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Ecology and salmon related articles

Testimony of Judith A. Johansen
Bonneville Power Administration

9/13/00 - Delivered before the Committee on Environment and Public
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works


Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee, my name is Judi Johansen. I am the Administrator and Chief Executive Officer of the Bonneville Power Administration (Bonneville). We appreciate this opportunity to appear today. We also appreciate your and the Committee's continued support and attention to Columbia River Basin fish and wildlife.

Bonneville is committed to working with the region on a comprehensive plan for recovering Columbia and Snake River salmon, steelhead, and resident fish. This is a considerable challenge, a work still in progress. It requires agreement on common strategies and actions among Federal, State, and tribal governments. It also requires concerted effort and partnerships with many different parties in the basin, some with differing interests and objectives.

Important decisions for fish recovery are coming together now. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently issued draft Biological Opinions on long-term operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) to avoid jeopardy to listed salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and bull trout. At the same time, nine Federal management agencies, including Bonneville, released another draft of the Basinwide Salmon Recovery Strategy, a document that received extensive public review as the "All-H Paper" earlier this year. The Basinwide Recovery Strategy describes general strategies and specific actions to be taken in habitat, harvest, and hatcheries (H's), as well as hydro, in order to recover anadromous and resident stocks. This fall, the Northwest Power Planning Council (Council) will update its Fish and Wildlife Program, with a major emphasis on biological objectives and subbasin planning.

All of these processes, and others, must come together to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive regional plan. If the plan is to be successful, action must be taken in all of the H's, across the life stages of the listed stocks. Bonneville, in cooperation with the Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), is committed to a strong set of hydropower actions to aid in recovery of listed species. We will continue to implement existing measures for the FCRPS and will build on these measures with even more aggressive hydropower improvements. We also intend to expand our efforts to capture certain "off-site" recovery benefits, in the form of habitat enhancements, hatchery reforms, and support for more selective harvest.

Today, I would like to cover three points about the upcoming decisions on Columbia River Basin salmon recovery. First, I will describe the practical measures we intend to implement for federal dams. Second, I want to discuss the importance of performance standards as a tool to ensure that the hydropower system and the other H's achieve real results. And finally, partnerships among agencies, among governments, and with the citizens of the region are key to achieving our goals and recovering the fish. This means not only joint planning and mutually agreeable solutions, but also appropriate sharing of the responsibility for funding and implementation.

Hydropower Improvement Measures

There is some good news about the hydropower system and salmon recovery. Our recent efforts to improve fish survival through the federal dams have met with real success. In the 1970s, the survival rate through mainstem dams was about 30 percent. But since the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program in the early 1980's and major investments in fish passage improvements by Federal agencies since 1993, juvenile salmon survival through the eight dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers has steadily improved.

Today, according to NMFS data, the juvenile survival rate for Snake River stocks is about the same as it was in 1960's before the four Lower Snake River dams were in place about 40-60 percent (i.e., spring/summer chinook and steelhead hydrosystem survival in the 1960s was 32 to 56 percent, when four dams were not in place). Four additional dams were constructed between 1968 and 1975 with survival estimated during the 1970s typically ranging from 10 to 30 percent. During the most recent years (1995-1999), spring/summer chinook salmon survival ranged from 42 to 59 percent. Survival during this recent period is substantially greater than the 1970s and similar or higher than levels in the 1960s. The data is from the NMFS White paper on passage, April 2000. Comparisons for fall chinook survival cannot be made because of limited data for pre and post hydrosystem construction. (bluefish adds that fall chinook survival is averaging 8%. See dampool.htm)

The Federal agencies' consultation on the draft Biological Opinions led to agreements on management actions that were eventually included in those draft documents. We used information on biological benefits, performance standards, and costs to agree on spill levels for this year's fish migration. These were incorporated into proposed agreements for future migration seasons in the draft Biological Opinions.

The federal hydro operators are proposing to take aggressive steps at the federal dams to further improve the survival of juvenile and adult salmon and steelhead through the hydro system. These actions will build on our successes and put more emphasis on accountability and results. The measures can be broken down into these categories: Water management/flows management of system storage to provide a more natural river flow in the spring and summer during fish migration. We will implement flood control adjustments in order to further minimize risks to resident fish from salmon flows.

-- Juvenile fish transportation continued collection and transportation of fish downriver in barges to avoid mortality at projects and in reservoirs using a "spread the risk" approach and reduced reliance on trucking for fish transportation.

-- Improved juvenile fish passage improved spill management and other actions at the projects designed to improve juvenile fish survival as they pass the dams. The FCRPS was derated as a result of the 1995 NMFS Biological Opinion in order to spill water for fish. The spill agreements in the new draft Biological Opinions will not result in a significant additional derating.

-- Adult passage and research configuration and research activities to improve adult passage survival.

-- Water quality actions to improve total dissolved gas levels and water temperature within the mainstem to improve fish condition.

-- Mainstem habitat design and implementation of an experimental program to improve mainstem habitat.

-- Predation measures operations and/or active management of salmonid predators in the mainstem.

-- Sturgeon and bull trout flow and other measures to contribute to recovery of resident fish.

Running a parallel track to this aggressive strategy and the other habitat, harvest, and hatchery improvements contemplated in the Basinwide Recovery Strategy would be a commitment from the hydropower operators to annual and five-year planning and to rigorous evaluation of progress being made toward fish recovery.

The measures we are currently taking will not, by themselves, be enough. Actions must be taken across all the "H's" in order for the region to meet recovery goals. Recent ocean conditions and adult salmon returns are also encouraging. The tally of adult spring chinook at Bonneville Dam is the highest since the dam was built in the 1938.

