bluefish had 45 days to prepare the following comment
Varying levels of transportation were included in all MOs with the exception of MO3 (dam breach). MO2 considered much higher levels of transportation that are currently implemented under the NAA. In the Preferred Alternative, the co-lead agencies have proposed to continue the use of barge and truck transportation, albeit at lower rates than under previous spill operations. However, the majority of juvenile fish will migrate in-river. As the comment notes, transportation by barge or truck has been shown to provide a benefit that varies by species, by time of year, and by water condition.
The juvenile salmon transportation program is managed by expected fish benefits as well as cost efficiency. SAR estimate for each week of the outmigrations, combined with other environmental and biological data, drive the decisions. Prior to these data being available, transportation began at the beginning of April; however, we learned that fish transported in early April performed very poorly. Transporting too early is not effective and does not justify the expense.
bluefish counter response:
Thank you for reminding us that MO3 ends the barging and trucking of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia basin.
The co-lead agencies are legally obligated to operate and maintain the CRS to meet multiple statutory purposes. They are also required to ensure operation of the CRS complies with other laws. Under the ESA, in particular, the operation of the CRS may not appreciably reduce the likelihood of ESA-listed species survival and recovery, or adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat. The ESA does not, however, require the co-lead agencies to take affirmative actions to recover ESA- listed species. Recovery is a broader regional goal and is above and beyond the co-lead agencies obligations under Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA for the effects of operation and maintenance of the Columbia River System. Recovery efforts will need to continue to involve parties across the region that have an influence and impact on ESA-listed species.
bluefish counter response:
Federal Dams and Reservoirs: Annual and Short-Term Operation (page 1-37)
Final EIS Chapter One discusses "Conflicting Objectives"
"Providing flows to aid the downstream migration of anadromous juvenile fish"
YES, this is what is desperately needed! Idaho's salmon and steelhead have been listed for protection by the Endangered Species Act for two decades now. The #1 problem is that downstream migration is blocked by 140 miles of slackwater reservoir behind the four Lower Snake River dams. Despite billions of dollars spent in an attempt to protect Idaho's salmon, very little evidence of success can be found. Quite the opposite, federal efforts have been failing as evidenced by the following graphic.
NOAA Fisheries memo from Zabel to Graves (9/19/19) graphic by bluefish.
Last year (2019) marked the "first test" of Flex Spill and the mortality rate of juveniles Chinook in their downstream migration was tragic (see graph above). Bluefish brought this to the attention of BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer at our face-to-face meeting December 10, 2019. He then and there asked for his assistant Josh Warner to consult their fish managers to see if this drastic decline of juvenile migrants might be related to hatchery problems.
In both of the following meetings with Mainzer and Warner (March 23, May 26, 2020, now by webinar), I learned that nothing came from those "fish manager" discussions, pertaining to the high mortality rate following the Flex Spill disaster. Despite my warnings and reference to the Clearing Up article that discusses my concerns with the spring runoff and the bathtub effect of Lower Granite Reservoir, the "Flex Spill" experiment was allowed for a second year.
"Maximizing power generation, within the requirements imposed by other objectives."
Neither In the final EIS, nor in the Draft, was Maximizing Power Genertation a stated objective. But let's proceed as if it was, for the time being.
If this objective were to be met, then the Final EIS would take their Multi-Objective 2 (MO2) as the heart of the CRSO Preferred Alternative. MO2 was expressly designed to "Prioritize hydropopwer production", and the proposed "mitigation" -- reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something.-- would transport Idaho's salmon by barge and truck, around the hydropower system of 450 miles of reservoir slackwater.
Executive Summary: Multiple Objective 2 (page 26)
Transport all collected ESA-listed juvenile fish for release downstream of the Bonneville project, by barge or truck.
Surprisingly, MO2 actually saw an increase in retail electricity rates in several Washington counties. It turns out that even though 380 average megawatts (aMW) would become available to Bonneville "preference customers", some of these customers would, by contract, be forced to buy this additional hydropower. But CRS hydropower is not their least cost source of power, and the obligation to purchase more power would put upward pressure on their retail rates (see map below).
MO2 Average Residential Rate Pressure by County (% Change from the No Action Alternative) (Appendix H page H-5-42)
The lesson here is that federal hydropower is, no longer, the least expensive source of electricity in the Pacific Northwest. This is also largely why Remove Snake River Embankments, the core of MO3, brings about a reduction in retail rate pressure across Bonnveille's service territory.
"Providing sufficient water levels for navigation, recreation, and fish and wildlife;"
Navigation is the "conflicting objective" that is keeping Remove Snake River Embankments from being the core of the Preferred Alternative. Political pressure to keep the LSR dams has, for decades, been dominated by interest groups that benefit from the taxpayer-supported navigation system of the Columbia River System (CRS).
