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CRITFC Tribes Offer Their Annual River Operations Plan

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - March 5, 2004

As it has done in each of the past five years, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission offered up at this week's Technical Management Team meeting its version of how the Federal Columbia River Power System should be operated.

CRITFC's 2004 River Operations Plan focuses on re-establishing natural peaking flows to benefit juvenile salmon and returning adult salmon. Among its features that are different than the federal plan are altered flood control operations, an extension of spill by several weeks, and the adoption of the Nez Perce/State of Idaho plan to release cooling waters from Dworshak Dam into September.

In addition, the tribal agency believes that in-season decisions should be made by the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority, not by TMT, the regional forum charged by the NOAA Fisheries 2000 biological opinion to make such decisions.

TMT and the Implementation Team "are useful for regional information sharing but they do not suffice for river operations decision-making and are not government-to-government forums," the tribal plan says. CBFWA, it goes on, is where all 13 Columbia Basin tribes can have meaningful input. "Disputed issues should be raised to an executive committee table comprised of policy representatives from the tribes and states and federal entities."

Tribes had withdrawn from the two regional forums in 1997, citing the absence of government-to-government consultation. In addition, CRITFC's Kyle Martin said the presence of power marketers at TMT meetings is inhibiting the free flow of information and prevents candid discussion.

Martin said the plan he described is the tribal agency's fifth annual plan and is its alternative to the Water Management Plan offered up each year by TMT. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with input from TMT, annually develops a Water Management Plan (WMP) that governs that year's operations at dams. The Water Management Plan is largely based on the requirements of the 2000 BiOp.

However, Northwest tribes have long thought that some of its operations are insufficient for salmon recovery and one of the most glaring differences between the two plans can be found in CRITFC's proposed spill operations, which advocates more spill than does the BiOp.

The CRITFC "River Operations Plan" proposes summer spill at Snake River and McNary dams, saying that the BiOp doesn't require summer spill "despite that lack of scientific evidence that indicates transporting summer migrants would be advantageous compared to spilling migrants over dams." It goes on to say that that tribes have advocated for five years a transportation study using summer spill.

It also advocates extending the spill season at mainstem dams, beginning spill March 20 at lower Columbia and Snake River dams and ending spill Sept. 15 at lower Columbia River dams if migrants are still present. Spill, it says, should start earlier due to warming trends that are heating up rivers earlier and causing juveniles to move downstream earlier in the season. Spill now ends at those dams Aug. 31, but the Bonneville Power Administration is currently studying several options, most of which would curtail spill early or eliminate summer spill all together.

The CRITFC plan also proposes altered flood control rule curves for 2004 at Grand Coulee and Dworshak dams in the United States, and Micah and Arrow dams in Canada. The tribal flood control plan, it says, would leave more water in these reservoirs in order to better ensure that they refill going into the summer.

But part of CRITFC's positive outcome this year with its flood control plan is in its water supply forecast. It has forecasted a water supply in 2004 at The Dalles Dam, January through July, of 104 percent of normal, while River Forecast Center predictions have been dropping and are now at 87 percent of normal (February final forecast). Martin said he is willing to recalculate his findings based on the lower water supply.

The plan assumes flow augmentation from several sources, including 500,000 acre feet from Canadian non-treaty storage, 260 kaf from Banks Lake, 427 kaf from the upper Snake River in Idaho and an additional 237 kaf from Idaho Power's Hells Canyon Complex of dams. In fact, the plan proposes to add 450 kaf more water from upper Snake River storage. However, Tony Norris of the Bureau of Reclamation said that upper Snake storage was able to contribute just 280 kaf of the 427 kaf it targets in 2003 and it may deliver only about 300 kaf this year.

The Nez Perce and state of Idaho Dworshak operations extends the use of the dam's cooling waters into mid- to late-September, instead of ending those operations Aug. 31 as required by the BiOp and WMP. The tribal plan calls for drafting the reservoir to an elevation of 1,530 feet at the end of August and continues drafting to 1,520 feet in September. The BiOp calls for drafting the reservoir to 1,520 feet by Aug. 31. Due to near normal water supply forecasts, TMT has adopted much as possible of the Nez Perce/Idaho plan in the last two years.

Finally, CRITFC asked in its plan that BPA include all of the Zone 6 commercial fishing area, not just the Bonneville reservoir, as a tribal treaty fishing area. BPA currently agrees to hold the Bonneville pool at full and steady levels during the treaty fishery, but does not promise that it can maintain the same operations at John Day and The Dalles reservoirs. CRITFC wants BPA to recognize those pools as tribal treaty fishing areas.

Martin said the plan would be formally delivered to action agencies -- BPA, the Corps and the Bureau -- next week. In return, he asked for formal comments from the agencies, but also said that in the five years CRITFC has developed such a plan, it has never received formal comments.

Related Sites:

CBB Staff
CRITFC Tribes Offer Their Annual River Operations Plan
Columbia Basin Bulletin, March 5, 2004

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