Report Finds 'Good Potential' For Fish Passage Above Grand Coulee
Leaders from five upper Columbia River tribes told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council on June 11 that their region has been without salmon for too long, and they're ready to take the next steps toward reintroducing this culturally important fish above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams.
"Most of our tribes are salmon people," Colville Tribal councilman Darnell Sam told the Council. But, he said, with dams blocking salmon from returning to the upper Columbia, many tribal members now live too far from the places where salmon return. As a Wenatchi descendant, Sam said he travels for three hours to fish for salmon in the Icicle River near Wenatchee. Passage would mean they were two miles away. He said the upper Columbia and the people who live there were the most impacted by the dams, but they receive the fewest benefits from mitigation.
John Sirois, committee coordinator for the Upper Columbia United Tribes, or UCUT, said tribes continue to conduct salmon ceremonies at Kettle Falls--which disappeared with the construction of Grand Coulee Dam--even though it has been blocked to salmon for nearly 80 years. Other tribal leaders said they've lost their salmon ceremonies after so many decades without fish passage.
Representatives from several tribes spoke to the full Council after scientists gave a technical presentation to the Council's Fish and Wildlife Committee on the tribes' Fish Passage and Reintroduction Phase 1 Report. The analysis concludes that environmental, operational and structural conditions at both dams "show good potential to produce a fish passage system that provides safe, timely and effective fish passage for summer/fall Chinook and sockeye salmon."
The report addresses an emerging priority from the Council's 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program to investigate options for reintroduction, passage and habitat improvement above blocked areas. One of the program's measures is to reintroduce anadromous fish above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, an area with over 2 million acres of tribal reservation land, 14 million acres of their traditional territory, 500 miles of waterways, 40 interior lakes, and 30 dams and reservoirs.
Council members expressed interest in pursuing the next phase, which would involve installing interim passage facilities and reintroducing salmon above the two upper Columbia River dams on an experimental basis. They also said the Phase 1 report should first be reviewed by independent scientists, and raised questions about evaluating the costs.
The study was prepared by the Upper Columbia United Tribes, or UCUT--which includes the Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Kalispel Tribe of Indians, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and Spokane Tribe of Indians--with support from the U.S. Geological Survey and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
According to UCUT's website, the first phase cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, paid mostly by UCUT and tribes, with some contributions from the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration; and staffing contributions from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. A second phase would likely cost millions, the website says. "If Phase 2 experimental releases and interim passage facilities show favorable results, then an important step at the end of Phase 2 will be to determine the preferred options and cost estimates," it says.
The first phase looked at the habitat and its suitability for salmon spawning, rearing and migration; the availability of stocks that could be used for reintroduction; the risks of reintroduction to resident species; potential passage facilities; and current dam operations. It determined the possible outcomes through life-cycle modeling.
According to the report, modeling revealed "significant amounts of habitat within the U.S. portion of the blocked area, totaling 711 miles for spring Chinook and 1,610 miles for summer steelhead for spawning, rearing, and migration." Eighty percent of the spring Chinook habitat and 53 percent of the steelhead habitat has moderate to high productivity potential. Currently accessible tributaries could produce 2,300 natural origin adult steelhead, 600 spring Chinook and 8,500 summer/fall Chinook. The Columbia's mainstem from Chief Joseph Dam to Canada could support between 5,800 and 76,000 spawning summer/fall Chinook adults. The Sanpoil River and its tributaries could produce 34,000 to 216,000 sockeye adults.
The assessment also found many donor sources for reintroducing summer/fall Chinook and sockeye, with Chief Joseph Hatchery right below the dam ranking highest for summer/fall Chinook reintroduction, which includes a high proportion of natural-origin broodstock from the Okanogan River.
The report found that floating surface collectors, already being used in other locations, would be effective in the forebays at both Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, and with attraction flow would have the potential for high collection efficiency. It says dam operations are compatible with juvenile migration periods. It also acknowledged a need to investigate all options for efficient and cost-effective adult passage, including retrofitted fish ladders, a "negative pressure salmon transport system" such as the Whooshh Innovations' salmon cannon, or a combination of both.
Continued studies in the second phase would show what kinds of fish passage facilities would be needed, and the potential to test floating surface collectors and salmon cannons.
Tribal representatives said they are currently focused on reintroducing summer Chinook and sockeye, which are not listed under the Endangered Species Act, both because those stocks are available from nearby sources downstream, and it will be easier to obtain initial supplies.
Casey Baldwin, senior research scientist for the Colville Tribes, said that tribes are pursuing fish passage through three forums--the Columbia River Treaty, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and through tribal initiatives.
He went over the conclusions of the first phase, which found there are good options for donor stocks; the risks of disease are manageable; there are large quantities of available and suitable habitat in the U.S. above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams; passage technology exists and is being used at other high-head dams; and returning salmon to blocked areas will deliver cultural and economic benefits for all.
Randy Friedlander, fish and wildlife director for the Colville Tribes, said the tribes recognize the expectations for an independent scientific review, and hope that any questions raised can be answered so their efforts can continue. "Overall, Phase 1 confirmed we should move forward into Phase 2," he said.
He told the Council that before coming to Portland to address them, he stopped at the Columbia River to return salmon remains to the river after a fishing trip with his father. "I looked up[river] towards Grand Coulee Dam, and down[river] towards Chief Joseph Dam and I said a prayer: 'I'm sorry these fish aren't in this water as you intended them to be, but help us figure out how to put them back in'," he said. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Shad Post Record Returns; 6.85 Million And Counting
Officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife say the 6.85 million shad that passed through Bonneville's fish ladders as of June 27 already constitute a record for the largest shad run ever counted at the dam, and the season's not even over yet.
It beats last year's total shad escapement over Bonneville of 6.1 million, which broke previous records for the highest number counted there since they started keeping track in 1946. That run wasn't over until Aug. 31.
The numbers--which have ranged from 1 million to 6 million since the late 1980s--are only a fraction of the 10 million to 20 million adult shad that the U.S. Geological Survey believes may enter the Columbia River annually. Most of them spawn from May to July in the estuary below Bonneville. But many also migrate up the Willamette River, as far as Priest Rapids Dam on the mainstem Columbia, and into Hells Canyon on the Snake River.
"The East Coast would kill to have numbers like this," Bill Tweit, Columbia River fishery coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, told NW Fishletter. "They're working at recovering shad back there, and we're scratching our heads going, 'What does this mean?"
American shad are not native to the Pacific Coast. These 5- to 12-pound fish were introduced from the east, released in the Sacramento River in 1871.
By 1885, some of California's shad had already discovered the Columbia River, and more were planted. Like salmon, they are anadromous--migrating to the ocean for three to five years before returning to freshwater to spawn. Unlike salmon, they spawn in open water rather than in gravel beds, and can return to the ocean and spawn multiple times.
