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Economic and dam related articles

BPA Will Spill for Hatchery Release Next Week

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, February 26, 2004

Dam operators, power marketers and federal fish folk have agreed on a plan to spill water at Bonneville Dam to help an early release of 7 million juvenile fall chinook from the Spring Creek Hatchery, operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The four-day spill is expected to cost BPA about $750,000 in lost revenues, according to Greg Delwiche, the agency’s vice president for generation supply.

BPA policymakers were hoping to get by with no spill this year, pointing out that the new $50-million-plus corner collector at the dam is likely to provide survival benefits equal to that of spilling water (about 98 percent survival), but salmon managers didn’t agree, saying that the collector has not been rigorously tested.

In 2002, before the collector was in place, Corps of Engineers' biologists reported that spilling would boost survival from 95 percent to 96.5 percent overall. BPA spilled for three days at Bonneville that year to aid the Spring Creek release, but last year, the March spill lasted only 36 hours, after the power agency originally said deteriorating financial conditions would keep it from spilling at all. Even then, BPA figured the spill would cost $3,000 for every extra adult fall chinook created by the effort.

This year, the salmon managers originally called for three test releases of fish, but settled for a compromise-- 4 days of 24-hr. spill at the dam (50,000 cfs) with the collector in operation, followed by another four-day test with no spill while the collector is working. Delwiche said USFWS has agreed to forego asking for spill for the early Spring Creek releases in 2005 and 2006.

The March spill effort has long been a target for critics, who cite the low value of the adult tules to both lower Columbia River sports and commercial fishers. The fish are nearly ready to spawn by the time they enter the river, bearing low-quality flesh that brings only a few cents a pound from wholesale fish buyers.

"BPA had an opportunity to save money because this spill just doesn’t make any sense," said Ed Bartlett, one of Montana’s representatives to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Bartlett said he saw some merit in evaluating the collector, but questioned its need in March since an evaluation on the new passage route would be underway during the regular migration season, anyway.

The tule run makes up a good part of the ocean sports and commercial fisheries from Washington to Alaska-- about 27 percent of the chinook catch off Washington and Oregon and 9 percent of the catch off Vancouver Island, according to Spring Creek hatchery manager Larry Marchant.

About 180,000 Bonneville Pool tules showed up in 2003, out of a total fall run of nearly 900,000 fall chinook. About 138,000 hatchery tules are expected this year out of a total run that is pegged at just over 600,000 fish.

These large returns have also led to huge surpluses at the Spring Creek Hatchery. Marchant said over 54,000 fish returned to the facility last year, but only 7,000 to 8,000 were needed for egg production. The spawned-out fish were trucked to Warrenton, Oregon where they were processed into pellets that will be used to fertilize streams throughout the region.

The rest of the excess fish went into the federal prison system to feed inmates. The hatchery provided many thousands of fish for inmate meals the previous year as well, when the Spring Creek facility filled up with 60,000 extra adults.

Bill Rudolph
BPA Will Spill for Hatchery Release Next Week
NW Fishletter, February 26, 2004

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