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Dworshak Planners Reach No Consensus

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, June 6(?), 2000

Summer releases are still on the table

State, tribal and federal officials tried to hammer out a deal Tuesday on the best way to manage Dworshak Reservoir for the benefit of fall chinook salmon.

But participants walked away from the Lewiston meeting with only a pledge to try to reach consensus at a later date.

"Right now I'm more optimistic than I was prior to the meeting," said Bill Graham of the Department of Water Resources.

At issue is the controversial practice of releasing water from the reservoir in July and August to both speed the velocity and cool the temperature of the lower Snake River.

Federal fish managers have come to rely on the reservoir as a tool to help juvenile fall chinook make it to the ocean. For each of the last several years water has been sucked out of the reservoir at the same time boaters, anglers and campers traditionally flock to Dworshak for recreation. The practice has hurt businesses at Orofino that rely on visitors for an influx of cash.

The use of water in July and August also means there is no water for state and tribal managers to tap in September to aid the return of adult steelhead and fall chinook to Idaho.

In many years, the Snake River is some five degrees hotter than the Columbia.

The difference can cause returning salmon and steelhead to linger in the Columbia until the Snake cools. In the past, before the water was used for juvenile migration, fish managers used pulses of water from Dworshak to cool the Snake River and break the thermal block.

To combat the drawdowns of Dworshak, the state and Nez Perce Tribe issued a conditional dissolved gas waiver this spring. The waiver said the reservoir must be full between June 30 and the end of July, and some water must be set aside to aid adult migration in late summer and early fall.

But the National Marine Fisheries Service rejected the conditional waiver and officials say they are prepared to proceed without one if necessary.

Spilling water from the reservoir can cause dissolved gas levels to exceed the state standard of 110 percent and waivers up to 120 percent are common.

Paul Wagner of the National Marine Fisheries Service said there is no point waiting until August, when most of the juvenile fish have already migrated, to tap Dworshak's cool water.

"If you start then, most of the fish aren't going to be there to benefit," he said.

According to fisheries service data, most of the juvenile fish migrate in July with the peak falling between the second and fourth weeks. Wagner said it's regrettable the water is needed by fish and recreationists at the same time.

"It's not that we are not sensitive to other peoples desires or needs," he said. "We just can't make them both right."

"I don't see any sensitivity at all," said Dennis Harper, an Orofino chiropractor. Harper has actively fought the drawdowns and is a leader of an Orofino group seeking compensation for lost revenue generated from recreation. He said the federal fisheries agency has been unresponsive to the people of Orofino.

"I've been on you for two years and we have yet to get a response," he said to Wagner.

Employees of the tribe and various state agencies, including the departments of fish and game, environmental quality and water resources, were hoping to get a concrete proposal from the fisheries service on how it planned to utilize the reservoir this summer.

Instead they were presented with 16 possible scenarios of different drawdown regimes.

The state and tribe presented a scenario with drawdowns slowly ramping up in July and hitting full force in August.

The fisheries service favors a scenario that would begin the drawdowns in the second week of July and run through the end of August.

State and tribal representatives where encouraged by a presentation from the Environmental Protection Agency that said a drawdown regime should try to mimic natural river conditions, balance the needs of juvenile and adult salmon and aim for the lowest number of days of high temperatures in the Snake River.

The EPA is charged with assuring water quality standards in the Snake and Columbia River are met.

Rick Eichtstaedt of the Nez Perce Tribe's Water Resources Division said the tribe needs a more concrete proposal before it could consider a waiver. But Wagner said the decision is made by the Technical Management Team and could not be made at the Lewiston meeting.

"Our concern is duplicating the process already in place," he said. "Do we create two? Do they run parallel? What happens when they cross?"

The Technical Management team is a group of federal, state and tribal fisheries managers that advise the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration on operation of the federal hydro power system. Members of the team from Washington, Oregon and Montana were not at the meeting.

Wagner agreed to take the concerns back to the Technical Management Team and try to develop a drawdown regime and then bring it back to the tribe and Idaho. If the state and tribe agree, they would issue a dissolved gas waiver.

If the waiver is not granted, the federal agencies will proceed with drawdowns, but will be limited by the inability to exceed dissolved gas standards.

The Technical Management Team is scheduled to meet in Portland on June 15.

Eric Barker
Dworshak Planners Reach No Consensus
Lewiston Tribune, June 6(?), 2000

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