ISAB Finds Northern Pike Will 'Likely' Invade Rest of Columbia
A report by independent scientists says there are no easy solutions to dealing with the multitude of birds, marine mammals and other fish that prey on salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin. The analysis, requested by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, found that current management focuses on individual predators, ignoring other factors that influence salmonid survival, including other predators.
The Independent Scientific Advisory Board warns that early detection and a rapid response plan are essential for dealing with northern pike, and recommends an ecosystem-based approach for evaluating predator impacts and control-measure effectiveness.
One of its main conclusions is that northern pike--a nonnative fish that can devastate salmon and steelhead populations--are likely to eventually make their way from Lake Roosevelt above Grand Coulee Dam to other parts of the Columbia River and its tributaries, where salmon and steelhead spawn.
The report recommends instituting early detection systems throughout the Columbia River, and developing a rapid response plan that can be employed immediately to try to eradicate the voracious fish when they do migrate--or are transported by people--downstream.
"Eradicating predators is extremely difficult and highly unlikely, especially in a big river like the Columbia River," ISAB member Stan Gregory told the Council May 8.
Showing a photo of a 17-inch northern pike and the 12-inch rainbow trout taken from its belly, Gregory said that the voracious predator--when it grows large enough--will eat bats, ducks, and salmon at all life stages, including adults. "They eat just about anything they can get into their mouths," he said.
Last November, the Council asked to ISAB to review the biological and economic impacts of native and nonnative predators in the Columbia Basin, including the effectiveness of predator management control efforts now underway, and specifically looking at potential threats of northern pike, which already populate Lake Roosevelt--the reservoir above Grand Coulee Dam--as well as other lakes and tributaries in the upper river.
The 159-page ISAB report includes a large section on northern pike, and concludes, "It is likely that even with the best efforts in public education, early detection, and control or eradication, pike will eventually invade the anadromous zone, either naturally or by human agents. Pike are likely to drastically reduce salmonid abundance, especially in low-gradient river segments with wide floodplains."
The report also notes, "Pike prefer salmonids and are capable of driving preferred prey species to very low levels or extinction," and, "All sizes and ages of pike (yearling and older) can eat salmon fry, parr, and smolts and reduce their abundance to low levels in habitats where they overlap."
Gregory told the Council that northern pike, a popular sport fish, were illegally transported to Montana in 1953 and have since moved west through illegal transplants and by migrating. "Essentially half of the spread has been caused by people, so managing people will be beneficial as well," he said.
They were first detected in Lake Roosevelt in 2007 and are now moving downstream about 25 miles each year, coming to within 10 miles of Grand Coulee Dam last year, he said.
With some funding from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the Colville and Spokane tribes and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have led efforts to control northern pike in Lake Roosevelt. This year, from May 6-9, they were joined by Chelan and Grant county PUDs, the Kalispel Tribe and the National Park Service in an intensive gillnetting operation throughout the 130-mile reservoir.
Gregory said that agencies would be wise to develop rapid response teams and plans that can act immediately to eradicate pike when they're first detected in new locations. Without immediate action, he said, it's unlikely they can be eradicated in the new area. He said by using eDNA--or environmental DNA--pike can be detected in water bodies through water sample analysis. Four sites just below Grand Coulee Dam will be monitored this year, along with numerous sites in Columbia River tributaries above the dam.
Once populations become established, control efforts must be extensive, riverwide, and continue indefinitely to be successful, he added.
Gregory also told the Council about a genetic approach that could be considered, but would take about 20 years before it would start to accomplish control of northern pike. The method would expose male pike to hormones that causes them to create two Y chromosomes instead of an X and a Y chromosome, he said.
So instead of giving an X and a Y chromosome to its offspring, it would provide only Y chromosomes. "That means when they reproduce with females, only males are born," he said. A population can then be reduced by reducing the number of females. Gregory said this is not a genetically modified fish, but a method used to control its sex.
In responding to questions from the Council, Gregory also said that spill to provide water for fish downstream and spring runoff over Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams are among the reasons why scientists believe northern pike will eventually make their way downstream, and into areas where salmon and steelhead spawn.
The ISAB did not discuss in detail the operations at those projects, he said, but a closer look at whether any changes can be made to delay natural migration is warranted.
In order to effectively control sea lions, birds or fish that prey on Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead, the Council should consider a basinwide analysis of the entire ecosystem, looking at both human influences as well as the natural systems, the study concluded
Gregory said that to understand which predators the Council should prioritize to help salmon and steelhead survive, or whether its current predator control programs are working, it's essential to understand the entire ecosystem and the impacts that its predator programs are having on the whole food web, not just the salmon or steelhead they're trying to protect.
The analyses must also include an understanding of how human activities are impacting the ecosystem and changing predator behavior, from riprap and development along shorelines to hydroelectric projects.
"It's a big task, but if you're only looking at one predator and one prey, you are going to get an incomplete picture," Gregory told the Council. He added, "You're managing a complex food web. If you take one species out, that doesn't mean you simply release your salmon and steelhead to go to the ocean." A salmon that doesn't get eaten by one predator may simply be consumed by another predator or die for other reasons later in its life cycle, he noted.
The report draws from several other examinations of the Council's predation programs, and reiterates a concern raised in a 2016 ISAB report. The new report repeats, "The ISAB considers compensatory mortality the most important uncertainty to address when developing a predation metric. Compensatory mortality occurs when predation mortality at one life stage is offset to some degree by decreased mortality at the same or subsequent life stages."
The 2016 report explains, "For example, a predator might eat injured or weak fish that would have died before reaching adulthood; therefore, controlling this predator would not result in more adult fish." And, "Loss of 50 [percent] of a juvenile salmon population in response to predation or other factors would likely reduce intraspecific competition for resources, potentially leading to increased growth and survival among the survivors."
As an example, Gregory noted, to know whether an angler reward program to control pikeminnow is working, the Council must also consider the pikeminnow's other prey and predators. Current efforts to control them reward fishermen for catching pikeminnows throughout the lower Snake and Columbia rivers, he noted, but their impact on juvenile salmon is much greater in pools below the dams.
"Does the sport-reward program still provide the best approach for removing northern pikeminnow and assessing possible compensatory responses? Or would more focused fisheries in selected locations be a more strategic and cost-effective method?" the report asks.
The report also says, "While it may seem intuitively obvious that reducing the abundance of a predatory species will benefit their prey, this is by no means always the outcome."
Currently, predator control in the Columbia Basin focuses on nine species--northern pikeminnow, northern pike, lake trout, Caspian terns, double-crested cormorants, ring-bill gulls, California gulls, California sea lions and Steller sea lions. Seven of those are native species and two are not.
These species represent just a small part of the entire food web, Gregory noted. Looking at just fish, there are 53 native freshwater species, 47 nonnative freshwater species, and 44 native marine species in the estuary. All are part of complex food webs with many predators and prey.
An assessment of the impacts of all potential predators throughout the basin will require integrated analytical tools, including life-cycle models, measuring smolt-to-adult returns, and density dependence analysis. The ecosystem-wide approach would identify locations where life stages of prey are most susceptible to different predators, and the relative benefits of decreasing mortality at different life stages.