Tweit said although there have been some concerns about shad clogging up the fish ladders for a handful of days in mid-June when hundreds of thousands pass through Bonneville daily, his agency hasn't identified any conflicts with their efforts to recover salmon and steelhead in the basin. "That's in large part because we don't understand either their role or their impact in the Columbia right now," he said.
Scientists have surmised that they may be doing some good--bringing ocean nutrients back to the freshwater environment at a time when salmon and steelhead are lacking, and serving as prey to sturgeon, birds, or other predators. A member of the herring family, shad are likely too small as juveniles to take pressure from predators off juvenile salmon or steelhead, Tweit noted. "Eating tiny little shad fry is quite different than eating salmon smolts," he said.
Tweit said he's not suggesting there aren't negative impacts to salmon and steelhead. His agency just hasn't found any.
"I think it's interesting--all the work we do to monitor salmon yields very little information about what shad are doing," Tweit said. "Other than the fish ladder counts, we don't have a real clear idea of what they're doing."
Tweit said shad are popular among sport fishermen, who can catch as many as they like, with no daily limits. "And it's fairly well known," he said. "They fight a little and jump a little, and if you're down there during the month of peak passage, you're going to catch fish," he said.
However, interest by commercial fishermen has been lacking.
Part of the problem may be culture. In Eastern states, shad--although boney--are considered quite savory, and there's a strong market for them. But in the Pacific Northwest--where salmon have always been the preferred fish--the infrastructure to catch and process shad never developed.
Another issue may be timing of the run, and the need to ensure Endangered Species Act-listed fish aren't harmed.
According to this year's joint report on fisheries stocks by Washington and Oregon's fish and wildlife departments, the two states have explored the use of alternative gear to catch shad and minimize impacts to salmon and steelhead. Purse seines were used in 2011, 2012 and 2016, and a beach seine was used in 2014 under experimental gear permits issued by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"In 2013, one experimental gear permit for a purse seine was issued, but no fishing occurred due to a lack of market demand," the report said. "It is expected that harvest opportunity using these alternative gear types would be allowed in future fisheries if demand exists."
Tweit said both Washington and Oregon continue to be interested in developing a commercial fishery.
He said NOAA Fisheries scientists who study the Columbia River estuary may know more about impacts of shad on salmon and steelhead. Efforts by NW Fishletter to reach NOAA scientists who study the estuary were unsuccessful.
Ryan Lothrop, WDFW's Columbia River fishery manager, said there are plenty of potential negative impacts to consider--such as risks of disease and direct competition with salmon for food, either in the estuary or the ocean.
But if shad fill the same niche in the Columbia as anchovies do in Puget Sound, these large numbers may bode well for future salmon and steelhead returns. Lothrop said a recent study there found that large anchovy populations correlate to improving conditions for salmon.
Without the studies, they can only hope the same is true for shad, he said. "If they're coming back in record numbers, it could be a silver lining--a sign of changing conditions in the ocean," Lothrop said.
Tweit said whether the impacts of shad on Columbia River salmon are good, bad or indifferent, a look at what's causing their population explosion could offer some important insights. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Managers Ask For Expanded Lethal Removal Of Sea Lions On Lower Columbia
Three states and four Native American tribes are asking the federal government for permission to kill both California and Steller sea lions that are taking up residence in the lower Columbia River, eating their fill of fish and threatening recovery of some stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The June 13 application seeks to utilize provisions in the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, which broadens authority to capture and euthanize these marine mammals now roaming up the Columbia River in record numbers. The new law enacted by Congress last December provides greater flexibility for determining if a sea lion should be lethally removed.
The 94-page application for a five-year permit asks the National Marine Fisheries Service to allow wildlife agencies to remove both California and Steller sea lions in the Columbia River upstream from the Interstate 205 bridge at river mile 112 and below McNary Dam, beginning in 2020.
It would also allow sea lion removal on any Columbia River tributary where threatened or endangered salmon or steelhead spawn in Washington, or in Oregon below McNary Dam.
"We request that removals are not contingent on non-lethal hazing activities as they have repeatedly been shown to be ineffective," the permit application states.
The document outlines the growing problem of sea lions in the Columbia River, unsuccessful efforts to remove them using non-lethal methods, and plans for reducing their numbers under provisions in the new law.
"From an ecosystem perspective, it's one piece of trying to save these salmon runs before they blink out," Kessina Lee, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Region 5 director, told NW Fishletter. "The state has invested and continues to invest so much in salmon recovery, fish passage, and harvest management and habitat restoration, and we're getting better at hatchery operations. This is just another piece. We want to make sure we're addressing everything we possibly can," she said.
NOAA Fisheries spokesman Michael Millstein said in an email to NW Fishletter that his agency will publish a notice of the application in the Federal Register later this summer that will include an opportunity for public comment. The agency must also create a task force to consider the application and fulfill other procedural requirements, including review under the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Marine Mammals Protection Act.
The new law gives authority to the three states and four tribes that applied--Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes.
The application asks for a permit to euthanize both California and Steller sea lions, instead of just California sea lions.
Under the new law, NOAA Fisheries must ensure the number of sea lions killed does not affect the sustainability of these populations, which equates to no more than 920 animals each year.
Lee noted that wildlife agencies have never come close to removing the permitted numbers. States have taken a total of 219 California sea lions since permits to remove them were first issued in 2008. Although the new law does not require states and tribes to prove an individual animal is preying on salmon or steelhead before removing it to be euthanized, Lee said considering staff and equipment resources available, it would be difficult to remove all of the sea lions they're permitted to take in the lower river. "Strictly from a logistics standpoint, I don't see us coming close to those upper limits," she said.
Prior to the new law, wildlife managers were severely restricted in their ability to catch and kill California sea lions, and have had no permission to kill Steller sea lions. Agencies had to individually identify each animal and document that it had preyed on a salmon or steelhead at Bonneville Dam before capturing it. Last year, Oregon officials were also permitted to take California sea lions at Willamette Falls under the same strict provisions, but other parts of the river remained off limits.
The removal effort is expected to save thousands--and potentially tens of thousands--of adult Chinook, steelhead and sturgeon over the five-year permit period, the application says. According to NOAA Fisheries, sea lions have consumed an estimated 71,000 salmon and steelhead since 2002 at Bonneville Dam alone.
Lee said one of the biggest changes for her agency will be dealing with Steller sea lions, which are much larger than the California sea lions they've been trapping.
"They're extremely large," she said. "We anticipate some could be 2,800 pounds when they're really thriving on the river. That's two or three times as large as a California sea lion," she added.
According to a NOAA Fisheries document comparing the two, male Steller sea lions average about 1,250 pounds and are 10 feet long, while male California sea lions average 600 pounds and are up to eight and a half feet long.
