he noted.

Sweet said if the difference between average hourly prices at peak times of day and average hourly prices at non-peak times isn't great enough, the added spill for 16 hours won't be offset by reducing spill during high-value times, and they'll try to make up for it by reducing spill in the late summer. "It's not an elimination of summer spill, but it is a reduction," he said.

From an operational standpoint, Tim Dykstra, the Corps' senior fish program manager, told the Council that--just like last year's court-ordered spill--his agency will attempt to meet but not exceed the total dissolved gas levels set by the states. Washington is working to modify its limits in the Snake and Columbia rivers to meet Oregon's, at 120 percent TDG, by the end of March. Both states will then seek to raise them to 125 percent TDG before next spring's spill season.

Dykstra said these changes are expected to be slightly easier for operators compared to last year's spill, which required different TDG levels in the dams' forebays compared with their tailraces. "We don't know," he said. "We won't know until we begin implementation." But, he said, dam operators are used to making in-season adjustments, and "On paper, it looks pretty straightforward."

NOAA Fisheries expects to issue a new biological opinion that includes flexible spill this spring, and flexible spill will also be evaluated in the Columbia River Hydro System EIS.

Several Council members praised the team for its work. Council Member Ted Ferrioli, from Oregon, said that while "not everybody may share your enthusiasm for spill," the agreement is going to be a wonderful thing due to the "idea of doing something beneficial to fish with a lower threshold for pain." -K.C. Mehaffey

[5] Orca Recovery, Flexible Spill Agreement Among Reasons For Dissolved Gas Proposal

A proposal to modify Washington state's total dissolved gas standards to 120 percent in both forebays and tailraces at eight dams this year would allow for more spill and reduce powerhouse encounters by salmon and steelhead smolts--which should eventually result in more adult returns.

That's according to Michael Garrity, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Columbia River policy manager. Models predict that between 10,000 and 60,000 additional spring Chinook salmon would return to the Columbia Basin or become available for orcas in a few years if a new flexible spill plan occurs, Garrity said. That plan requires changes this year in Washington's total dissolved gas (TDG) standards, which are now under consideration by the state Department of Ecology.

Garrity and Chad Brown, Ecology's water quality management unit supervisor, explained the state's proposal for a short-term modification of TDG standards during an hour-long webinar Feb. 19, followed by questions and a public hearing on the proposal.

Only Jim Waddell--a longtime proponent of Snake River dam removal and retired civil engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers--commented during the webinar, saying that the extra spill will not do enough to boost Chinook runs and help endangered orcas. "This idea that this is buying us time is not really accurate," he testified, adding, "The only thing that can make a difference is immediate breaching of the dams this year."

Ecology heard others testify at a public meeting in Vancouver, Wash., on Feb. 13, and will also consider written comments submitted by Feb. 28. The agency issued a draft environmental impact statement in January to modify the dissolved gas levels, and expects to make a decision by March 29--in time for the spring spill season, set for April 3 to June 20.

Brown said his agency is considering increasing TDG limits only at the eight lower Columbia and Snake river dams, after receiving formal requests from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, the Northwest Sports Fishing Association, Columbia Riverkeeper and Save Our Wild Salmon.

In addition, the state's Southern Resident Orca Task Force recommended raising TDG levels to allow for more spill, and a flexible spill agreement involving three federal agencies, the states of Washington and Oregon, and the Nez Perce Tribe will require the ability to spill at higher levels.

Total dissolved gas is at 100 percent under normal pressure, Brown said, and rises when air is forced into the water from turbulence, such as at the base of a waterfall or from water spilling over dams. That makes water supersaturated with air--mostly nitrogen and oxygen. Because high levels of dissolved gas have a negative impact on aquatic life, Washington limits TDG to 110 percent throughout the state, except at the eight dams where TDG is currently limited to 115 percent in forebays and 120 percent in tailraces. The standards are higher at these dams because studies have demonstrated that salmon and steelhead smolts have higher survival rates when they migrate downstream over a spillway compared with traveling through the powerhouses, Brown said.