In general, Gregory told the Council, protecting adult salmon and steelhead that are returning to spawn is more effective than protecting juveniles on their way to the ocean. But, he added, the ISAB cannot rank which predators would be most effective to control without an ecosystem-wide analysis.
The report does include two tables offering some guidance. One shows the relative vulnerability--high, medium and low--of juvenile salmonids to six bird and five fish predators. These relative rankings are shown for chum, pink, sockeye, coho, Chinook and steelhead. Another chart shows the relative vulnerability of adult and juvenile salmonids and eulachon, white sturgeon and Pacific lamprey to marine mammals, including California and Steller sea lions, harbor seals and killer whales.
The report also says that cost effectiveness of predator controls need to be included, and could modify decisions about which management actions to take.
The study is just part of the response to the Council's request for an analysis on predator management in order to help inform upcoming amendments to its Fish and Wildlife Program. The ISAB report will be followed by a companion report on specific predator-control programs and an economic analysis, expected to be presented to the Council in June. -K.C. Mehaffey
 EIS Alternatives Range From Low Carbon To 125 Percent TDG Spill
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released an update May 17 which provides many new details about the five alternatives in the upcoming draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for operating 14 dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers.
Scheduled for release in February 2020, the draft EIS is expected to include a "reasonable range of alternatives" being considered for long-term operations, maintenance and configuration of the major Corps and Bureau of Reclamation dams in the Columbia Basin.
The update includes a 20-minute webcast explaining the process of evaluating potential social and environmental impacts analyzed in five alternatives, each designed to meet multiple objectives.
The alternatives include a "no action" or status quo option; a flexible spill operation; a low carbon priority option; an alternative that would breach the four lower Snake River dams; and an option for spilling up to 125 percent total dissolved gas (TDG) at the eight lower Snake and Columbia river dams.
"For each of the five alternatives, we are evaluating the costs, benefits and tradeoffs, including how the alternatives affect congressionally authorized purposes of the federal projects, and resources such as fish and wildlife," the webcast says. "We may select the preferred alternative from any of the alternatives that we are analyzing. We may also make minor adjustments to an existing alternative, within the flexibility allowed under NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act], by adding or removing measures analyzed within the EIS to identify the preferred alternative," it says.
Each alternative seeks to comply with environmental laws while retaining the multiple purposes of the federal projects. Those purposes include flood risk management, power production, fish and wildlife protection, navigation, irrigation, recreation, and municipal and industrial water supply.
According to the webcast, several measures will be included in most or all of the alternatives, except for the no action alternative, including these:
Flood risk management would be updated at Libby and Grand Coulee dams to provide more flexibility for better flood storage, and to augment water releases and habitat for fish. At Libby Dam, local forecast conditions would partly dictate operations, and at Grand Coulee Dam, the draft rate would be reduced in April by releasing more water earlier in wetter years to reduce the risk of shoreline erosion.
Water supply for authorized irrigation would include additional pumping from reservoirs behind Grand Coulee and Hungry Horse dams, and for the Chief Joseph Dam project.
Fish passage would be improved at some dams through surface passage structures, upgraded spillway weirs, lamprey passage structures and improved fish ladders. At Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams, a pumping system would provide cooler water for fish ladders to encourage adults to continue migrating upstream. Water releases in the summer would be modified based on local streamflow forecasts.
Power generation would be "slightly" more flexible by allowing more water to collect in the forebay during fish passage season. This would allow renewables such as wind and solar energy to be better integrated, as more hydropower would be available when renewables are not.
The webcast also offers a "deep dive" into the differences between the alternatives.
Alternative 1 uses an alternating spill pattern for juvenile fish passage in the spring, and provides more spill than the no action alternative. It would spill up to 115 percent TDG in the forebays and 120 percent TDG in the tailraces at dams, alternating with a base spill to performance standards. In the summer months, spill could end earlier in August at Snake River projects when benefits to fish are limited because few fish migrate downstream. The end date would be triggered by juvenile fish counts. Fish transport would begin 10 days earlier, on April 15. Cool water from Dworshak Dam would be released earlier and later--from June through September, but reduced in August--to help migrating adult salmon and steelhead over a longer period.
Alternative 2 adds measures to prioritize a low carbon power system. It provides the least amount of spill, reduced to near 110 percent TDG. It would curtail spill and send more water through the powerhouses in August, when the region's demand for power is greatest. The 110 percent TDG would increase power generation through the spring and summer.
Spill at some projects might be higher to meet minimum requirements for safe operations and specific issues at certain dams. This alternative also removes restrictions to operate run-of-river projects at minimum operating pool and minimum irrigation pool to provide more flexibility to shape flows within the day or between days. Run-of-river projects would also have no restrictions on turbine operating range to help integrate renewables and help manage TDG levels during high flows. Storage projects would be drafted slightly deeper in the winter and early spring. This would allow for more generation during winter's high demand.
It also increases the duration when Snake River dams can operate at zero generation outside the fish passage season, enabling those dams to hold water for a few hours during the day for later use when wind or solar are not available. Fish transport would increase due to less spill, and would run from April 25 to Aug. 31. Fish screens would be removed except at projects where fish are collected for transport. That would increase generation efficiency and make conditions less turbulent for fish, although more fish would pass through turbines.
Alternative 3 calls for breaching the four lower Snake River dams. The Corps' webcast notes that breaching is different from removing a dam, which is far costlier because it would take out the concrete powerhouses, navigation locks and other structures.
Instead, earthen embankments at Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams would be removed while the actual dams would remain in place but would not operate. The dams would then spill to 120 percent TDG for 24 hours a day in the spring at the eight lower Snake and Columbia river dams to mid-June.
Dams would then go to summer spill at the same level as the no action alternative through July 31. Minimum irrigation and minimum pool restrictions at John Day Dam would be removed, and Libby Dam might draft deeper at the end of December. To help integrate renewables, the lower Columbia River dams would have fewer restrictions on turbine operating range and get more flexibility for power generation.
Alternative 4 features spilling to 125 percent TDG at the eight lower Snake and Columbia river dams from March 1 to Aug. 31. This alternative includes spill for steelhead in March, October and November, and drawdowns in storage projects to provide enough water. Instead of upgrading spillway weirs, this option would add notched gate inserts to spillway weirs to provide surface passage for adult fish at lower flows and allow for smaller spill levels than unmodified weirs for spilling in October and November.
In drier years, Grand Coulee and other upstream reservoirs would augment flows by up to 2 million acre feet to meet downstream flow targets at McNary Dam designed to benefit ESA-listed fish. The eight lower Snake and Columbia river projects would see drawdowns in the spring and summer, mostly to minimum operating pools. Juvenile fish would be transported from April 25 to June 15, and from Aug. 15 to Nov. 15. Discharges would be limited from Libby Dam in the winter to help establish vegetation for resident fish.