In January, wildlife managers won Northwest Power and Conservation Council approval for a $52,000 appropriation to build a new barge and purchase three new traps that will hold and trap the more massive sea lions. But Lee said the Bonneville Power Administration hasn't yet funded the purchase.
"Our indications are that they would like to wait until this application is approved by NOAA, and we actually have the authority," she said. Unless the agency decides to purchase the equipment without BPA funds, wildlife managers won't have the equipment available to train staff before getting the permit, she noted.
If approved, the states and tribes expect to maintain between two and eight traps--some at Willamette Falls, year-round; and the rest at Bonneville Dam, in the spring and fall. The agencies would also consider capturing sea lions at other locations, depending on whether sea lions are present and staff is available.
According to the application, California sea lions began foraging farther up the Columbia River in the mid-1990s in search of prey--mostly salmon, steelhead and smelt. Their numbers in the lower river stayed in the hundreds until 2013, when the population increased significantly, and have since ranged from 1,000 to 3,800.
From 2002 to 2018, the number of California sea lions at Bonneville Dam ranged from 30 to 195 animals. The majority of those that could be recognized individually have been seen at the dam for two or more years, suggesting they habituate to the location.
Abundance of California sea lions also increased at Willamette Falls, where Oregon officials received permission last year to euthanize animals.
The much larger Steller sea lions were first seen at Bonneville Dam in 2003, when three animals were documented there, and increased to 89 sea lions in 2011.
The application says that sea lions are now regularly documented in the Sandy and Clackamas rivers in Oregon; and the Cowlitz, Kalama, Elochamon, Washougal and Lewis rivers in Washington, with multiple reports of the sea lions eating salmon and steelhead. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Perspectives: View Of Fish And Wildlife Program Ebbs And Flows With The Fishes
As the Northwest Power and Conservation Council prepares to release the next version of its Fish and Wildlife Program, Council members got into a discussion about perceptions of the program during their June meeting. After spending nearly 40 years and $16.8 billion on salmon recovery, an addendum to the Program still being developed is expected to highlight recent successes and pave the way for evaluating future successes and failures.
When the Council last amended the Program five years ago, those involved in salmon recovery were reveling in the successes. States and tribes were forecasting another fabulous year of returns for Chinook, coho and sockeye salmon, as well as steelhead. When all was said and done, some 1.3 million Chinook, 294,000 coho, 456,000 steelhead and 614,000 sockeye made it past Bonneville Dam that year. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, total adult returns of these four species to the Columbia River exceeded 3.5 million for the first time since the program began.
Developed under the Northwest Power Act to guide the Bonneville Power Administration's obligation to mitigate for fish and wildlife losses, the program clearly seemed to be working.
Then came "The Blob," an intense Pacific Ocean heat wave, and in a few short years, run sizes plummeted.
Estimated returns for the last few years are a third to a quarter the size of 2014's. So it's no surprise that in its call for recommendations for amendments to the program, the Council received some rather pointed accusations of failure.
Here's an example, from Trout Unlimited: "The stark reality is that the program has been in operation for almost four decades, billions of dollars of investment have been made toward salmon and steelhead recovery in the Columbia Basin, and yet the 'status' of Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed fish populations remains unchanged."
The idea that the status quo in Pacific Northwest salmon recovery isn't working has become a theme. It was often repeated during the Andrus Center for Public Policy's annual environmental conference in Boise, Idaho, in April, where panelists discussed ways to find common ground for restoring runs to the Snake River. And it's been a large part of the logic put forth for removing the Snake River dams.
Nearly 40 years and $16.8 billion dollars in fish and wildlife spending since 1981, and what does the region have to show for it?
Council member Jim Yost, who represents Idaho, raised the question at the June 12 Council meeting after Steve Schroder, chairman of the Independent Scientific Review Panel, presented findings of the ISRP's review of 48 projects in the program.
Schroder provided an enthusiastic overview of the many exciting research projects designed to help fish get upstream and downstream, and to help scientists understand how to aid them in their journey. At the end, Yost asked Schroeder about the perception that the program hasn't made any progress, and a brief discussion ensued.
"In my personal opinion, I think we've made a lot of gains," Schroeder told the Council. But earlier in his presentation, he conceded, "One of the really tricky things is how best to convey all the really fantastic things going on in the basin."
One way, he said, is through publications like the Columbia Basin Bulletin, which was one of BPA's recent cuts to programs that don't have a direct impact on fish recovery. The online publication is now continuing through paid subscriptions.
In a conversation after the meeting, John Harrison said that communicating the program's successes has always been a struggle. "It's a windmill I've tilted against for a long, long time here," he said. "It's gotten progressively harder to get people's attention."
Harrison came to the Council in 1990 after working as a reporter and editor at the Columbian, a daily paper in Vancouver, so we're talking decades of experience and work to get news about the Fish and Wildlife Program out to people in the Northwest.
He recalled that many newspapers in this region used to have a specific reporter dedicated to covering energy, with another covering fish and wildlife issues. Papers with regionwide audiences like The Oregonian and The Seattle Times regularly covered Council meetings. Some reporters became experts in their own right on those topics, he said. But over the past two decades, as more and more people began getting their news from the internet, news outlets have cut budgets and staff, and that expertise in newsrooms has disappeared. Now, he said, almost no one even covers the Council's monthly meetings besides the Bulletin and Clearing Up, NewsData's energy trade journal where the NW Fishletter stories are first published.
In our discussion, we hit on a number of reasons why the BPA and the Council get only occasional attention in the news media, even though they're large government agencies making decisions for an area the size of France, and involving the biggest river system and largest energy supplier in the Northwest.
Harrison noted that fish and energy are complex subjects, so understanding them and then explaining them to the general public is challenging. Many salmon recovery projects don't offer immediate outcomes, so it's hard to judge success. "Some of these projects--like restoring riparian habitat--can take decades. You can't just look at a program that is designed to improve habitat, count the redds and say it failed because there are only two this year."
Also, most media outlets focus on local stories. "There's less interest in Wenatchee on a project in Idaho, even if it's a great one," he said.
At one point, Harrison wrote individual news releases to target specific areas. "I got a little interest, but not a lot, surprisingly," he said. "Now, I just try to tell people the most important things we are doing and hope that someone out there picks up on it." He's also using social media and a blog with teaser paragraphs to bring attention to the Council's work.
Some of the challenge is admittedly due to the interest level of editors, reporters, and the public at large, who seem so tuned in to politics these days. "It's like flipping a light switch," Harrison noted. "People don't really care where their power comes from as long as the lights come on."
Apparently, they also want salmon in their rivers, oceans and grocery stores; but they don't care what it took to get them there.
