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Irrigators Release Documents Linking
Hydro BiOp with Mainstem Harvest BiOp

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 24, 2008

An association of irrigators this week released a memorandum that say Oregon's legal effort to discredit a plan for mitigating Columbia/Snake river hydrosystem effects on salmon and steelhead could also derail a mainstem harvest agreement between states, tribes and the federal government.

Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association on Wednesday sent to Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and other "interested parties" a memo describing the hydro/harvest legal theory and another CSRIA position -- that Columbia basin salmon recovery efforts cannot succeed without a cutback in harvests.

In addition to the memo, a CSRIA-commissioned study, "Snake River Fall Chinook - A Model Analysis: Risks of Extinction or Recovery under Current Harvest Practices," was forwarded to the governor, the regional chief of NOAA Fisheries Service, the Bonneville Power Administration CEO and others.

The study concludes that the elimination of harvest on Snake River fall chinook would spur recovery of that stock "possibly within 3-5 years and reach carrying capacity within 20-30 years." It says a continuation of harvest at current levels will likely push the Snake River stock's population downward

"In effect, the above suggests that the region can have either current harvest regimes or sustainable ESA recovery standards, but it cannot have both," according to the CSRIA memo. "Oregon's Hydro BiOp position necessitates an overhaul of the Harvest BiOp, in order to reach the sustainable recovery standards the State insists cannot be currently achieved."

"Oregon disagrees with the theories and arguments advanced by the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators," according to Mike Carrier, Kulongoski's natural resources policy adviser. "The CSRIA view does not take into account the differences between the operation of the dams and the management of harvest."

The CSRIA and Oregon are among the participants in litigation aimed at the NOAA Fisheries Service's May 5 Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion. It describes a variety of research projects, hydro operational and structural changes and off-site work, such as habitat improvements, that are intended to improve the survival of salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Snake River fall chinook salmon are among 13 listed stocks in the Columbia/Snake basin.

BPA funds much of the salmon recovery work with revenues derived from the sale of power generated in the hydro system. Fish project funding pushes up the cost of power and those power costs make up a large part of irrigators' overhead.

Oregon and a coalition of fishing and conservation groups have challenged the new BiOp, saying it does not provide adequate protections for ESA-listed fish. Defendants are NOAA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. The latter two operate the dams.

The CSRIA recently joined the lawsuit as a defendant intervenor. Its request for intervenor status said the irrigators want to refute "erroneous views concerning the relationship between river velocity and salmon survival to be proffered by the State of Oregon and plaintiffs." At least one of those "views" would involve drawing deeper one of the reservoirs upon which the irrigators depend.

The CSRIA also said it wants to make sure harvest issues are explored in the litigation. They have long held the opinion that the dams are no longer the problem for salmon migrants.

"The legal arguments/motions advanced by Oregon, and some environmental groups and regional tribes, seeking to overturn or impair the current (2008) FCRPS Biological Opinion (Hydro BiOp) have equal applicability against its 'sister' Harvest BiOp," according to the CSRIA memo.

NOAA Fisheries also issued on May 5 a mainstem harvest BiOp that evaluates the ESA impacts of 10-year fishing plan developed in negotiations between five basin tribes, federal agencies and the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

"This becomes immediately apparent when Oregon's motions are scrutinized, and when it is understood that both the Hydro BiOp and Harvest BiOp depend on the same body of technical information -- including the Supplemental Comprehensive Analysis (SCA) -- for their empirical foundation," the CSRIA memo says.

"... if Judge Redden were to accept Oregon's arguments and find the Hydro BiOp, or a portion thereof, 'legally deficient,' his decision would force the conclusion that the Harvest BiOp must be set aside as well," the memo says.

It also cites research that the irrigators say shows "hydro system survivals are now relatively high, and comparable to non-hydro based river systems. Further marginal system changes will not yield measurable results."

The memo and study explain why the CSRIA feels that fish harvest is the greatest hindrance to salmon recovery. The study was produced by consultants John J. Pizzimenti, Charles M. Paulsen and Timothy R. Fisher.

"NOAA recognizes that current harvest levels are too high and they have mandated a 30 percent reduction ocean harvest. But even if that is implemented, recovery will not likely occur for 45 years after implementation," the study concludes.

"This paper will show that unless harvest on SRFC is reduced significantly, there is a 90 percent chance that populations will be at or below current levels in both the near term (2020) and long term (2100)," according to the study. "On the other hand, if we do cut harvest, there is a 75 percent chance the population will quadruple in the near term (2020) and possibly reach density dependent limiting size by 2040. This assumes no further changes in hydro or habitat but it does assume major hatchery reform."

Irrigators Release Documents Linking Hydro BiOp with Mainstem Harvest BiOp
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 24, 2008

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