On March 2, 1945, Congress instructed the Secretary of Army to "construct such dams as are necessary to provide slackwater navigation" on the Lower Snake River. This "authorization" came nine weeks after an emergency shutdown of the nation's plutonium production at the secret Hanford Engineering Works. This was all extremely secretive and evidence is scant, but it appears to bluefish that the need for a redundant power line is what brought about the authorization for constructing dams on the Lower Snake River.
"The present salmon run must be sacrificed."
-- Warner W Gardner, Asst. Secretary of Interior March 6, 1947
Pulbic Law 14, the River and Harbors Act of 1945 is the "legal requirement" conflicting with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Northwest Power Act, Native American Treaty rights and trust obligations. Authorzing language from seventy-five years ago is somehow "conflicting", with environmental laws from the 1970s. More importantly, Public Law 14 seems to be taking precedence over treaty rights that rank as the "supreme law of the land" (U.S. Constitutioin Article VI).
Executive Summary (page 5)
Since 1992, more than half of Columbia River salmon and steelhead species have been listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Regional debate continues about the relative importance of the different factors that cumulatively led to this decline, but there is little debate that the construction and operation of the CRS has had a sizable impact on fish. Tremendous effort and billions of dollars have been invested in infrastructure, hatcheries, and other projects to improve passage and habitat for fish in the basin over the last 50 years, particularly since the passage of the Northwest Power Act in the early 1980s .
When legal obligations conflict, it is up to decision makers to decide which takes precedence, and which provides the greatest utility towards the common good.
It is the sincere hope of bluefish that well informed decision makers will make well informed decisions, so we ask that you please share these pages widely, and with that goal in mind.
The EIS concluded MO3, which includes breaching the four lower Snake River dams would have greater improvement to certain salmon species in the lower Snake River. It did not, however, conclude there was greater certainty of that result in MO3 over any other alternative. Because of delayed response time in MO3, and the potential severity of the short term effects, MO3 would likely have the most substantial uncertainty in terms of beneficial effects. Section 3.5 provides a summary of the fish analysis for the No Action Alternative and four of the multiple objective alternatives. Chapter 7 provides a summary of the fish analysis for the Preferred Alternative.
bluefish counter response:
Yes, maintaining the status quo with the Preferred Alternative (PA) has "less uncertainty", because
Idaho's salmon runs will most certainly continue to decline.
Meanwhile, the long-term effects of MO3 are also "less uncertain" than the short-term effects of MO3. Under MO3, the CRSO EIS is quite confident that Idaho's ESA-listed fish will benefit greatly.
Moreover, an "uncertainty" that is being purported here, is that NOAA's Life-Cycle Model is using too low a value for delayed mortality of Idaho's salmon (see Table 6, Schaller et al.), and thereby that model does not agree well with the Fish Passage Center's Comparative System Survival model. This "uncertainty" is fictitious.
Using the "uncertainty of short-term effects", as an excuse for not accepting MO3, is disingenuous and falls short of logical reasoning. The EIS rightly finds, as did the previous NEPA document twenty years ago, that the greatest long-term benefit for Idaho's salmon and steelhead is Remove Snake River Embankments.
With respect to the Preferred Alternative, the fish analysis in Section 7.7.4 states the Preferred Alternative would have substantial benefits to salmon and steelhead. The CSS model, which includes latent mortality effects, predicts that median Smolt-to-Adult return rates would increase for both Snake River spring Chinook and steelhead and would average well above 2% (the lower end of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's recovery targets for the region) as a result of the Preferred Alternative, increasing SAR from 2.0% to 2.7% for Chinook, a 35% relative increase.
Self-Contradictory -- bluefish counter response:
The Biological Opinion (CRS BiOp) of this EIS contradicts "the EIS analysis" to which this argument is based. The CRS BiOp rightly recognizes that for Snake River fall-run Chinook, their Smolt-to-Adult ratio (SAR) is 0.3% and not the 2.0% SAR suggested by the narrative that promotes the Preferred Alternative (PA).
Snake River salmon runs are not steady, not at a 2.0% SAR. They are in decline, and have been for quite some time. Current estimates, reported in this BiOp by NOAA Fisheries, to be at a 0.3% SAR.
The CSS model does project a 35% improvement of Snake River SARs, that much is true. But that only brings the SARs up from 0.3% to 0.4% and salmon populations will continue their decline. SARs greater than 2.0% are needed for populatioins to grow. That is the problem here, and the CRS EIS assumptions are being contradicted by the CRS BiOp facts.
The NMFS COMPASS and Lifecycle models predict higher levels of risk associated with increased spill levels in the absence of offsets from decreased latent mortality. To address uncertainty highlighted by the two models, the Preferred Alternative includes working with regional sovereigns to develop a study that assesses the effectiveness of the increased spill regime on adult returns as well as assessment and management of adverse unintended consequences, such as long delays of adult migrants, or TDG-related mortality of juvenile migrants. (See Appendix R, Part 2 Process for Adaptive Implementation of the Flexible Spill Operational Component of the Columbia River System Operations EIS for additional information.)
Based on the EIS analysis of the Preferred Alternative, it will make a substantial contribution towards recovery goals.