Next month, the Council expects to release an addendum to the 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program. It's the result of more than a year of work by the Council's staff and its Fish and Wildlife Committee to review recommendations by states, tribes, nonprofits and individuals; and to respond to their thoughts and suggestions for improving the program.
The committee did not revise its 2014 program. Instead, a few key areas will be addressed in an addendum. One of those is improving the ability of projects within the program, and the program itself, to track progress and determine success.
At the June meeting, Patty O'Toole, the Council's manager of program performance and development, told the full Council that the draft addendum includes a section that highlights some of the program's accomplishments over the last five years.
Council member Ted Ferrioli, representing Oregon, explained the committee's decision to include recent successes. "If people have been aware of the effort--the recovery effort since 1980--I think they have every reason to ask, 'What have you done for us lately?'"
As a reporter who does cover the Council regularly, it will be interesting to see and report on those successes, and to hear whether the public agrees--especially in a year with such dismal returns. Perhaps that's partly the crux of the problem: just as the public expects the lights to go on, the public also expects salmon runs to continually get better as ratepayers spend more and more money--even though runs have always been cyclical, and salmon have never faced the magnitude of challenges that the climate crisis is now bringing.
After Schroder's presentation, other Council members offered some interesting perspectives on the situation.
Vice Chairman Richard Devlin wondered if the Council may have reinforced the notion that the program is failing by setting a goal of 5 million fish returns. Everyone compares the current state to this goal, he noted, and the further they are from meeting it, the worse people think they're doing. "I'm wondering, if we hadn't done all this, what would conditions be now? How many would have gone from threatened to endangered, or to no longer existing?" he asked.
Council member Guy Norman, who represents Washington, lamented that the region tends to over-celebrate when runs are high, and conclude that we're failing when returns are poor.
A more realistic perspective, he suggested, is that salmon runs ebb and flow with the changes in ocean productivity, the state of El Nino, and other factors.
The Council's work, he suggested, is "actually supplementing the high marks" when ocean conditions are good, and "buffering the low ends, when we have poor ocean productivity." -K.C. Mehaffey
 Flex Agreement's Spring Spill Ends; Analysis Begins
Now that spring spill under the multiparty flexible spill agreement has ended, agencies are beginning to analyze whether the objectives for fish, power generation and operational feasibility were met.
Spring spill operations concluded June 21 at the four lower Snake River dams, and on June 10 at the four lower Columbia River dams.
Meanwhile, customers and advocacy groups continue to see benefits of staying out of court, although some expressed concerns that the spill levels could actually be detrimental to the river environment or to fish subjected to total dissolved gas levels of 120 percent every day for more than two months.
The agreement's goals this year were clear: to benefit juvenile salmon and steelhead in the Snake and Columbia rivers, with 2019 passage conditions at least equal to the court-ordered passage in 2018; to ensure that the Bonneville Power Administration does not lose more money than it did under the 2018 spring spill operations; and to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to modify spill for operational feasibility.
Under the agreement, this year's spring operations generally spilled water over the eight federal dams to 120 percent total dissolved gas at each dam's tailrace for 16 hours each day, and reduced spill to performance standards for a total of eight hours daily--usually split between morning and evening.
Different at each dam, performance standards are the levels of spill in NOAA's 2008 biological opinion intended to meet performance standard testing. They are between 30 and 48 percent of the flow at five of the dams, and a set volume of the river flow at three others.
In effect since early April, managing the flexible spill this spring was not without its trials.
On May 8 and 10, the Columbia River Technical Management Team (TMT) discussed the Corps' difficulties in keeping tailraces at both John Day and The Dalles dams at 120 percent TDG while maintaining a healthy flow over both dams. At one point, DS Consulting facilitator Emily Stranz asked members of the team to "check your tone," and "take a deep breath."
A month into implementing the spill agreement, the multi-agency team was working through its first big issue--whether to try to maintain a 120-percent TDG at both dams even if it meant reducing spill at The Dalles to, potentially, no spill at all. In the end, the team modified the spill agreement somewhat in order to maintain at least 40 percent of the river flows as spill at John Day, with the understanding that the operational change did not set a precedent for future operations.
By late May, the team was dealing with another issue--turbulence from high runoff and later from spill in the Snake River apparently caused some adult spring Chinook to delay migration over Little Goose Dam.
This has been a common problem at Little Goose, but one that usually resolves itself as runoff subsides. When the problem persisted, the team used an adaptive management provision to go outside the agreement's spill parameters, asking the Corps to spill at performance standards for eight hours each morning to give the adult Chinook an extended period of time of lower flows to help convince them to continue their journey upriver.
At its June 26 meeting, TMT members were still concerned about the delayed adults, five days after spilling to gas-cap levels had ended.
Claire McGrath, representing NOAA Fisheries, told the team the conversion rate for fish passing Little Goose that had gone over Lower Monumental was 93.2 percent--still lower than the historical averages of between 98 and 99 percent. Team members also expressed concerns that, although relatively few fish were involved, some of the adults took between 15 and 40 days to travel from Lower Monumental past Little Goose, instead of the average time of two or three days.
"We just need time to catch up and we can do a year-end analysis and see where we ended up," McGrath told the team.
NOAA Fisheries spokesman Michael Milstein told NW Fishletter in an email that the delay in adult passage was the main issue that arose in this year's spring spill. He said the agency won't have much information to judge the success of the spill for juveniles until this fall, when they have preliminary numbers on juvenile survival, travel time and passage routes.
Milstein added that NOAA won't be able to analyze whether pushing more of the juveniles through the spillway and away from turbines and fish bypass systems actually improved smolt-to-adult returns until the juveniles return as adults in three to four years.
Michelle DeHart, manager of the Fish Passage Center, said whether the spill worked will depend on the analyses.
Tony Norris, Bonneville Power Administration analyst and a TMT member, told NW Fishletter, "I would say overall implementation went smoothly. But, given that this was a new operation, there are a few issues to address prior to next season." Norris said. "As far as how it played out financially, it is still being analyzed."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also has some investigating to do before coming to final conclusions about how flexible spill worked for them. Corps spokesman Matt Rabe told NW Fishletter that his agency is keeping an eye on riverbanks for things like erosion. "Any time you put more water down a river, you have to be looking for unexpected outcomes," he said.
The spill regime itself--switching back and forth from higher to lower flows four times a day, along with adjustments to continuously meet the 120 percent gas caps at eight dams--required more time and attention to implement, he said. But, he added, "From the Corps' perspective, we believe that the agreement worked as it was anticipated."
Fish and hydropower advocates and BPA customers agree that it's too soon to draw conclusions about how well the spill agreement worked.
Jodi Henderson, Benton County PUD's manager of communications and government relations, said they're waiting to see the final analyses before judging whether there were benefits to fish or impacts to power costs. "We would say that any additional power we're receiving from the lower Snake River dams is tremendously valuable," she said. From an initial perspective, "There is some value in the spill agreement," she said.