The no action alternative would continue operations according to rules in effect in September 2016, when the co-lead agencies--the Corps, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration--filed a notice of intent to prepare the EIS. It includes the actions that were proposed in the previous Endangered Species Act consultations with NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, such as the improved fish passage turbines planned for Ice Harbor and McNary dams, and would follow the 2016 Fish Operations Plan.
 Chinook Holding Back At Little Goose As Managers 'Adapt' Flexible Spill Deal
When switching to five, and then six consecutive hours of reduced spill each morning didn't work, fish managers agreed to try reducing spill at Little Goose Dam for eight hours in a row, hoping that will be enough time to convince adult Chinook to keep moving upstream.
At its May 29 meeting, the Columbia Basin Technical Management Team (TMT) approved the new operation, which reduces spill to the dam's performance standard levels from 4 a.m. to noon each day. Performance standard is the spill level intended for juvenile fish passage under the 2008 biological opinion, and at Little Goose is 30 percent of the flow.
A sudden drop in the number of adult Chinook salmon migrating upstream over Little Goose on May 18 initially prompted the change in operations to address the issue.
This year's higher spill levels--to 120 percent total dissolved gas (TDG) for 16 hours a day--was designed to give juvenile fish a faster and safer journey to the ocean. But higher flows and TDG can also cause adults to hold back in their journey upstream. That's apparently what happened on May 18 and 19, when 183 and 185 adults respectively migrated past Little Goose Dam, according to the Fish Passage Center. Previously, between 800 and 1,100 Chinook had been passing the dam daily.
The new plan is not technically part of this year's flexible spill agreement. However, Tony Norris, a TMT member and operations research analyst for the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), noted that the agreement acknowledges that Little Goose has an adult passage problem. "This is really adaptively managing within the spill agreement," he told NW Fishletter.
Specifically, the agreement provides for adaptive management "to help address any unintended consequences that may arise in-season," such as the delayed migration of an estimated 3,500-4,000 adult Chinook due to the agreement, which increased spill to 120 percent total dissolved gas for 16 hours a day at the four Snake River dams starting April 3.
The flexible spill plan includes special provisions for adult passage at Little Goose. At all eight of the federal dams subject to the agreement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can reduce spill and generate more power for a total of eight hours each day, and has more freedom to choose those hours at seven of the projects. "Only Little Goose would be set to at least 4 hours in the a.m. (beginning near dawn and not to exceed 5 hours in the a.m.) and no more than 4 hours in the p.m. (generally near dusk) to help with adult passage issues," the spill agreement states.
Russ Kiefer, TMT member who represents the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said that's because more adults tend to migrate in the morning, starting at dawn, and Little Goose is known for its adult passage problem.
"We have a pretty good idea of what the problem is," he told NW Fishletter. "How to solve it is the challenge."
Kiefer explained that the increased spill levels cause an eddy at the entrance to the primary fish ladder. Flows in the eddy travel in the opposite direction from an eddy in a natural river, confusing the fish, he said. A surface weir at the dam only adds to the eddy problem, he said.
"The question is, is it better to reduce spill to 30 percent and use the surface weir, or shut off the weir and spill at a higher level?" he Kiefer said. "That gets to be a debate, and it's one where, without much data, we get into our belief systems."
Kiefer said Idaho doesn't support shutting off the surface weir just to maintain spill levels. "We need to come up with a plan that maintains spillway passage and doesn't delay adult," he said.
He also noted that the Corps can adjust the height of the weir at lower flows to reduce the eddy problem, but that won't work in the spring, when flows are higher.
Kiefer said fish mangers are continuing to discuss other options in case the eight consecutive morning hours of reduced spill doesn't work, or if the upcoming increase in runoff prompts a new round of adult delays. One option, he said, would be to reduce the flows to 30 percent and "pond" water in the reservoir above Little Goose in the morning, and spill that water later in the day. Fish managers have also discussed reducing spill to performance standards for 12 hours instead of eight hours, he said.
He said that as a fish manager in Idaho, he's more concerned about the delay than others. "How much effect that delay has is something else we've had some disagreements on," he said.
Kiefer said his own research has led him to believe that different populations of Chinook migrate at different times, and those adults spawning in the farthest places are the first to migrate. That timing provides a survival advantage. "Delaying them outside of their evolutionary timeframe is not likely a good thing for their ability to successfully put eggs in the right gravel at the right time," Kiefer said.
Bill Tweit, Columbia River fishery coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, has a different view. He said spring Chinook--unlike some other salmon species--are essentially designed for a long, slow migration. "When you think about it, if you're entering the river in the peak of runoff, it's probably smart to give yourself plenty of time to work you way up," he said. They're not like sockeye, which hit the river all at once and move up through the system as quickly as possible, before the river gets too warm.
Tweit added, "I don't want to say delay is OK, or that we don't worry about it. But we view it differently for different species. And when you're balancing upriver and downriver survival, that's part of the perspective."
As of June 2, 18,679 adult Chinook had passed Lower Monumental Dam, and only 14,163 of them had continued on to pass Little Goose, according to Fish Passage Center numbers. But the difference of some 4,500 fish isn't all due to delayed migration. Some of these adults migrated up the Tucannon River instead of continuing up the Snake, and some are still making their way between Lower Monumental and Little Goose.
Others were caught by anglers. On Memorial Day, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reopened fishing for hatchery Chinook in the pool below Little Goose. The state determined there was sufficient harvest allocation remaining. That day, only 21 adult Chinook made it past Little Goose Dam, compared with 119 on May 26, and 299 on May 28.
At least one fishing guide knows how to take advantage of the delay in adult passage. Toby Wyatt boasts on his website that his fishing guides target these adult Chinook by anchoring inside the back eddy and positioning their boats above the small hole, enabling clients to catch their limit by mid-morning. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Corps Proposes Underwater Construction At Detroit Dam
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now proposing underwater construction instead of a one- to two-year drawdown to build a water temperature control tower and fish collection structure at Detroit Dam on the North Santiam River southeast of Salem, Ore.
The agency on May 24 released its draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Detroit Downstream Fish Passage Project, backing off proposals to draft the reservoir well below normal operations after the analysis found a two-year drawdown would cost the region's economy more than $200 million.
"When we started scoping a year and a half ago, we hadn't realized all the impacts to downstream water users," Jeff Ament, the Corps' project manager, said in a news release.
Some of those economic impacts were outlined in U.S. District Court filings in Northwest Environmental Defense Center et al. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers et al.
Marion County and the City of Salem say in a cross claim that nearly 800 companies with more than 16,000 employees rely on water from the lake, mostly for agriculture and food processing. Many industries would likely relocate without a permanent, stable water supply, the filing states. Salem, which relies on Detroit Lake for its drinking water, contends that a drawdown would also interfere with its water rights and threaten human health and safety.
The draft EIS, available for public review and comment until July 23, analyzes five alternatives, including a no action option. Four other alternatives include constructing a 300-foot temperature control tower attached to the dam that would enable the Corps to mix warm surface water with the cooler water from deep below the surface in order to meet temperature targets downstream.
The preferred alternative--to build the temperature control tower underwater, using divers and operating from floating barges--would cost an estimated $200 million to $250 million. An alternative that would drain the reservoir to 1,300 feet for two years and involve no underwater construction would cost between $100 million and $200 million.
