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Economic and dam related articles

Washington Endorses Spill Proposal

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, July 20, 2004

Washington Gov. Gary Locke sent word in early July that his state officially endorsed the spill proposal outlined by federal executives at a June 14 meeting in Portland.

"In the end, I believe your proposal, as drafted, will avoid a net impact on fish," said Locke's letter to Corps of Engineers Brig. Gen. William Grisoli and Steve Wright, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration.

Locke said he particularly appreciated efforts made to address concerns raised by his fish and wildlife department, and that they would "continue to work closely with them to resolve any remaining questions."

WDFW comments on spill proposals floated since March have stressed potential impacts to non-listed populations of fall chinook. But the state fish agency still has questions about the spill evaluation scheduled to take place this summer at Bonneville Dam.

In a June 22 request delivered to the Technical Management Team, the forum for managing real-time hydro operations, WDFW, ODFW, USFWS, and several tribes called for continuing BiOp spill all summer at the lower Columbia dams. Noting the "extent of technical concerns" by their staffs, the agencies said they did not support the spill study. In addition, "the reduction of spill at Bonneville Dam for the conduct of the study will impose additional mortality on the juvenile fish migration," they said.

WDFW's Bill Tweit said his agency supported the offsets for ESA-listed fish, namely the $4 million worth of extra water that BPA has contracted with Idaho Power for release in July from Brownlee Reservoir, but hesitated to voice full support for the actions to improve the numbers of unlisted stocks. "The devil's in the details," Tweit said, noting that the latest offsets do "have a lot more biological meaning" than the first proposal.

Tweit also said discussions would continue about the possibility of more selective harvest methods that BPA had begun earlier in the process.

After being approached by an Astoria-based commercial fisherman's group, BPA staffers worked out a proposal that would have swapped about half of the gillnetters' fall catch (about 1.5 percent of the upriver fall run) for a higher harvest in the spring. BPA analyses said such a shift would make up for all non-listed losses from reduced summer spill.

Using selective methods that will be developed with BPA's help, such as floating fish wheels, the harvesters would likely be able to keep more hatchery spring chinook, mainly fish headed for the Willamette River, while releasing more wild ones listed under the ESA.

But an outcry from sports fishing interests caused Oregon and Washington agencies to shy away from the proposal, even though it would not mean an increase in commercial gillnetters spring quotas, or a reduction in harvest for sports fisherman. The proposal would give them more of a chance to harvest their rightful share before they reached their limit of impacts to listed upriver Columbia chinook.

At this point, WDFW's Tweit said his agency supports a one-year study to investigate the feasibility of benefits, but says BPA had "misstated" the state's position regarding the potential reduction in fall impacts for more spring benefits. He said the state does not support any fall-spring benefit swap, but will talk about how gillnetters might be more selective in their fall fishery.

That may be a tough sell since it would mean convincing the gillnetters to catch more low-value fall tules and fewer upriver brights bound for the Hanford Reach.

But talks will continue for now. As part of the latest spill proposal, BPA says it will facilitate discussions with all stakeholders in the harvest area with the goal of having a full-fledged harvest offset program in place by 2008.

So far as the states are concerned, Locke joined Montana's Gov. Judy Martz as supporters of the spill proposal. Oregon's Gov. Ted. Kulongoski has made general statements supporting the overall cost-effective effort, but had not signed on to the final proposal. Kulongoski spokesman Tom Byler told NW Fishletter that they were "waiting for the process to unfold," and wouldn't make a policy statement until the record of decision came out.

A group of fifty-four municipalities, public and private utilities, businesses and union groups sent a letter on June 28 to Kulongoski urging that he clearly endorse the spill proposal. "Without your support," said the letter, "this region will continue to waste millions of Oregon taxpayer dollars for little benefit."

Corps Gives Stamp of Approval
The Corps of Engineers issued their "statement of decision" on July 6 which modified summer spill operations for 2004 from the recommendations of the 2000 BiOp. The 2000 mandate called for spill at four dams through July and August to help juvenile fall chinook down Columbia and Snake rivers, and was estimated to cost about $77 million annually.

But only two days after the new spill proposal was approved by the Corps of Engineers, Earthjustice attorney Todd True was speaking to BiOp Judge James Redden to discuss the possibility of litigation over the spill issue. At that July 8 meeting between Biop remand parties, the Justice Department suggested that the plaintiffs' original complaint in the BiOp lawsuit be amended to include the spill issue.

Redden agreed to issue a minute order calling for plaintiffs to amend their complaint by July 9 and to follow with a preliminary injunction motion by July 16 to attempt to head off the changes to the spill regime. Defendants were given until July 22 to file their response, and plaintiffs' replies are due by July 26 with a court hearing on the motion scheduled for July 28. A decision is expected by July 30, only a day before spill is supposed to end for the rest of the summer at two mainstem dams.

At that time, there was no public word from tribes about the possibility of suing over the spill issue in Oregon District Court, where a judge is supervising the ongoing (and confidential) U.S. v. Oregon process to develop a new harvest and fish production agreement between states, the feds and lower Columbia tribes.

In his agency's official statement, Corps of Engineers Brig. General William Grisoli maintained that he had given "serious consideration" to his treaty and trust responsibilities in making the decision.

The latest proposal, heavily amended from a March 30 version, called for ending spill at Ice Harbor and John Day dams in late August, when most fish have passed, and for no August spill at all at Bonneville and The Dalles dams.

After the Bonneville Power Administration agreed to pay Idaho Power $4 million for another 100 kaf of flow augmentation in July from Brownlee Reservoir, NOAA Fisheries said the change wouldn't adversely affect ESA-listed fall chinook from the Snake River.

To make up for other fish lost from reduced spill, other BPA-funded actions aimed at boosting the numbers of non-listed stocks have also been approved by Montana, Washington state, more informally by Idaho, and now, the Corps of Engineers.

Though some state agencies and tribes were concerned that ending spill at some dams would have adverse affects on adult fish that fell back at dams, the Corps concluded that ending spill in July and August wouldn't affect overall survival of migrating fall chinook and steelhead.

The Corps also said offsets were estimated to "exceed the aggregated adverse impacts" to non-listed stocks.

"This action is a winner for the economy and environment of the Northwest by implementing an effective and efficient means to help salmon," said Steve Wright, BPA administrator. The change is expected to save ratepayers $18 million to $28 million, after spending about $13 million on offsets.

Speaking for a coalition of utilities and other BPA customers, Shauna McReynolds, director of the Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee, called the spill reduction a step in the right direction. "More fish for less money: what's not to like?" she said in a July 6 press release.

But environmental groups disagreed. "This short-sighted decision will likely kill thousands of salmon and steelhead and will further undermine the Bush administration's salmon plan, which has already been found inadequate by a federal court and has not been fully funded or implemented," said Rob Masonis, regional director of American Rivers.

Bill Rudolph
Washington Endorses Spill Proposal
NW Fishletter, July 20, 2004

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