Sean O'Leary, spokesman at the NW Energy Coalition, said the implementation did not send up any red flags. "Generally speaking, it appears to be working pretty well," he said.
Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, said if the financial impacts to BPA are neutral compared with last year, "That's a win for the region, because we're not in court right now, and I think none of us really believes that these challenges will be solved in court."
Joseph Bogaard, executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon, said he hasn't seen any results to be able to discern if it was beneficial to fish.
But George Caan, executive director of the Washington Public Utility Districts Association, said even without the data, he has concerns about fish survival under the higher TDG levels, which have been shown to negatively impact fish. Under the agreement, dissolved gas levels will increase from 120 percent to 125 percent next year; and Caan said he has great concerns about raising those levels without a solid understanding of the effects on fish.
"It's good that BPA was able to make an agreement outside of court, but my concern is that the judge continues to dictate spill amounts that are costly to BPA and aren't helpful to fish," he said.
Caan added that he expects this year's analysis to indicate it was revenue neutral for BPA compared with last year, but that doesn't mean it didn't have a financial impact. Last year's court-ordered spring spill cost the region nearly $38.6 million in lost power generation.
This year, BPA made up for the lost revenue through cuts to the Fish and Wildlife Program. Caan said BPA customers won't know whether those costs are being passed on to them until projections for the next rate case come out.
The PUD Association plans to hold BPA to its promise of revenue neutrality next year, too, he said. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Dim Forecast For Spring Chinook Returns Got Dimmer
Editor's Note: End-of-year run numbers for spring Chinook were incorrect in the original posting of this story. The numbers have been corrected in this version.
This year's forecasts for adult spring Chinook returns to the Columbia Basin were already dismal--but by the end of the season, they were downright depressing. Although numbers won't be finalized until later this year, the preseason forecast of a 99,300-fish run over Bonneville Dam was slashed to a prediction of 72,895 spring Chinook passing the dam by June 15--two-thirds of the March forecast.
That's roughly 40.5 percent the 10-year average of 180,000 spring Chinook returns.
Even the original predictions put spring Chinook returns at their lowest since 2007, although still well above 12,800 fish--the record low run in 1995.
In Idaho, fish managers closed the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers to Chinook fishing after just two weeks, and are predicting that some hatcheries in the Clearwater River basin won't meet their needs for broodstock.
Joe DuPont, Idaho Department of Fish and Game's fisheries regional manager, discussed the fishing closures on his blog on June 3. "There is no sugar coating this update because, to tell you the truth, it is very disappointing and it is going to bum people out or just make them downright angry," he wrote.
Including buffers for the fish that don't make it, fish managers believe 3,133 hatchery spring Chinook will make it back to the Clearwater River--631 fish short of the 4,395 Chinook that hatcheries need for broodstock. In the Rapid River basin, an estimated 3,654 hatchery fish will come back, about 650 fish more than the 2,353 fish that hatcheries will use.
After explaining the numbers, DuPont added, "I'm not going to argue with you that this fishery was way too short, the closure was unexpected, it's not good for the economy, and people who like to fish the Little Salmon River got '......' (you can put whatever word you want here)."
But, he concluded, the right thing to do is to meet broodstock needs and hope that the fish they collect this year will make a difference for future fisheries. He reported that the Fish and Game Commission will meet soon to determine upcoming Chinook salmon fishing opportunities in the South Fork Salmon and upper Salmon rivers.
Washington and Oregon, too, had a short and restricted spring Chinook fishing season; and some Columbia River hatcheries also may not meet broodstock needs, said Chris Donley, regional fish program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We haven't seen where all the fish are going to end up," he said, "But there are probably some hatcheries that are going to end up short on broodstock."
While the return of hatchery fish determines how many are available for fishing, it's not just numbers of hatchery returns they're watching. "I'm extremely concerned for wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin, and less so for hatchery salmon," he said.
Donley explained that the state agency manages for hatchery fish with a 30-percent buffer in case--as in a year like this--their forecasts are off. But as for wild fish, "Until we see them on the spawning ground, we won't fully understand what happened."
This year's spring Chinook jack returns--the younger males that come back a year early--are also lower than anticipated and essentially the same as last year, Donley said.
Numbers are used to help calculate next year's run sizes. "That doesn't bode well for us to see a substantial improvement overall of spring Chinook" next year, Donley said.
As spring Chinook numbers in the Columbia and other Pacific Coast rivers remain low, Donley said there are a lot of factors at play. "I think ocean conditions are a major driver," he said. Under good ocean conditions, other variables--such as predators or losses at hydroelectric projects--get masked by overall high survival, he said. "In a situation where ocean conditions are poor, all the other variables add up. It isn't just one issue."
Donley noted that since 2015--which brought the warm ocean condition known as The Blob and caused massive disruptions in the ocean's food web--fish managers have been very cautious about forecasting returns. "The black hole is, we don't understand when the ocean is going to turn around. And it's the biggest variable at play--the one we have absolutely no control over," he said.
But this is also not the first time they've seen poor Chinook returns, nor is it the worst. "The positive part for salmon and steelhead is, they're resilient," he said. "If you ask me is it alarming that all these numbers are so poor--are they going to disappear from the face of the Earth? I'd say, 'Probably not.' These fish are, for the most part, very resilient," he said. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Added Fish Passage, Efficiency Expected With New Turbine Design
Federal agencies say a turbine with a new design has been installed, tested, and is now operating at Ice Harbor Dam. In the works for two decades, it is expected to increase power generation at Unit 2 by 3-5 percent and improve survival of a small percentage of juvenile salmon and steelhead that go through the unit's turbines on their migration downstream.
"We're pretty hopeful about this design and what it might accomplish," Kieran Connolly, Bonneville Power Administration's vice president of generation and asset management, told NW Fishletter.
One of four lower Snake River dams, Ice Harbor is located near Burbank, Wash., and has three 90-MW units, three 111 MW units, and total capacity of 603 MW. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project was authorized in 1945, and the dam's first three generators began operating in 1961, with three additional units completed by 1976.
BPA is funding the $96-million replacement of two turbines in a contract with Voith Hydro, a multi-national corporation headquartered in Germany that helped design the turbines. A third replacement at Ice Harbor and turbines at McNary Dam may follow.
Corps spokesman Joseph Saxon said a new fixed-blade turbine was installed at Unit 2 in 2016 and has been undergoing a series of tests since then to ensure that it's up to operating standards. It was commissioned and began operating May 2. The two adjustable-blade models of the new turbine design are in the planning stages at Ice Harbor, he said. The Corps is now receiving components for Unit 3's new turbine, which are being assembled for installation, he said. The adjustable-blade turbines are more costly, but also more efficient than the fixed-blade turbine.