All four action alternatives also include a downstream passage structure at an estimated cost of $250 million to collect juvenile Chinook and steelhead in the reservoir to be hauled and released downstream. An existing adult collection facility would continue to be used to provide upstream passage.
The Corps also analyzed numerous other alternatives--21 for temperature control, eight for fish collection and three for fish transport--that were eliminated for a variety of reasons. Many of the rejected alternatives were not technically feasible, posed risks to dam safety or the Corps' ability to manage floods, or would eliminate purposes of Detroit Dam over time.
The preferred alternative would have the lowest impact, according to the draft EIS. "Under the preferred alternative, there would be short-term, localized impacts to air quality, noise, sediment transport, turbidity, fish and wildlife, and vegetation," it said. Moderate impacts to resident fish and kokanee are expected from underwater blasting.
"Improving downstream fish passage and temperature control at high-head dams is extremely complex and challenging," the draft EIS said. Because it is operated for flood risk management, there are large seasonal fluctuations in reservoir elevation. But the project is operated for several other purposes, including water supply, hydropower, water quality, fish and wildlife and recreation. With two generating units, the dam has a capacity to generate 100 megawatts of power.
"Balancing these missions while also moving fish around a 400 foot barrier in a reservoir that moves up and down more than a hundred feet over the course of every year is very challenging from a technical and biological standpoint," the dEIS said. "Therefore, the Corps spent many years developing, assessing, and screening numerous alternatives for both downstream passage and temperature control."
Downstream fish passage and temperature control are required under a 2008 biological opinion to avoid jeopardizing upper Willamette River Chinook salmon and steelhead, both listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In summer, water released from the dam is too cold, causing some adults to stop migrating and spawn downstream. In the fall, water released from the dam is too warm, causing eggs downstream to die or hatch too early.
The temperature control tower--also called a selective withdrawal structure--would have sliding high intake weirs to move warm surface water, and low intake gates to move cool water from below the surface, through the dam, depending on the needs at the time.
The juvenile fish collection facility would be a floating screen structure attached to the temperature control tower to collect migrating juvenile fish. The 300-foot by 100-foot structure is designed to capture juvenile fish from reservoir outflows and hold them until they are transported downstream.
The proposal would improve survival rates of juvenile Chinook and steelhead, and survival of returning adult fish migrating up the North Santiam River to spawn, the draft EIS said. A final EIS and record of decision are expected next year, followed by three years of construction of the temperature control tower, and then three years of constructing the fish collection facility.
The Corps is also working to develop a new biological opinion and a new EIS for all 13 projects in the Willamette Valley System, while continuing with efforts to resolve downstream fish passage issues at Detroit and Cougar dams. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Idaho Conference Perspective: The Power Of Collaboration
Put 20 panelists with vastly different interests in a room with 400 conference-goers, ask them to talk about a controversial issue like Snake River dams and salmon recovery, and what do you get?
If you had asked me, I would have said, "One big argument."
But organizers of the 2019 Environmental Conference at Boise State University on April 23 wisely asked panelists not to rehash their positions--which are only too familiar--and instead, to come with an open mind and focus on "moving the ball forward."
Finding solutions is what Andrus Center for Public Policy forums are about. Named for Cecil Andrus, former Idaho governor and U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the Center noted that Andrus supported both the public power system and healthy fish populations in Idaho. Throughout his career, he worked toward finding bipartisan solutions to many issues.
In newspapers across the region, and in NW Fishletter, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson--a Republican--captured the conference-coverage headlines for suggesting that it's time to explore what would happen, and how people who depend on the dams could continue on, if the four lower Snake River dams are taken out.
But proponents of hydropower should be just as encouraged as tribes and other salmon advocates were by what they heard at the conference. That's because panelists representing groups that have been fighting the Federal Columbia River Power System and winning in court signaled a strong desire to put down the law books and pick up the talking stick. Some are convinced that breaching the Snake River dams is the best--and maybe only--way to save Idaho's salmon runs, but they're willing to come to the table and consider other options.
Panelist Sam Mace, Inland Northwest director for Save Our Wild Salmon, said environmental groups "do not want a solution that's created on the backs of anyone here." While pointing out reasons she believes dam removal is the best option, Mace also said she sees the importance of having substantive and solution-oriented conversations.
Jason Minor, natural resources policy manager for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, encouraged everyone to question their assumptions while staying true to their goals. "Governor Brown is deeply committed to a carbon-free power future. And also the notion that it cannot and should not come at a cost to native fish," Minor said. He said a collaborative solution will be more durable than a litigated winner-take-all outcome, and added, "I walk away with the intent to solve problems."
Even an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council who sat on one of the four panels, Giulia Good Stefani, said although federal agencies continue to operate the dams using biological opinions that have been deemed inadequate by the courts, "I recognize that litigation has not worked. We are still stuck."
Stefani said she believes the science shows dam removal is the best way to restore salmon, but she acknowledged, "I haven't seen other suggestions. If you told me there was another way to restore salmon, I'd be in." Then, she raised a concern that comes with the collaborative process: "How do we all get to a place where we can be open-minded about it?"
Panelists representing communities, barge transportation, agriculture and low-cost energy expressed similar concerns.
David Reeploeg, vice president of federal programs for the Tri-Cities Development Council, pointed to a dismissive attitude he's seen from some people who are pushing for dam removal when talking about those whose livelihoods depend on the dams. "Our region has been asked to cut off our arm while others haven't cut their fingernails," he said.
Even the starting point of creating a stakeholder group that will look at the impacts of dam removal seems unfair, he said. Rather than talk about how to recover salmon, the dialogue is already about taking out the dams and making it less painful to those who depend on them. "That's a hard place to start the conversation," he said.
But while interests still seem miles apart, some common-ground starting points became evident at the conference: Restoring healthy salmon and steelhead runs in the Snake River must become a priority. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is an important part of this region's future--both for energy needs and fish recovery--so its financial stability must also be a priority.
Hydroelectric dams, in general, provide clean energy that will be an important piece of the Pacific Northwest's clean energy future. Court battles over the Snake River dams are likely to continue after the release of an environmental impact statement (EIS) on Columbia River System Operations, but a stakeholder-driven solution could provide a more equitable outcome. And, people in communities who depend on the dams--farmers and irrigators, barge companies, port districts, businesses and others--need to be "made whole" if the solution includes removing dams.
It's a tall order, but then, the goals of stakeholder processes usually are.
Throughout the conference, other recent collaborations were held up as examples of difficult issues resolved using a stakeholder process. This spring's flexible spill agreement--although it may not become a permanent solution to the downstream fish passage issue--was among them.
BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer noted that the process of hammering out the agreement itself developed trust between those who have been on opposite sides of the courtroom for decades, and a willingness to work together that could carry forward if flexible spill does not meet its goals. Even when it's hard work, he added, "It feels good to work collaboratively."