Performance standards will play a pivotal role to assure we are achieving real results. They will be used to determine the success of our proposed hydropower actions and the success of actions in the other H's as well. Performance Standards

Bonneville has been a continuing advocate for performance standards for salmon recovery. We believe that scientifically sound performance standards are the most reliable way to achieve improved survival in each salmon life stage. A recovery plan based on achievable performance standards will be more durable in the long term. The hydro operators worked closely with NMFS and USFWS as well as the Administration on performance standards for the FCRPS that were included in the draft Biological Opinions.

Performance standards are scientifically based, describing the contribution needed at each life-history stage in order to achieve overall biological goals and objectives for recovering the fish. Habitat and hatcheries are important at the egg and smolt-life stage. Hydro and harvest come more into play in the juvenile and adult life stages. By looking at the contribution from each life-history stage, we are also able to assign scientifically based standards to individual H's to achieve.

Performance standards provide increased flexibility to trade off among the "H's," which in turn makes the plan more implementable. For instance, Bonneville and the other operating agencies can fund habitat improvements that would not otherwise occur as "off site mitigation"--to help meet overall performance standards. A performance standard that specifies improvements at each dam could equate to the overall survival rate projected for breaching the four Lower Snake River dams. This would result in survival rates for listed stocks in both the Snake and Columbia Rivers that are higher than we have achieved today.

Performance standards could also serve as the yardstick against which we judge whether more aggressive recovery efforts are needed in the future. On the other hand, Bonneville believes that, if reasonable performance standards are set and achieved in each of the four "H's," prospects are good that the stocks could recover without breaching the four Lower Snake River dams.

That said, we must remember that the science still presents us with a significant range of uncertainty about which measures will best recover the stocks. Performance standards must be based on the best scientific judgement, in the face of these huge uncertainties. However, in setting standards based on judgements that are to a significant extent qualitative, we must be prepared to alter course if further research indicates our assumptions are flawed. The performance standards incorporated in the draft NMFS Biological Opinion attempt to reflect a range of assumptions about some key uncertainties. We look forward to continuing to work with NMFS and the region to further refine this work.

Partnerships within the Region

There are many Federal, regional, and tribal government entities with a part in upcoming decisions about fish recovery: Federal agencies concerned with anadromous fish and those concerned with resident fish, Indian tribes, federal hydro operators, non-federal dam owners, the Council appointed by the four state governors, and federal land use agencies, to name a few. For a plan to work, it must bring together the efforts of all of the government agencies that are working on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program amendment process, as well as the tribal planning of the 13 Columbia River Basin Tribes. It must bring together plans to recover all of the 12 listed salmon and steelhead stocks as well as resident species in the Columbia River Basin.

At the federal level, Bonneville and eight other Federal action agencies [the Corps and Reclamation, as well as the NMFS, USFWS, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency] have been working together to describe a common approach to salmon, steelhead, and resident fish recovery in the "Basinwide Recovery Strategy." This coordination of federal actions and proposals is unprecedented in the Columbia River Basin.

Of course, we recognize that federal efforts alone are not enough. The states and the 13 tribes have important stakes in fish recovery, too. And, while Bonneville may be a significant funding source for regional salmon recovery, the science shows that hydro is only one of the four H's that must be addressed in order to recover the fish. There will be a number of other federal funding components and contributions from local and State governments that must be part of a regional plan for recovering species. This must be a true and lasting partnership among all those with a stake in the region's future.

An important part of our coordination with the region is Bonneville's close working relationship with the Council. Habitat, hatchery, and subbasin planning actions are the most promising areas for enhanced regional cooperation with the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program.

The Council has proposed to use a subbasin planning approach as a framework for its upcoming Fish and Wildlife Program amendment process. Bonneville is very supportive of that approach, and we are encouraging active links between the habitat approach in the Basinwide Recovery Strategy and the Council's Program. Federal agencies and the Council staff are currently exploring several ways to make that happen. These include: 1) common templates for subbasin (tributary) assessments and plans; 2) common criteria for immediate actions designed to jump start recovery while planning is underway; 3) common approaches to enhance estuary and mainstream habitat; 4) common use of the Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment (EDT) methodology that the Council has undertaken; and 5) common use of independent science reviews.

Hatchery reforms are also a common interest. The Council's Artificial Production Review identified key hatchery actions and criteria for reforms that must be coordinated into any regional approach to recover the fish.

The goal of these efforts is to have the Council's program bring unified regional direction for our basin-wide habitat and hatchery efforts--as well as for our funding priorities. If we are successful in coordinating our approaches, any habitat and/or hatchery measures in the Biological Opinions which Bonneville funds will be consistent and complementary with those that Bonneville funds under the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, Bonneville is committed to action in the hydropower system that is needed to recover the fish. Today, I have described some of the essential elements for successful fish recovery in the Columbia River Basin as we move ahead with Biological Opinions for the hydropower system and the Basinwide Recovery Strategy. I want to re-emphasize that the unprecedented coordination among Federal agencies and the strong partnerships we are building with other governments and Northwest citizens is fundamental to our success.

In closing, I would like to highlight the fact that the effort to recover endangered salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest is different from virtually every other ESA effort in one important aspect. It is different because most of it is funded, not by taxpayers, but by Bonneville's customers and ratepayers. We take this responsibility seriously. As Bonneville has told this Subcommittee in the past, Bonneville is committed to implement and fund our share of a regional fish and wildlife plan. We have positioned ourselves financially to perform on that commitment.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for your attention. I welcome any questions you may have about Bonneville's fish recovery measures.


Judith A. Johansen, Bonneville Power Administration
Testimony of Judith A. Johansen
Committee on Environment and Public, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works - September 13, 2000

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