Connolly said the turbines were specifically designed to improve fish passage, but have the added benefit of being more efficient, which increases power production. "We have the happy coincidence that the two go hand-in-hand," he said.
Another large benefit to Bonneville is the reduced risk of lost generation, he said.
Connolly explained that Ice Harbor is at a "constrained" part of the Snake River, so having the units available and in service to make use of the water for generation is important to BPA. The new turbines will significantly reduce the risk of lost generation, he said.
The 3- to 5-percent increase in efficiency is also "meaningful," he said.
Saxon said the turbines needed replacing due to age, which presented an opportunity to improve design. The Corps anticipates that the new design will also reduce maintenance costs and oil leaks into the river, as they use greaseless bushings. The turbine runner is made from stainless steel, which better resists corrosion from the water forces compared with the carbon steel runners in the original turbines.
Saxon said the new design tries to resolve the problem of pressure that's created by the blade when generating power, and how that impacts fish.
The potential improvements to fish passage are based on a "scale model testing," according to a Corps fact sheet on the project.
"The improved hydraulic design of the new turbine runners was supported by more than 20 years of research, development and evaluation of the effects of turbine passage on juvenile salmon," Martin Ahmann, a Corps hydraulic engineer and project technical lead, said in a news release.
Connolly said that the new design also attempts to reduce turbulence, or the places in a turbine where fish and water get jostled around. "You want a nice laminar flow, where it moves slowly through," he said. Turbines use the force of the water to turn, so anything that can help the turbine move without big changes in pressure, or gaps where things can get impinged, will also be better for fish, he said.
Connolly said that while some elements of this design have been used in other turbines and tested at other hydroelectric dams, this is the first turbine with this specific design, developed by the Corps and Voith Hydro, with input from the BPA and NOAA Fisheries. The agencies don't yet know specific improvements in survival for juveniles that go through the turbines. "We have some hopes, but we'll be doing testing of the units put in place to verify what kind of results we're getting," he said. As explained in a 2016 comprehensive evaluation of the Federal Columbia River Power system, "Based on computer and physical models, the new runners are expected to improve survival of turbine-passed fish by reducing the magnitude of pressure change, the probability of blade strike, and turbulence within the turbine passageways."
Any improvements in fish passage rates will be among the small percentage of juvenile fish that still go through turbines. But with millions of juveniles traveling downstream every year, even small improvements can make a difference.
Young fish get past dams on their migration downstream through many routes, including through turbines, juvenile bypass systems, spillways and surface passage routes, or collected and transported by barge or truck downstream. "Operations and structural improvements have been tailored to the specific conditions and structure of each dam to reduce the portion of juvenile fish that pass through turbines," the FCRPS evaluation said. "Depending on location, time of year, and species, approximately 76 to 99 percent of juveniles use these non-turbine routes," it said.
Juvenile survival rates also vary by route, species, and flow conditions, with the lowest survival rates for fish that pass through turbines.
"We're pretty proud of the strides we've made to improve passage at the dams," Connolly said. "Whether it's the spillways, the turbines, or the bypass systems, we're meeting or beating the goals that were set years ago."
Fish passage was the main focus in this new design, but "because of both the efficiency gains and the lost generation risk, we're feeling pretty good about this project," Connolly added. "We did have to spend money to get it in place, but the design principles we're hoping to apply to McNary in work we have coming up, and in the future at John Day. Those benefits will propagate across multiple dams."
While some question spending money at Ice Harbor when it is undergoing a breaching analysis in the Columbia River System Operations environmental impact statement, Connolly said the effort to redesign and replace the turbines started two decades ago. "It was largely getting to the point where the work had been commissioned, and the dollars were in place," he said. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Columbia Basin Runoff Occurring Early This Year
A Northwest River Forecast Center analysis shows this year's spring runoff is occurring earlier than usual in many parts of the Columbia River basin. In some places, like the Willamette River at Salem, Ore., and at Lake Coeur d'Alene in Idaho, more than 80 percent of the runoff has already occurred.
National Weather Service hydrologist Geoffrey Walters analyzed the percentage of April and May runoff that contributed to the projected total April-to-September water supply, and compared it to the April and May runoff since 1980 at several locations. "Based on data analysis, there are indications we are in an early runoff period," he told participants at a June 6 water supply briefing.
The webinar marked the Forecast Center's last water supply briefing this year, with the detailed Columbia Basin climate summaries scheduled to resume next January.
Overall, Walters said, the water supply forecast is similar to what forecasters predicted in early May. He said that May brought above-normal temperatures throughout most of the Columbia Basin. Precipitation was below normal in the north and above normal in the Snake River basin, following a trend that has held for most of this water year since October.
The water supply for the next four months is expected to be well below normal in north central Washington and in the upper Kootenai River basin, Walters said. Both are part of the upper Columbia Basin, where precipitation since October has been 72 percent of normal. The water supply forecast for April through September in the upper Columbia is also below normal, and ranges from 69 percent of normal at Libby Dam to 96 percent of normal at Lake Coeur d'Alene.
In the Snake River, precipitation in May was normal, and an above-normal water supply is forecasted. Water supply is expected to be 100 percent at Dworshak Dam, and 120 percent at Lower Granite Dam, coming mostly from the middle Snake River basins, Walters said.
And on the west side of the Cascades, water supply is below normal in Washington and above normal in Oregon, with the Rogue River basin expecting 138 percent of the 30-year average. "Again, it's the haves and have-nots," with northern basins lacking water and southern basins with more than enough, he said. "The Oregon basins can largely thank the early April precipitation event that came through to drive that water supply forecast up," he added.
The Snake and upper Columbia basins come together at The Dalles, where the forecast for this year's April-through-September water supply is close to normal, at 94 percent, Walters said. "A combination of the upper Columbia being below normal and the Snake being above normal kind of canceling each other out and causing The Dalles to be near normal despite the lack of snowpack we continue to experience above Grand Coulee Dam," Walters said.
Whether they have the snowpack or not, nearly all locations are experiencing an early runoff, Walters said.
At The Dalles Dam, about 50 percent of this year's projected runoff occurred in April and May. That compares with a median percentage for April and May runoff since 1980 at 40 percent of the total runoff, his data showed. April and May's runoff at The Dalles is most likely to be between 40 to 48 percent of the total water supply, and is unlikely to comprise less than 32 or more than 58 percent of the total supply.
Results of Walters' analysis were different in different locations, just as the historical timing of runoff at different locations varies greatly. But his analysis shows that all locations examined except one--Jackson Lake Dam in Teton, Wyo. on the Snake River--are experiencing an early runoff this year. At Jackson Lake, about 40 percent of this year's projected water supply had melted out in April and May, compared to a median of 45-percent runoff during those two months.