Michael Garrity, Columbia River and water policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, noted that after fighting for decades over water, the Yakama Nation, irrigators and conservation groups agreed to the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan by "putting away long-held positions." He said irrigators began to support fish passage at Bureau of Reclamation dams, and conservation groups became open to water storage projects. Similarly, he noted NOAA Fisheries convened the Columbia Basin Partnership which developed both qualitative and quantitative goals for Columbia Basin fish returns.
Darrel Anderson, CEO of Idaho Power, talked about his company's collaborative work with constituents which led to a new goal to become carbon-free by 2045. He said that some of details about how they'll get there haven't been figured out, and will be worked out along the way. "We're relying on technology advances between now and then," he added.
Stephanie Solien, who co-chairs Washington's Southern Resident Orca Task Force, pointed to the success of that group, which brought together 49 people with very different interests coming together with one purpose--to prevent the orcas from going extinct.
After issuing 36 recommendations, the Washington Legislature passed four significant bills and budgeted $933 million to carry out many of its recommendations. That funding included $750,000 to hire a neutral third party that will lead a new stakeholder process to look at impacts of removing the Snake River dams.
In a conversation after the conference, Solien, who is also vice chair of the Puget Sound Partnership's Leadership Council, said she came away from the event with newfound hope.
"It felt like a breakthrough day," she said. "Somehow, the Andrus organizers had their finger on both the frustrations that people have been feeling about a lack of movement on recovering salmon, but they also, I think, had a sense that the love for this place might get people to step forward and be willing to come together and work together."
She said when she agreed to be a panelist, organizers asked her to bring only an open mind, so she left her "Orca 101" notes at home and came ready to listen instead. What became clear to her by listening to the panels and speakers is that saving salmon--which will help save orcas--is not a Democratic or Republican issue in this region, nor is it divided by the Cascade Mountains.
"What gives me hope is this Pacific Northwest region--Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana--we're all experiencing significant environmental impacts on species we love, whether it's orcas, salmon or our forests. A lot of it's due to our changing climate. A lot of it's due to human impact and population change. We're all sensing what we stand to lose, and we don't have time to keep fighting it out in court."
Whether you're a fan of collaborative efforts or not, this issue of salmon, steelhead and the Snake River dams is soon to be the topic of at least one stakeholder process, perhaps more.
One panelist at the conference--Merrill Beyeler, a former Idaho lawmaker and the owner of Beyeler Ranches in the Lemhi Valley--offered his own thoughts on a truly successful collaborative effort.
"I think what has to happen is, we have to find some way to advocate for each other," he said. That means seeing the other side so clearly that you begin to advocate for it.
Beyeler talked about working with biologists to reconnect tributaries on his ranch in the Lemhi Valley that had been dewatered when the Lemhi River was straightened decades earlier. After years of restoration work--when salmon were starting to return--one of the biologists who worked on the project came to take a look.
Beyeler recalled, "We were talking about grazing and he said, 'I think it's time to put cattle back on the river,' and I said, 'I think we ought to wait two or three more years.'"
To have the biologist advocating for the cattle rancher, and the rancher advocating for the fish is what happens when everyone becomes invested not in their own interests, but in the solution. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Washington DOE Proposing 125-Percent TDG Rule Change
The Washington Department of Ecology has begun the process for changing some provisions in its water quality rules, including increasing total dissolved gas (TDG) limits at eight Snake and Columbia river dams to 125 percent.
In a May 7 notice, Ecology says it is beginning the rulemaking process for multiple revisions. The agency is now reviewing public comments to determine the scope of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the potential rule changes. The EIS will evaluate the potential environmental impacts of amendments, and will be used to guide the proposed rule language.
Ecology spokeswoman Colleen Keltz said her agency expects to release a draft EIS for public comment in July, and will likely host a public hearing on the proposed rule changes.
Washington already modified its TDG limits to 120 percent in both the forebays and tailraces at eight dams under a short-term modification of TDG standards during spring spill. The change was made to accommodate this year's flexible spill agreement between three federal agencies, the states of Washington and Oregon, and the Nez Perce Tribe. Next year, the agreement calls for increasing spill to 125 percent TDG for 16 hours a day, prompting Washington's potential rule change.
Oregon will also have to change its dissolved gas criteria before next year's spring spill season in order for the 125 percent TDG limit to go into effect. In a May 10 memo to the state Environmental Quality Commission, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Director Richard Whitman noted that TDG levels higher than 110 percent can cause gas bubble trauma in fish.
However, additional voluntary spill helps out-migrating juvenile salmon and trout, the memo states. The Commission will be asked later this year to modify the TDG standard to 125 percent at the Columbia River dams for the April 1, 2020, fish migration spill season, it says.
Keltz told NW Fishletter that the modification to 120 percent TDG included an understanding that normal monitoring for gas bubble trauma in fish would continue at the dams by the Fish Passage Center during the 2019 spill season, and that no additional monitoring was required.
She said if the water quality standards are changed to increase total dissolved gas limits to 125 percent TDG at the dams, Ecology would establish biological thresholds that must be met for not only salmon and steelhead, but other aquatic life.
In a follow-up email, she wrote that the proposal to adjusting TDG criteria to 120 percent will also consider additional monitoring requirements. Currently, the Fish Passage Center monitors ESA-listed Chinook salmon and steelhead smolts in the Snake and Columbia rivers. In 2018, the smolt monitoring program collected and examined fish for signs of gas bubble trauma at Rock Island Dam in the middle Columbia above its confluence with the Snake River, and at Bonneville and McNary dams on the lower Columbia, and Lower Granite, Little Goose and Lower Monumental on the Snake River.
"The goal of the gas bubble trauma monitoring program is to sample 100 salmonids each day of sampling at each site," she wrote. "The proportion of each species sampled is dependent upon their prevalence at the time of sampling."
Whitman's memo also noted that DEQ will coordinate with the Washington and Oregon's fish and wildlife departments and other Columbia River partners "to assess physical and biological monitoring that should occur if the 125 percent modification is authorized."
Washington is also tackling three other potential rule changes in its water quality codes, including amendments to meet legal obligations from a 2018 court order; aligning its rule with the Washington Department of Health's shellfish program, and clarifying descriptions of marine water aquatic life use designations.
Keltz said the proposed rule change from the court obligations resulted from Ecology's intervenor status in Northwest Environmental Advocates v. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Ecology is seeking to remove incremental temperature allowance provisions which would only apply to water bodies that were cooler than temperature criteria, and therefore would not have a direct effect on temperature standards at hydroelectric dams. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Columbia Riverkeeper Answers EPA's Appeal, Files New Lawsuits
A conservation group that has been using the Clean Water Act and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPEDS) to fight for cleaner and cooler water in the Columbia River has filed two new lawsuits--one against Grant County PUD in March and another against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April.
Columbia Riverkeeper filed the lawsuits in U.S. District Court over the discharge of oil and other lubricants at three Columbia River hydroelectric projects.
On May 10, the group also filed a response with other plaintiffs, to the Environmental Protection Agency's appeal in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals of a lower court order that requires the federal agency to come up with a plan to deal with higher water temperatures in the Columbia and Snake rivers.