He said that the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) analyzed three alternatives--taking no action, removing the 115 percent TDG in forebays and maintaining a 120 percent TDG standard in tailraces, or removing the 115 percent TDG at forebays and increasing standards in tailraces to 125 percent TDG. The preferred alternative, he said, would remove the 115 percent TDG in forebays and maintain 120 percent TDG at tailraces. If adopted, it would match Oregon's standards, and go into effect for three years unless another action is taken.

The third alternative--raising TDG to 125 percent--is proposed under the flexible spill agreement beginning in 2020. But the state will need to consider that change through a more permanent action, which would likely require a federal Environmental Protection Agency review, Brown said.

He said changing standards through a short-term modification--which is being proposed for this year--is a tool used to temporarily change administrative rules. It's not often used, and when it is, it's usually a modification issued for hours or days, he said. Brown added that it can also apply to longer duration modifications lasting weeks or months, which could be applied annually for up to five years.

Brown said Ecology received 10 comments during its scoping process prior to developing the draft EIS, which are included in the draft. Comments ranged from support for both 120 and 125 percent TDG to help juvenile survival rates and aid southern resident killer whales, to disapproval due to risks from prolonged TDG levels to aquatic life, the cost of the increased spill and the need to assess impacts on carbon emissions.

Ecology's draft EIS notes that scientific support for increased spill is primarily from the Comparative Survival Study, which is a joint multi-year modeling study done by the Fish Passage Center; Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; fish and wildlife departments in Washington, Oregon and Idaho; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The CSS predicts steady improvements in juvenile survival and adult returns as spill increases up to at least 125 percent TDG," the EIS says.

The EIS also notes that NOAA Fisheries' COMPASS model "is less optimistic about the benefits of additional spill, largely because it does not factor in the same assumptions about delayed mortality as the CSS model due to powerhouse (i.e. non-spillway) passage routes and different conclusions about the relative benefit of fish transportation as an alternative to spill."

While the Independent Scientific Advisory Board has critiqued both models, it has not directly compared them, the EIS says.

The EIS notes potential negative impacts to juveniles and chum, and says that relatively few studies have focused on TDG impacts on adult salmonids.

In its conclusion, Ecology's draft document states that the agency seeks to weigh the increase in survival of juveniles migrating to the ocean with the risk of adverse impacts to salmon and other aquatic life. "Given that dam and salmon managers have not previously provided voluntary spill to 120 percent due to the potential for higher TDG levels to increase symptoms of gas bubble trauma in juvenile salmon, steelhead, and non-listed aquatic species, continuing monitoring for gas bubble trauma will occur," it says.

The EIS also mentions the "significant regional debate" over the best level of spill at these eight dams, and notes that questions remain about the benefits, "especially when factoring in impacts from elevated TDG levels; uncertainty about the effects of higher gas levels of spill on aquatic life in the river other than salmonids; and concerns about the value of 'foregone' power revenue from spill, given impacts to electricity ratepayers and/or other potential fish and wildlife investments." -K.C. Mehaffey

[6] Walleye: Ravenous Salmon Predator Or Popular Sport Fish?

On one hand, walleye are a great catch--considered a delicious freshwater, white fish. On the other, they tend to dominate an ecosystem when they're not native. As an unwelcome transplant in the Snake and Columbia rivers, they gather at the mouths of tributaries and in pools below dams to gobble up young salmon and steelhead attempting to make the already treacherous journey to the ocean.

Fishery managers in Washington, Idaho and Montana have all been dealing with different forms of the walleye issue recently. They say the question of whether walleye are friend or foe depends on where you find them.

Walleye are not native anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. As one of the most popular sport fish in central northern states, they were brought here in the mid-1900s, and now populate many of the region's lakes, rivers and streams, including the Columbia and Snake rivers and many of their tributaries. They average 16 to 25 inches in length and weigh 2 to 12 pounds, but can grow much larger.

How they're managed depends on where they are.

At Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho's Panhandle, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game started a new reward program on March 1. Lucky fishermen now have a chance to catch one of 50 walleye injected with an internal tag and worth $1,000 when turned in to the agency. Non-winners will be entered into monthly drawings for 10 cash prizes of $100 each. While the reward program isn't likely to get rid of the lake's population, the agency hopes it will keep the new walleye population in check and prevent a collapse of its native kokanee fishery.


Walleye are not native to the Pacific Northwest and prey on young salmon in many parts of the Columbia Basin. Photo: Matt Corsi IDFG.

Walleye are a relatively recent discovery in the lake, said IDFG communications manager Kiira Siitari. The population likely moved into the lake from Noxon Reservoir, by way of the Clark Fork River. She said biologists don't know whether the kokanee population is being significantly impacted yet, but will use information from the reward program to determine whether that will be an effective way to keep the population in check.

In Idaho, walleye are stocked in some lakes, with strict fishing limits. In others, the agency is working to suppress them, Siitari said. When walleye are illegally introduced, including those that made their way to Lake Pend Oreille, managers try to reduce the population, and offer fishing with no bag limits and sometimes a reward program. "They're a controversial species because, even though they're not native, a lot of people like catching them. They're a very popular sport fish," she said.

They're so popular in Montana that fishermen recently asked the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission to reclassify walleye as native, providing peer-reviewed literature with maps showing that their native range included all of Montana east of the Continental Divide. The agency did its own research, consulted with experts from across the country and used the best available information to determine they are not, Eric Roberts, the agency's fish management bureau chief, told Clearing Up.

Montana FWP held a meeting on Feb. 28 to explain its decision to the public. "Our plan is to keep walleye as a non-native fish. Even with that, walleye are still a very important sport fish, especially in eastern and even central Montana. There's a lot of quality walleye fisheries here, and we intend to manage to keep those," he said.

However, the agency's continuing policy in much of western Montana--including tributaries to the Columbia and Snake rivers--is to keep walleye from expanding by having liberal or no bag limits. Roberts said Noxon Reservoir is a primary concern, as are any rivers or lakes where new populations arise.

After a recent discovery of walleye in Swan Lake, biologists determined they had been illegally transported and planted there from Lake Helena. "We have a mandatory catch-and-kill, and a requirement to report it and bring the fish to FWP within 48 hours so we can do biological sampling," he said.

In Washington state, two bills--House Bill 1579 and Senate Bill 5580--have made their way through legislative committees addressing the non-native status of walleye, along with bass and channel catfish. Looking to adopt some of the recommendations by the state's Southern Resident Orca Task Force, the bills include measures to better protect salmon habitat through enforcement of hydraulic codes, and attempt to increase prey for orcas by reducing salmon predation.

The House version directs the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to adopt rules liberalizing bag limits for bass, walleye and channel catfish in all anadromous waters to reduce predation risks to salmon smolts. The Senate bill removes the three non-native species from the state's list of game fish, which would eliminate the need for a fishing license and take away the agency's management abilities.

Chris Donley, WDFW regional fisheries manager in Spokane, said Washington, too, has many places where the state preferentially manages for walleye, and the agency sees it as an important fishery in areas like the Potholes Reservoir. "It's a highly sought-after game fish, and they're worth a lot to us economically. And they're not having an ecologic impact," he told Clearing Up.

It's a different story in the Columbia and Snake rivers, he said. "In the anadromous zone, where we're spending billions of dollars to recover salmon and steelhead, we do not view it as the same thing. The entire Columbia Basin and all the tributaries to the Snake and Columbia currently have no limit on those species," he said.

Even without a bag limit, Donley said there generally aren't enough fishermen to keep walleye from posing a serious threat to salmon--even though the Columbia has a reputation for trophy walleye fishing. In 2014, a fisherman landed a 20-pound 5-ounce walleye in Lake Wallula, formed by McNary Dam. The catch not only broke Washington's previous all-time record for walleye, but was also the first time since 1988 that a walleye larger than 20 pounds had been caught anywhere in the United States.