All locations analyzed in the upper Columbia were experiencing early runoff, and Lake Coeur d'Alene offered an extreme example, with about 81 percent of the total projected water supply already running off in April and May. Lake Coeur d'Alene often experiences more runoff in April and May compared to other locations, however. Runoff for the two months generally comprises between 68 and 78 percent of the total water supply.
The biggest deviation from the median percentage of April and May runoff was found on the Willamette River, where about 80 percent of this year's projected runoff occurred over the past two months.
The median amount of April-May runoff since 1980 is just over 60 percent, and the two-month runoff is unlikely to comprise more than 70 percent of the total water supply, his analysis shows. Walters said that, once again, the early April precipitation in the southern portions of the Columbia Basin really drove the Willamette River's early runoff volume.
Responding to a question from NW Fishletter, Walters replied in an email, "Until this water year (though projected) Apr-May volume contributions have never been greater than 75%" in the Willamette River since 1980."
He said he hasn't analyzed whether the early runoff is a trend over the last couple of years, or whether it's likely to continue.
When asked about the implications of an early runoff, Walters replied, "That really depends on what your application of using our forecasts is for. It can potentially affect how reservoir regulators operate their dams, It could potentially affect how irrigators operate their diversions. It just definitely depends on who you are and what you're using our forecasts for." -K.C. Mehaffey
 Judge Declines To Order Willamette Drawdowns, Spills
A federal judge has denied a request from three environmental groups to order additional drawdowns and spills at Willamette Valley projects, saying they were unable to show that irreparable harm to Endangered Species Act-listed fish would occur without a preliminary injunction.
Plaintiffs in Northwest Environmental Defense Center, et al. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, et al. were seeking a preliminary injunction to force several operational changes at dams in the Willamette Project while the lawsuit continues, including a two- to four-week spill at Lookout Point Dam and drawdowns in winter and spring at four dams to help juvenile fish migrate downstream.
In a June 5 ruling, U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez wrote that the plaintiffs--including the Defense Center, WildEarth Guardians and the Native Fish Society--needed to establish a "definitive threat of future harm" to upper Willamette River Chinook and steelhead would occur during the course of the court proceedings without the operational changes they sought. The record "falls short of establishing that the species will suffer irreparable harm during the pendency of these proceedings," he wrote.
The conservation groups did not need to show "extinction-level" harm, he wrote, but had to demonstrate that future survival, recovery, or critical habitat were in jeopardy. "Plaintiffs may not obtain a preliminary injunction unless they can show that irreparable harm is likely to result in the absence of the injunction," he wrote.
However, the environmental groups did meet other required prongs needed in a preliminary injunction. "At this early stage of the proceedings, Plaintiffs have compiled a compelling record that indicates (1) the Corps has delayed the implementation of several important [Reasonable and Prudent Alternative] measures; (2) the condition of the [Upper Willamette River] Chinook and steelhead continues to deteriorate; and (3) it is likely that the delays in the implementation of the RPA measures [have] had a material adverse effect on the listed salmonids and their critical habitat," the judge wrote.
The deadlines that the Corps missed so far include water quality and fish passage measures at Foster and Green Peter dams in the South Santiam subbasin; interim fish passage measures at Cougar Dam in the McKenzie subbasin; implementation of deep drawdowns of the Fall Creek Dam reservoir; and initial water quality measures and additional fish passage measures at Lookout Point, Dexter, Hills Creek and Fall Creek dams in the Middle Fork Willamette subbasin.
The Corps is also expected to miss the December 2021 deadline to complete construction of a downstream fish passage structure at Lookout Point Dam, according to the judge's order.
Hernandez wrote that although federal defendants are implementing several measures, plaintiffs are "largely correct that many of the most significant actions necessary to improve fish passage and water quality conditions have been substantially delayed and/or not yet completed."
He found that while the Willamette Project is likely not the only factor contributing to the decline in upper Willamette River Chinook and steelhead, their condition continues to decline, and the Corps' failure to implement measures in the 2008 biological opinion has been a "significant factor" in that decline.
Hernandez also denied the Corps' motion to disqualify and exclude the expert testimony of two former National Marine Fisheries Service scientists who worked on the 2008 biological opinion for operating the Willamette Project. Richard Domingue and John Johnson had testified on behalf of the plaintiffs, and federal attorneys claimed that was a violation of the Ethics in Government Act. Hernandez found the relevant provision in the act is intended to address corruption concerns about former government employees using knowledge of specific matters they obtained during their government service to benefit other parties.
"Excluding it would neither serve the purpose of the Act nor the public interest," the judge ruled.
Their testimony was considered, but it did not support a finding of irreparable harm, the judge wrote in his June 5 decision. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Oregon's Water Temperature Plans Due By 2027
A federal judge in Oregon agreed to give the state and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eight more years to develop new clean-up plans to control temperature in several Oregon rivers.
In a June 11 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Marco A. Hernandez also ordered the agencies in Northwest Environmental Advocates v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency et al. to prioritize plans that affect the most pollution discharges.
The judge approved Oregon and EPA's proposal to replace several TMDLs--or total maximum daily loads--on a rolling schedule between 2023 and 2027. The judge also declined to mandate whether the state or the EPA should take a primary role in writing the new plans. But he agreed with NWEA that TMDLs with more pollution discharge permits should take priority, and directed the agencies to work with the nonprofit organization and reformulate its timeline with new priorities.
NWEA executive director Nina Bell said in a news release that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality wanted to complete the Willamette River TMDL near the end of the schedule, and that's the river for which the most pollution discharge permits are issued.
The court had previously ruled that 12 years was too long to rework temperature plans in several major rivers.
NWEA had already won a ruling that prohibits Oregon from using its TMDLs to override temperature standards that protect salmon, the NWEA news release said. Oregon had established temperatures as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which is lethal to salmon. "The high temperatures that are ubiquitous in Oregon waters threaten the continued existence of the region's cold-water salmon, steelhead and bull trout," the release said.
Under that order, the agencies must complete new TMDLs for the Willamette Basin, Umpqua Basin, Rogue Basin, Miles Creek subbasin, Lower Grande Ronde subbasin, Malheur Basin, John Day Basin, Hells Canyon in the Snake River, Applegate subbasin and Sandy Basin.
The EPA and Oregon are required to file a status report with the court every four months with notice of their progress.
The agencies are now writing new TMDLs for temperature in the Klamath and Lost River watersheds, which are due by September; and for mercury in the Willamette River basin, due by November. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Data Lacking For Economic Analysis Of Northern Pike
More research--much more--would be needed to estimate the expected costs of suppressing northern pike in Lake Roosevelt, and the cost to natural resources throughout the Columbia Basin if the voracious salmon predator moves downstream into areas where salmon and steelhead spawn.