These are among a series of legal actions that could ultimately clarify some requirements under the Clean Water Act, including whether federal agencies and public utility hydroelectric projects must obtain a NPDES permit for spills and operational leaking of oil or other lubricants, and whether the EPA must develop water quality clean-up plans when states do not.
Riverkeeper's efforts to require the pollution discharge permits at Columbia River dams date back to 2013, when the group filed a series of lawsuits in U.S. District Court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation over regular leaking of oil and other lubricants from operating nine dams.
The cases were dismissed when the federal agencies agreed in an August 2014 settlement to address "alleged discharges from powerhouse drainage sumps, unwatering sumps, spillway sumps, navigation lock sumps, wicket gate bearings, turbine blade packing/seals, and discharges of cooling water systems, at each of the dams."
Without admitting that the discharges equate to pollution under the Clean Water Act, the agencies agreed to apply to EPA or the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for discharge permits at each dam; to assess whether the use of "environmentally acceptable lubricants" can be used without risk of damage to equipment; and to switch to those lubricants when feasible.
They also agreed to ask for updates on the permit applications every year, and to notify Columbia Riverkeeper of any spills that are reported to the National Response Center as part of its spill prevention plan.
While the settlement focused on lubricant discharges and oil spills, it triggered an examination of water temperature issues at the dams when EPA asked the Washington Department of Ecology for 401 Water Quality Certifications, which are needed to obtain a NPDES permit. Ecology was in the midst of gathering public comments for the certifications when EPA withdrew its request in February, saying it needed more review, and that it plans to resubmit its application after further analysis.
Comments that were received before EPA withdrew the request included numerous appeals for changes in dam operations to reduce temperature and enhance fish survival.
After winning a settlement with the federal agencies, Columbia Riverkeeper notified three Mid-C PUDs in September of its intent to file lawsuits against them for also failing to have a NPDES permit for similar lubricant discharges.
The group sued the Douglas County PUD in December. The PUD claims that the pollution discharge permit is unnecessary because Ecology has already issued a water quality certification permit for Wells Dam.
The Chelan County PUD settled with Columbia Riverkeeper in March, before a lawsuit was filed. The PUD agreed to obtain the permit, monitor and reduce harmful lubricants, and will spend $105,000 to improve water quality in areas around its Rocky Reach and Rock Island projects.
On March 26, Riverkeeper filed a similar suit against the Grant County PUD for discharges at Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams. In its reply, the PUD also denies that they are in violation of the Clean Water Act, saying that, pursuant to its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license, the projects have a state-issued water quality certification, and are "in conformance with all applicable water quality-based, technology-based, toxic, and pretreatment effluent limitations."
On April 15, Riverkeeper filed suit against the Corps for discharges at Chief Joseph Dam, which was not one of the dams in the prior settlement with Riverkeeper. The agency has not yet filed a response, and an agency spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Both new lawsuits say the operations violate the Clean Water Act with "unpermitted discharges of pollutants" by failing to obtain a NPDES permit, which the group claims is required for the projects' release of oils, greases, lubricants and "cooling water and the heat associated therewith."
They ask the judge for injunctions to prevent the Corps and the PUD from discharging pollutants from the dams until they receive NPDES permits, and to require actions to evaluate and remediate the environmental harm.
Riverkeeper and four other conservation groups are also using the Clean Water Act to push the EPA into issuing TMDLs--total maximum daily loads--for temperature in the Snake and Columbia rivers. EPA appealed the lower court ruling in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Riverkeeper responded to its arguments in a May 10 filing, along with Idaho Rivers United, Snake River Waterkeeper, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources.
Their argument says that the district court correctly found that Washington and Oregon had abandoned their duty to submit the TMDL, triggering EPA's "nondiscretionary" duty to prepare and submit the TMDL instead. TMDLs identify the sources of pollution--in this case temperature. They calculate the level of permissible pollution and allocate daily limits from each source.
Under the Clean Water Act, states are given the duty to issue TMDLs, but--Riverkeeper argues--in an agreement with Washington and Oregon, EPA agreed to issue temperature TMDLs for the Snake and Columbia rivers due to the complexity and multi-jurisdictional nature of the rivers.
The reply says the EPA already released a preliminary draft TMDL for temperature in 2003, identifying dams on the mainstem Columbia and lower Snake rivers as the most significant contributors to water quality exceedances. "Dams affect water temperature by altering upstream river flow, geometry, and velocity," the filing states. It says the draft indicates that the EPA planned to issue an updated TMDL for public comment, but by 2004 it "quietly abandoned work" on it, the reply said.
It argues there is no factual dispute that the states have abandoned their duty to prepare the TMDL, leaving that duty to the EPA.
Riverkeeper argues that the "rigor, accountability, and statutory authority" of the Clean Water Act is long overdue in the Columbia and Snake Rivers, which have been on the impaired waters list for temperature since 1998. "Without the TMDL, excessive water temperatures have worsened to the point where they have caused significant fish kills and pushed threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead closer to extinction."
It asks the court to uphold the U.S. District Court decision and require the EPA to complete the temperature TMDL. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Hells Canyon Complex Wins Water Quality Certification
Idaho Power received water quality certifications from the states of Idaho and Oregon in its quest to relicense the Hells Canyon Complex, a step that the company is calling "a huge milestone" toward earning a new license to operate the three hydroelectric projects on the Snake River.
The Section 401 certifications under the Clean Water Act mean that the Oregon and Idaho departments of environmental quality signed off on Idaho Power's plan for meeting water quality standards when operating the three dams in Hells Canyon for up to five decades.
Announced May 24, the certifications follow an agreement signed by governors of both states in April. In that agreement, Idaho Power agreed to spend an additional $20 million to improve water quality, reduce pollutants and boost hatchery production, while Oregon temporarily abandoned its efforts to require fish passage at the three dams.
The certifications put Idaho Power on track to receive a new license in 2022, 17 years after its initial license expired in July 2005. The company continues to receive annual licenses to operate while it seeks a new 50-year license. Measures in the plan are expected to cost more than $400 million, to be spent over the license period.
"Receiving the 401s from the states is a huge milestone for the company," Brett Dumas, Idaho Power's director of environmental affairs, said in a prepared statement. "This allows us to move forward with relicensing our most valuable asset. And, it clears the way for a tremendous number of projects to improve the environment of the Snake River while Idaho Power continues to provide safe, reliable, clean energy into the future."
Some of those stewardship projects have already begun, while others will await the new license, said spokesman Brad Bowlin.
He said having the certification gives the company the confidence to start moving forward with some of the projects outlined in the agreement. One example, he said, is its plan to plant native vegetation along riverbanks to help cool water. The company can now demonstrate to landowners that its water quality plan has been certified by both states, and can begin to draw up agreements, Bowlin said.
Other plans for addressing water temperature issues will wait for the new license. In one major project, the company will narrow and deepen stretches of the Snake River between Walters Ferry and Homedale to improve the natural river function and habitat, which will also cool the water.
The company has also agreed to adjust operations at Brownlee Reservoir in years when extremely high temperatures are forecasted, Bowlin said.