Donley said without scientific studies, it's hard to know how much of an impact walleye, bass or catfish are having on salmon and steelhead smolts. For years, scientists pointed to Northern pikeminnow--a native to the Columbia Basin--as the major fish predator. "What we know about walleye and bass, and to a lesser degree, catfish, is that they participate in acute predation events. It may be only a week or two days--but they hang at the mouths of tributaries or in pools below dams and they eat [juvenile salmon] at alarming rates. We have a study on the Yakima River confirming the amount of Chinook they take is mind-blowing," he said.

Donley said at other times or in other parts of the river, they may eat only a few young salmon in their varied diet, but that can add up to a lot of smolts if walleye and bass populations are high.

To begin a reward program--like one that the Bonneville Power Administration funds to control Northern pikeminnows--would first require studies to determine the numbers and sizes of walleye or bass that need to be caught to make a difference. "We do not currently have the funding to do that. When you're talking about populations of fish that are on the order of millions, to fund some sort of program like that is expensive," Donley said. "We haven't waded into that world." -K.C. Mehaffey

[7] Montana Intercepts 16 Out-Of-State Vessels With Mussels

Montana state agencies inspected more than 107,000 boats in 2018, discovering 16 out-of-state vessels with invasive mussels and 170 with aquatic weeds.

The most common reason for failing an inspection was having standing water in bilges and live wells.

The interceptions were part of an effort by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks--in partnership with state agencies, tribes and others--to implement the state's aquatic invasive species management plan.

The annual inspection report notes that watercraft inspections have occurred in Montana since 2004, and have been mandatory for all boaters since 2011, but inspections tripled after quagga and zebra mussels were detected at the Tiber and Ferry Canyon reservoirs in late 2016.

Last year's inspections were up from 86,407 in 2017 and 39,522 in 2016. According to the report, boats traveling from Eastern states tend to come from areas where zebra mussels, quagga mussels and Eurasian milfoil are prevalent, such as the Great Lakes region.

The agency also released its 2018 report on early detection and monitoring for aquatic invasive species, which reported that plankton tow sampling--where a fine-mesh net is towed through the water to collect the larval phase of the mussels--has tripled since 2016.

Last year, over 2,100 early detection samples were collected from some 240 water bodies, and no mussel larvae or adults were detected. Additional sampling occurred on Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs, including inspections by scuba divers and snorklers, mussel detection dogs, and mussel eDNA sampling.

In a news release, the agency noted that watercraft inspections are key to preventing the spread of invasive species. Boaters are asked to clean, drain and dry their boats to prevent the spread of the invasives. -K.C. Mehaffey

[8] Oregon Releases Fourth Climate Assessment Report

The Oregon Climate Change Research Institute released its 2019 report on the state of the climate in Oregon, concluding that the state is already experiencing impacts of climate change, but also noting that there are opportunities to adapt.

Examples of climate change in 2018 in the Fourth Oregon Climate Assessment Report included the extremely poor air quality from wildfires "near and far," and economic losses suffered by ranchers in southern and eastern Oregon due to low snowpack, lack of water and a hot and dry summer.

"Climate change touches all corners of Oregon, but our frontline communities are most vulnerable," the report's summary states. "These include the economically disadvantaged and those who depend on natural resources for their livelihood: rural residents including Native Americans."

The report says that the entire Pacific Northwest has warmed about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, with 2015 marking Oregon's warmest year on record.

It predicts that annual precipitation will not change, but extreme precipitation may occur and could lead to slope instability, landslides and closed highways. Hot days will become more frequent and could put farmworkers and other outdoor laborers at risk.

Nearly every location in Oregon has seen declining spring snowpack, and the trend is expected to continue, especially at lower elevations. Wildfire activity will increase, along with smoke.

The report also notes that climate change may offer opportunities for longer growing seasons. The state's $48.5-billion agriculture industry is an important part of the state's economy, the report noted. By the middle of this century, western Oregon could see its growing season lengthened by about two months, and the rest of Oregon by about one month. "Though some crops may thrive in a longer growing season, concerns about the incidence of pests and weeds, reduced crop quality, and increased irrigation demand may hamper production," the report states. Forests may also experience drought stress, and timber production could be affected.