Those were the conclusions of David Kling, economics assistant professor at Oregon State University, who worked with the Independent Scientific Advisory Board to answer questions from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The answers are contained in a new report, part of a larger quest by the Council to determine how to address predators throughout the Columbia Basin, and particularly its newest threat--the northern pike.
Last month, the Council received findings from the Independent Scientific Advisory Board concluding that northern pike are likely to eventually spread into the middle and lower Columbia River, and that early detection and rapid response will be essential for keeping that spread in check.
Kling told the Council that several critical gaps in data would need to be filled for him to predict the potential costs of a northern pike invasion throughout the system. To do the analysis, he said he would need a model of the northern pike rates of spread through the Columbia Basin, along with a model of food webs in those areas where the pike spread and where salmon and steelhead spawn. He would also need the likely cost of responding to northern pike expansion and its impacts on recreational anglers, foregone power revenue, and the value of species it would prey on.
According to its executive summary, the report is an invitation for investment in additional research, particularly in the economics and ecology of invasive species control. "Substantial evidence suggests that [northern pike] may prove to be a costly invader in the [Columbia River basin] that is unlikely to be eradicated. Unfortunately, it is also unlikely to be the last harmful aquatic invader introduced into the region. Investment in quantitative decision support tools now, with input from economists and natural scientists, may facilitate rapid assessment and informed prioritization of management resources in the future," it said. -K.C. Mehaffey
 No Reprieve For Washington In Latest Drought Forecast
From now through the end of September, drought is likely to develop or persist throughout most of Washington and into northwestern Oregon and the Idaho panhandle, according to a new seasonal drought outlook by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
Portions of the Snake River in Idaho--which have been getting above-normal precipitation--are well outside the predicted drought areas.
Climate experts discussed the new forecast during a June 24 NOAA webinar.
John Abatzoglou, associate professor of geography at the University of Idaho, noted that most of Oregon, Idaho and Montana are not currently experiencing drought, nor are they expected to this summer. The locations where drought is expected are generally the same areas that have seen lower than normal precipitation over the last two months.
Washington's Olympic Peninsula and the northwestern portions of Puget Sound are already classified as severe drought areas, with moderate drought stretching along the coast into northeast Oregon, east into central Washington, and across the Canadian border through Washington, Idaho and the tip of northwest Montana, Abatzoglou said.
He noted that the drought doesn't stop at the Canadian border, but extends throughout a huge area encompassing southeast Alaska and parts of British Columbia and Alberta.
Many of the areas that are climatologically wet in normal years are now experiencing drought, while some of the drier areas have seen above-normal precipitation. "This is quite reflective of what we see during El Ninos," Abatzoglou said.
Troy Lindquist, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Boise, said El Nino is expected to continue through this summer and fall, and possibly into winter.
Despite some cooler-than-normal periods, temperatures overall this year have been warmer than normal, he said. Summertime heat is expected to arrive in early July. "The outlook pretty strongly favors above-normal temperatures, and a slight lean toward below-normal precipitation," he said. That means areas that are already in drought are likely to get worse.
Those conditions are expected to produce a greater chance for significant wildland fire potential along the Canadian border, western Washington and western Oregon, Lindquist said.
Despite the drought outlook, water supply overall looks favorable in many areas, he added. The water supply in northwestern Washington and along the Canadian border ranges from 55 to 85 percent of normal, while many rivers and streams in Oregon and Idaho range from 90 to 193 percent of normal. -K.C. Mehaffey
 Brief Mentions: Updates On Lawsuits, FERC Filings, Agency Actions
U.S. District Judge Michael McShane dismissed a lawsuit on June 5 at the request of the two conservation groups that filed it and the federal defendants. In Willamette Riverkeeper et al. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers et al., plaintiffs claimed that releasing hatchery summer steelhead in the upper Willamette River basin was preventing recovery of wild winter steelhead. A May 31 filing outlined numerous developments since the case was filed, including a new biological opinion on May 17, and hatchery and genetic management plans approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service on May 21, and requested a voluntary dismissal of the case.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has agreed to consult with the Yurok Tribe over the proposed license transfer and removal of four Klamath River dams. Applications before FERC seek to transfer the license from PacifiCorp to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, which would then remove the dams. The tribe asked on May 17 for a consultation with FERC regarding KRRC's license surrender application. FERC agreed on June 25 to hold a teleconference with the tribe on July 9, which will be open to the public, but closed for a portion if locations of archaeological sites will be discussed.
U.S. District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson on June 24 granted a request by Columbia Riverkeeper and Grant County PUD to stay further proceedings in a federal lawsuit. Riverkeeper alleges the PUD must obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for Wanapum and Priest Rapids in order to operate the dams. The stay, which includes stipulations as agreed to by both parties, will be in effect for one year, or until the Washington Department of Ecology takes action on the PUD's applications for pollution discharge permits.
U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman on June 25 granted a motion by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and the Coastal Trollers Association to intervene as defendants in Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service et al. The conservation groups claim that coastal salmon fishing significantly affects prey availability for orcas and want the agency to reinitiate consultation under the Endangered Species Act. The fishing groups asked to intervene, saying the case will substantially affect organization members who make a living fishing for salmon, and that their interests are not adequately represented by other parties in the case. Conservation groups asked the judge to allow the groups to file only motions joined by the federal defendants and to prevent them from conducting independent discovery, but the judge declined their request.
The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved an emergency rule June 19 requiring anglers to turn in any northern pike caught in Lake Mary Ronan within 24 hours. Edible portions may be returned to the fishermen on request. The new rule is in response to the recent discovery of reproducing northern pike in the lake, in northwestern Montana near Dayton. Wildlife officials say there is a high risk of northern pike expansion, which would threaten trout and kokanee--including the kokanee aquaculture used as the sole source of eggs for stocking the state.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the University of Idaho are teaming up to study how well wild steelhead survive after being caught and released. In Idaho, wild steelhead--those with an unclipped adipose fin--must be released. Researchers are asking anglers to report any tagged steelhead they capture, either wild or hatchery. Both hatchery and wild fish are being tagged at Lower Granite Dam with orange plastic tubing near their dorsal fin, labeled with a unique number and information about how to report the catch. The information will be used to determine how many are caught during the season, how well they survive, and details about their migrations.
After concluding a seventh round of negotiations on the Columbia River Treaty, the U.S. Department of State has scheduled its next town hall meeting on treaty modernization for July 18 in Boise, Idaho. During the June 19 and 20 negotiations in Washington, D.C., representatives from three First Nations in Canada took part for the first time as observers. Negotiators discussed flood risk management, hydropower and adaptive management, according to a news release from the State Department. The next negotiations will be in Cranbrook, British Columbia on Sept. 10 and 11. -K.C. Mehaffey
THE ARCHIVE :: Previous NW Fishletter issues and supporting documents.
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