"We can change the timing of when we move water out of the reservoir, ultimately lowering the temperatures coming out below Hells Canyon Dam," he said. "It's something we would do infrequently, as weather patterns dictate in extreme situations."
Idaho Power is also conducting a 10-year study in coordination with the U.S. Geological Survey that looks at mercury levels in the reservoirs and will try to determine where the mercury is coming from, and where it's going.
Bowlin added that there are a vast number of projects and plans outlined in its relicensing proposal. "It's pretty wide-ranging, when you're talking about a basin the size of the Snake River and its tributaries," he said.
The three dams--Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon--provide about 70 percent of Idaho Power's hydroelectric generation and about 30 percent of the total energy produced. The company started to work on relicensing the three dams with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in the mid-1990s.
Bowlin said while the water quality certifications are a major step, other large steps remain. FERC will have to update its environmental review of relicensing, which had been completed in 2007, he said.
Idaho Power is also seeking to change a temperature standard in a stretch of the Snake River below Hells Canyon Dam to allow a 2.7-degree increase in maximum water temperature from Oct. 23 to Nov. 7. Last June, Idaho Power sued the EPA in U.S. District Court for failing to act on Idaho's request for a change in the standard.
A judge in the case, Idaho Power Company v. United States Environmental Protection Agency et al., recently stayed all proceedings until Nov. 25, and is requiring status reports from EPA indicating whether the agency has taken action. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Washington Drought Worries Fish Managers More Than Power Generators
A quickly diminishing snowpack combined with a forecast for warmer- and drier-than-average conditions in parts of Washington this summer prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to add 24 watersheds to the three basins already under an emergency drought declaration since April 4.
Fish managers say the poor snowpack in parts of the Columbia Basin is bad news for late-migrating fall Chinook juveniles and a myriad of summer and fall adult salmon and steelhead that struggle in warmer water when low flows persist.
But when it comes to power generation, Bonneville Power Administration officials note that Washington's drought conditions are at least partly offset by the wetter conditions in Montana and Idaho. Water supply throughout the Federal Columbia River Power System is 91 percent of normal, BPA spokesman David Wilson said.
That's still below average, but not nearly as poor as the water supply in parts of Washington, including the mid- and upper Columbia River basin.
The culprit is snowpack, which dropped from about 80 percent of normal on April 1, to 52 percent on May 20, prompting Inslee's declaration. Snowpack in several areas is well below 50 percent. In the central Columbia River basin, it's 25 percent of normal, and in the upper Yakima River basin, it's at 20 percent. The upper Columbia was showing 55 percent of its normal snowpack while the lower Yakima River basin had 53 percent. The data measures the snow water equivalent--or the amount of water in the snowpack--compared with the 30-year average from 1981 through 2010.
NOAA's Climate Prediction Center also updated its El Nino Advisory, increasing the chances that warmer temperatures will persist in the Northern Hemisphere through the summer to 70 percent, and the chance that it will continue through fall to between 55 and 60 percent. Although spring predictions tend to be less accurate, the majority of models still predict El Nino to continue through 2019, the update says. The update reflects a 5 percent increase in chances for El Nino to continue through summer, and through the fall.
The Washington Legislature appropriated $2 million for drought response, and funding for agencies seeking relief will be available in June. The funds can be used for actions to relieve hardships, and could include drilling water wells, moving the location of water withdrawals, leasing water and conserving water.
Washington last declared a drought emergency in 2015. That summer, an estimated 250,000 adult sockeye perished in the Snake and Columbia rivers. There were also extensive sturgeon and steelhead deaths, said Bill Tweit, Columbia River fishery coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Tweit said drought is a "cascading problem" for fish. It starts with less water in the rivers and streams. That means hot summer temperatures will heat the water more quickly. And, since the snowpack melts early, it also means cooler water won't be coming into the system throughout the summer.
It's not the drought itself, but the increase in river temperatures that has us nervous--and its possible effects on upstream migration," Tweit said.
Idaho's B-run steelhead may be the most at risk, he said. Fish managers are already limiting and closing fishing, and will institute a series of rolling closures to follow the steelhead as they migrate upstream this summer and fall. "In recreational fisheries, we're not anticipating we'll need to do more, other than what we've already done--which is pretty darned extensive," he said.
The agency will also closely monitor river temperatures, look for opportunities to find cold water refuges for fish, and coordinate efforts with other agencies. "We'll be expecting the agencies to do what they can, but also recognizing you can only do what you can," he said.
While snowpack throughout the Columbia Basin is below average, BPA isn't exactly in drought mode.
"We are fortunate because the Columbia Basin is so large a lower snowpack in one area of the region can be offset by wetter or better snowpack conditions elsewhere," BPA spokesman David Wilson said in an email. "For example, even though it has been unusually warm and dry across northern and eastern Washington and southwest British Columbia, it has been a very wet spring in Idaho and Montana, and considerable snowpack remains in the Canadian Rockies where temperatures have been cooler," he wrote.
Figures from NOAA's Northwest River Forecast Center show total precipitation for drainages in the Snake River basin for this water year since Oct. 1 ranged from 91 to 107 percent of normal. In contrast, the middle Columbia's upper tributaries saw only 65 percent of its normal precipitation, and the Columbia River basin above Grand Coulee received only 73 percent of normal rain or snow.
According to a Forecast Center map, the water supply forecast for the North Fork Clearwater River at Dworshak Dam is currently 110 percent of normal, and for the Snake River at Lower Granite Dam, it's 127 percent of normal.
There have also been system improvements that could help fish through this summer's drought.
In the Snake River, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams now have water cooling systems to prompt adult fish to continue their journey through the ladders. The ladders can act as a "thermal barrier" when water temperatures at the top of the ladder are warmer than those at the base of the ladder.
Gina Baltrusch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Walla Walla, said that in 2015, the Corps rented pumps to bring cooler water from deep inside the forebays into the ladders. In 2016 and 2017, the agency completed modifications which now supplement water at the entrance to the fish ladders, and pump cooler water from deep in the forebay to spray at the top of the ladder. She said water releases from Dworshak Dam are also used to help cool water in the Snake River.
While the 2015 sockeye mortalities are often cited, a Corps news release on the water cooling improvements notes the vast majority of the fish were headed for the upper Columbia River, and most of those bound for the Snake River actually died in the lower Columbia River, before reaching the Snake. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Idaho Highlights Fish Accords In NWPCC Overview
Ed Schriever, director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council on May 7 that his agency depends on Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) funds for many of its important programs, ranging from fish screens and hatcheries to monitoring and recovery programs for salmon, steelhead, burbot and white sturgeon.
"We're joined at the hip with our other partners," Schriever said in his first presentation to the Council since becoming director in January. "These long-standing partnerships and projects--it's like pushing rope uphill. You can't stop."
The agency--which receives no funds from the state's general funds--will get $11.4 million from BPA this year, about 11 percent of its total budget. That doesn't include wildlife mitigation funds from prior settlements for impacts from federal dams, including Albeni Falls, Dworshak, and five smaller dams in southern Idaho.
Schriever said the Columbia Basin Fish Accords have been very important to Idaho, providing certainty in funding to complete important work that will aid Idaho's salmon, steelhead and resident fish.
