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NOAA Fishereis Nears Completion of 2003 BIOP Findings Report

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - April 4, 2003

A report by NOAA Fisheries assessing how well an implementation plan by dam operators is likely to meet the operators' 2000 biological opinion obligations in fiscal year 2003 is nearly complete and could be released as early as the end of next week.

The federal fisheries agency each year assesses the agencies' one- and five-year BiOp implementation plan hydrosystem, habitat, hatchery, harvest and research activities to determine how well they meet BiOp requirements. The report is titled, "Findings Regarding Adequacy of the FCRPS Action Agencies, 2003 Annual Implementation Plan." FCRPS refers to the Federal Columbia River Power System.

While he won't talk about the details of the findings report until it is complete, Chris Toole of NOAA Fisheries did say at this week's interagency Implementation Team meeting in Portland that NOAA Fisheries had seven general concerns about the three actions agencies' implementation of the BiOp. The action agencies are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration.

"There are seven main issues, tied to particular RPAs (Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives), that raise concern with NMFS," Toole said. "All are delayed, but all for good reasons and the action agencies have plans to deal with the delay."

He said NOAA Fisheries received the Implementation Plan on Nov. 6, 2002, but that the agency needed a summary of the detail broken down by RPA, which it received Dec. 5. It completed a draft findings report Jan. 14, 2003 and has been working with the action agencies since then to refine the report. One issue that slowed the findings report is the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's "reprioritization" process that reduced the amount of spending on BiOp measures.

Of the seven issues, three are for hydroelectric RPAs, two are for habitat RPAs and two are for research, monitoring and evaluation RPAs.

  1. The Banks Lake National Environmental Protection Act study of a potential drawdown at the lake (RPA #31) was originally due in 2002, but NOAA Fisheries agreed to delay the study one year, determining it would not significantly impact BiOp activities. BOR recently extended the comment deadline on the report to April 11, effectively making it impossible to implement the action again this year, according to Toole. Another action (RPA #23) already has been implemented. It allows for using five feet of water from the reservoir for summer flow augmentation.
  2. Libby Dam forecasting methodology (RPA #36) was to have been completed in 2002, but was allowed to slip to 2003. Toole said it likely would slip another year.

    Jim Ruff, of NOAA Fisheries, said the RPA asked the Corps to explore new methodology at the dam that would allow for more flexible flood control drafts. The current flood control methodology requires drafting the dam to an elevation of 2,411 feet, but without greater flexibility the reservoir may not refill in early summer, he said.

  3. Construction flow deflectors at Chief Joseph Dam (RPA #136) were to be installed by 2004, but Congress has failed to fund construction until this year when it provided $500,000 to begin the planning phase of the project. It was one of only two new Corps construction projects approved this year by Congress. The other was for habitat restoration projects in the lower Columbia River estuary. However, that still leaves the project behind schedule, Toole said.
  4. The development of subbasin assessments and plans (RPA #154) is behind schedule. These were to be completed by the 2003 check-in, but instead are not expected to be completed until May 2004. Toole said that's about one year late for priority subbasins.

    NOAA Fisheries' John Palensky said the Council has up to one year to approve the plans after they are submitted. The key would be for the Council to speed up that approval process, he said.

  5. A comprehensive marking plan for hatchery fish (RPA #184) was to have been completed in 2001. "Last year we determined this was not a concern because it required a lot of coordination among many agencies, but it's still not completed," Toole said. "However, it is still possible to get this back on track by September."
  6. RPA #183 is a research, monitoring and evaluation action that would evaluate off-site (habitat) mitigation actions to determine their effects on early life stages. Some studies are complete, Toole said.
  7. Development of a regional database system (RPA #198) is also incomplete, although it has been initiated. The RPA required pilot studies in at least three subbasins, but "it doesn't look like that will happen by the 2003 check-in," Toole said.

"These are the broad issues," Toole said. "We are still working out the details. The final report also will deal with the overall implications with these delays."

Related Sites:
Implementation Team:
NOAA Fisheries, Northwest Region:

Mike O'Bryant
NOAA Fishereis Nears Completion of 2003 BIOP Findings Report
Columbia Basin Bulletin, April 4, 2003

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