Finally, the report notes that steps can be taken to reduce the risks. Creating plans to make agriculture more resilient, building water markets, and managing forests with natural resources and wildfire as considerations are among the suggestions, along with modernizing crucial infrastructure such as bridges, roads, buildings and culverts. "There is a need to build community capacity and leadership in frontline communities to participate in the processes of climate-related decisions," the report adds. -K.C. Mehaffey

[9] Orca Bills Aim To Help Whales With Prey, Noise And Pollution

Nine bills aimed at carrying out recommendations of the Southern Resident Orca Task Force are working their way through the Washington Legislature.

The legislation addresses some of the main problems confronting the whales--lack of food, noise and disruptions from vessel traffic, and toxic chemicals and pollution in Puget Sound.

House Bill 1579 and Senate Bill 5580 seek to provide more prey, especially Chinook salmon, by improving habitat and reducing predation risks to salmon smolts. They would strengthen the state's hydraulic codes and encourage more fishing of non-native fish that prey on young salmon, such as bass, walleye and channel catfish. The Senate bill has not advanced from committee, but the House bill was modified and referred to the Rules Committee.

HB 1580 and SB 5577, in fiscal committees, would bar vessels within 300 yards of the whales, an increase of 100 yards from the current distance; slow boat traffic within 1,300 yards of an orca; and add restrictions to commercial whale watching operators, rather than the original language calling for a temporary ban on whale watching.

HB 1194 and SB 5135 would address pollution and toxic chemicals, directing the state Department of Ecology to identify priority chemicals, and authorize the agency to take regulatory actions with regard to those chemicals, including restricting or prohibiting the manufacture, sale or use of them. SB 5135 advanced out of the Ways and Means Committee, while its companion has been idling in the Appropriations Committee since Feb. 15.

HB 1578 and SB 5578 would reduce the risks of an oil spill in areas frequented by the southern resident orcas. The bills would "spur international discussions among federal, state, provincial, and industry leaders in the United States and Canada to develop an agreement for the shared funding of an emergency rescue tug available to vessels in distress in the narrow Straits of the San Juan Islands and other boundary waters," the bill digests say. The House bill cleared the Appropriations Committee Feb. 28, while the Senate bill has been stalled since Feb. 8 in the Ways and Means Committee.

SB 5617, which would ban non-tribal gillnets in the Columbia River, was referred to Ways and Means Feb. 23, where it awaits a hearing. The bill directs the Fish and Wildlife Department to set up a program to purchase salmon gill-net fishing licenses from salmon fishermen in the Columbia River, and would prohibit gill-net fishing beginning in 2023. -K.C. Mehaffey

[10] Poor Return Forecasts Curtail Columbia River Chinook Fishing

The states of Washington and Oregon have reduced this year's fishing for spring Chinook on the Columbia River due to a reduction in projected returns.

The curtailment--announced at a joint meeting Feb. 20--includes mainstem and tributary closures on the lower river, and catch limits on Chinook headed to the upper Columbia, said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) spokesman Craig Bartlett. Fishing for up-river Chinook will also close once catch limits are met, but may reopen once enough Chinook have crossed Bonneville Dam, he added.

About 99,300 upriver spring Chinook are expected to reach the Columbia this year, according to a news release from WDFW. That's 50 percent less than the 10-year average, and 14 percent fewer than last year's spring Chinook returns, the agency reported.

If forecasts are accurate, spring Chinook returns will be the lowest since 2007, but well above the 1995 record-low return of 12,800 fish, the news release said.

Expected returns to several lower Columbia River tributaries are especially low. The Cowlitz and Lewis rivers will close to Chinook fishing on March 1, and the mainstem Columbia River closes from Warrior Rock to Bonneville Dam from March 1 through April 10. That's to conserve fish for the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers, which are not expected to get enough hatchery Chinook returning to meet what's needed for broodstock, Bartlett said.

Ryan Lothrop, WDFW's Columbia River policy coordinator, said the poor returns are largely due to poor ocean conditions. Warm ocean conditions present a challenge to salmon survival, and the past few years present conditions similar to those in the 1990s, making fish managers especially cautious, he said in the news release.