Major work is ongoing in the Potlatch River basin, and the upper Salmon River's Lemhi River.
In the Potlatch basin's East Fork Potlatch River, the agency has treated 9 miles of rearing habitat with large woody debris and improved riparian areas. The work is also fixing culverts at three locations to open new steelhead habitat. Models show the work increased smolt production by 39 percent to 27,000 smolts, Schriever said. The project aims to increase density from 6.5 fish to 20 fish per 100 square meters.
Also in the Potlatch River basin, work will soon be underway to modify a natural barrier at Big Bear Falls, where between 50 and 350 steelhead return each year. That will open at least 15 miles of high quality habitat. And at the Spring Valley Reservoir, the agency will supplement steelhead rearing habitat through low volume water releases. Together, the three projects could increase steelhead smolts by 85 percent, Schriever said.
In the Lemhi River in the upper Salmon River basin, funds are being used to restore a floodplain, creating juvenile rearing habitat and reducing velocities.
Over the last decade, 544 restoration projects have opened 75 miles of habitat, restored 352 miles of habitat, and added 61 cubic feet per second of water. "A significant portion of the stream has been restored," Schriever said. -K.C. Mehaffey
 BPA OKs Plan To Offset Most of Spill Costs This Year With Fish And Wildlife Cuts And Reductions
The costs of this spring's flexible spill regime will not be passed onto Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) customers, according to a spill surcharge plan Bonneville approve on May 16.
The agency will instead use $34 million from cuts and reductions in the Fish and Wildlife Program to pay for most of the cost of the spill. Last year, customers were charged $10.2 million for the cost of spring spill, and the Fish and Wildlife Program was charged $20 million.
BPA will lose about 223 average megawatts valued at $34.9 million, based on the average amount of lost generation from 80 historical water years under this year's spill scenario, agency officials said.
Adjustments reducing the surcharge to zero include a $34 million cost-reduction permitted at the BPA administrator's discretion; a credit that will not be received due to Fish and Wildlife Program reductions; a formula adjustment to account for electricity going to non-Slice customers; and the impact that more spill has on market prices for remaining power sales.
Bonneville received five public comments on its proposed spill surcharge before issuing the record of decision. Most supported the proposal to avoid passing costs on to customers. "Although these costs are significant at approximately $34.9 million on a forecast basis, we appreciate BPA's commitment to implement cost control measures with its strategic priorities and the best available science related to fish and wildlife mitigation," a comment from the Public Power Council states.
Tom DeBoer, assistant general manager of generation, power, rates and transmission management at Snohomish County PUD, also commended elimination of the spill surcharge, and said the PUD hopes the spill program can be used "as an interim measure" to achieve its objectives of protecting salmon while managing hydropower costs throughout the implementation period.
Scott Levy, of Bluefish.org, did not approve, writing that it is "troublesome" that cost reductions should come only from fish and wildlife projects. "Cost reductions should come from all departments whenever and wherever cost cutting is available," he wrote.
Levy also indicated that, instead of flexible spill, a more effective way to help fish would be to breach the lower Snake River dams. He wrote that by removing the dams, Idaho's salmon and steelhead could be delisted, and BPA would be able to pay for the cost of dam removal and save money by closing the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan hatcheries. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Poor Returns Means Reduced Fishing In Columbia Basin
Projections for low returns of Chinook, sockeye and steelhead will mean reduced fishing seasons, bag limits and some closures on the Columbia River this summer and fall.
Summer fishing will be limited to steelhead retention, a news release from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says. About 35,900 summer Chinook are predicted to return this year--the lowest since 2000 and too small to allow any nontribal harvest, the release said. Sockeye retention will also be prohibited due to the low returns.
This year's fall Chinook run is projected at 349,700--almost 20 percent higher than last year's return--and fishery managers are allowing an 8.25 percent harvest rate on the stock through a shorter fall retention season.
Upriver summer steelhead fishing will be limited to one fish daily, with some area steelhead retention closures. Those will include rolling one- to two-month closures starting in August and progressing upriver following the steelhead return. The closures include the mainstem Columbia and lower reaches of certain tributaries. More details are offered in the agency's news release.
Spring Chinook fishing has also been limited in the Columbia and Snake river basins. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game closed Chinook fishing in the Clearwater River basin in mid-May due to lower-than-expected returns throughout the basin. Fish managers predicted that hatcheries in the Clearwater will be about 300 fish short of their broodstock needs.
Spring Chinook fishing on the Snake, Wallowa and Imnaha rivers, and Lookingglass Creek remain closed due to low returns, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife news release said. Forecasts for spring Chinook returns passing Bonneville Dam were at 99,330 fish--half of the 10-year average.
"While ODFW makes every effort to offer opportunities to fish for these prized salmon, protecting wild stocks and meeting hatchery broodstock needs are a priority," the release said.
The agency said excessive dissolved gas levels in the Snake River in 2017 prevented fish managers from Oregon and Idaho from releasing juveniles below Hells Canyon Dam that year, which is contributing to the overall low returns. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Brief Mentions: Invasive Mussels, Willamette EIS, Klamath Dams
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will host several meetings to offer an overview of its National Environmental Policy Act review of the 13 dams and reservoirs in the Willamette Valley Project. The meetings will be from June 4 through June 13 in Eugene, Salem, Portland, Corvallis and Springfield. The agency is in the scoping stage and is accepting public comments until June 28 on the scope of issues to be evaluated in its environmental impact statement. Meetings involve short presentations and an open house format.
U.S. Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on May 17 withdrawing the former support from his agency for the removal of four lower Klamath River dams. In October 2016, then-Secretary Sally Jewell wrote to FERC urging the approval of applications by PacifiCorp and the Klamath River Renewal Corp. that propose the transfer, decommissioning and removal of the dams. In his letter to FERC, Bernhardt says that the amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement did not require a submission from Interior, and withdrew the letter as "unnecessary."
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council released its proposed 2020 and 2021 budgets, both below a budget cap based on the forecast of firm power sales. The Council is proposing to spend just over $11.7 million in fiscal year 2020, and nearly $11.9 million in 2021. The Council's budget has grown at or less than the rate of inflation over the last 20 years, according to a May 8 presentation. Funding is provided by the Bonneville Power Administration from ratepayer revenues and is limited under the Northwest Power Act to a portion of power sales. Comments will be accepted until June 28.
Boat owners are invited to schedule a free inspection and decontamination of aquatic invasive species, such as quagga or zebra mussels, in Ephrata, Wash. The station will open June 1 at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's parking lot, 1550 Alder St. NW. Trained WDFW staff use 140-degree water to power spray boats, trailers and other aquatic equipment, funded by a $285,000 grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office. Appointments can be made at 1-888-WDFW-AIS. Washington also operates two mandatory watercraft check stations off Interstate 90 on the Idaho-Washington border, and on I-82 near the Washington-Oregon border. -K.C. Mehaffey
THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.
NW Fishletter is produced by NewsData LLC.
Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: K.C. Mehaffey
Phone: (206) 285-4848 Fax: (206) 281-8035