"Anglers will still find some good fishing opportunities in the Columbia River basin this spring, but conservation has to be our first concern," Lothrop said in a statement, adding, "We have a responsibility to protect salmon runs listed under the federal Endangered Species Act and get enough fish back to the spawning grounds and hatcheries to support future runs."

Anglers are advised to review the new rules on the agency's website.

Fishing for Chinook and steelhead will continue as planned on the Willamette River, a news release from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said. Forecasts for 40,200 adult Chinook are slightly higher than last year's actual returns, the agency said. -K.C. Mehaffey

[11] Marion County, Salem Ask Judge To Deny Injunction, Halt Detroit Dam Tower

Marion County and the City of Salem say the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to consider reasonable alternatives when it decided to construct a water temperature control tower at Detroit Dam, and are asking a U.S. District Court judge in Portland to order the agency to stop work on its plan until a new biological opinion is issued for the Willamette Project and other concerns are addressed.

As intervener-defendants in Northwest Environmental Defense Center et al. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers et al., the city and county are also asking the judge to dismiss the plaintiffs' case, while making their own case against the Corps in a cross claim filed on Feb. 1.

Meanwhile, in Feb. 25 court filings, the intervenors joined the Corps in asking the judge to deny an injunction sought by plaintiffs.

Filed last year, the Defense Center, WildEarth Guardians and Native Fish Society are asking the judge for an injunction requiring operational changes--including drawdowns and spill--at Willamette Valley Project dams this spring to benefit Chinook and steelhead, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Federal attorneys argued they've already reinitiated Endangered Species Act-consultations, and that a court-ordered injunction would only divert time away from that effort, and usurp the ESA process. Their reply says that science does not support the proposed injunction. "If ordered, the injunctive relieve will provide no benefit to steelhead, potentially devastate a strongly performing Chinook population, and otherwise not have the benefits Plaintiffs speculate could occur," it states.

Federal attorneys say the agencies and the National Marine Fisheries Service reinitiated ESA consultation in April because a large amount of new information has been gained since the 2008 biological opinion was issued. They argue that plaintiffs have not shown irreparable harm from current operations, and note that--unlike the court-ordered spill in National Wildlife Federation et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service--the Willamette Valley Project's biological opinion has not been found to violate the ESA.

In a separate motion, the federal defendants asked the court to disqualify the declarations of two former federal employees--Richard Domingue and John Johnson--who both worked on the Willamette Valley Project while employed by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The motion says that the Ethics in Government Act permanently bars former government employees from using knowledge gained on the job on behalf of anyone other than the federal government.

As defendant-intervenors, the City of Salem and Marion County filed a separate reply, also opposing the plaintiffs' motion for an injunction, saying that the proposed drawdown of Detroit Dam's reservoir would compromise Salem's water supply for nearly 200,000 customers and threaten human health and safety.

They also say the Corps has already implemented measures at Detroit Dam, and reinitiated consultations for its 2008 biological opinion, which was never invalidated. The court, the reply says, should not force a drawdown without a full review of the reasonable alternatives.

In their cross claim, the county and city say the Corps' plans to drain Detroit Lake for at least two years in order to build a 300-foot water temperature control tower would result in significant negative impacts, including impairing downstream water quality. Having sufficient and consistent water in Detroit Lake is critical to providing the city with drinking water, and would interfere with the city's water rights and impair human health and safety, their claim says.

According to the claim, agriculture and food processing industries would likely relocate without a permanent, stable water supply. Those industries include nearly 800 firms, employing more than 16,000 people with a payroll of nearly $550 million, the claim states.

Recreation and hospitality industries in the county also rely on sufficient water in the lake for boating, swimming and fishing opportunities. Draining the lake would cause about $11 million in business losses per year, it says.

The claim alleges that the Corps did not consider and respond to concerns about the water temperature control tower, and that the National Environmental Policy Act requires the Corps to consider reasonable alternatives.

It also alleges that the Corps is violating the Endangered Species Act by moving forward with plans to build the tower while in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a new biological opinion. -K.C. Mehaffey

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Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: K.C. Mehaffey
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