Reduced Spill Proposal
by Bill Rudolph
The Bonneville Power Administration's long-anticipated summer spill proposal for dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers should be ready by the end of the week, said BPA spokesman Ed Mosey. It’s expected to be considerably less ambitious than the draft floated Mar. 31 that was estimated to save ratepayers about $45 million a year, but could still save the region $25 million to $35 million a year.
BPA staffers have been scrambling to refine the offsets to increased fish mortality from the earlier proposal that calls for a three-year evaluation of a reduced spill effort at federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The work grew more frantic after a new analysis by NOAA Fisheries hydropower division staffers estimated more adverse impacts to listed fish from proposed spill reductions than earlier analyses had shown.
Things got even dicier after talks with Oregon and Washington about possible harvest reductions broke down. BPA had floated the idea of reducing the take of fall chinook by lower Columbia gillnetters to offset spill reductions. In return, the gillnetters would get cash payments and funding to develop more selective harvest opportunities for the fishers' spring chinook season, when prices for salmon are much higher. Talks included the possibility of using fish wheel technology to harvest marked hatchery fish while returning wild ESA-listed fish to the river.
By the end of last week, offset measures for both listed and non-listed species seemed to be closer to agreement, with NOAA Fisheries reportedly holding up a deal on Snake River fall chinook until more water for flow augmentation was obtained from Idaho. The agency also said it wasn't prepared to accept a beefed-up pikeminnow predation program as an offset for ESA fish, since the action was already included in the region's hydro BiOp. But it said the pikeminnow action could be used to offset impacts to non-listed species. BPA announced June 1 that it was offering more reward money for pikeminnow fishermen to reduce predation on non-listed salmon stocks.
A proposal to draft an extra 20 feet out of Dworshak Reservoir in September seemed to have little chance of success, but it was reported that BPA was negotiating with Idaho Power for an additional 100 KAF out of Brownlee Reservoir to improve flows and survival for ESA-listed fall chinook between July 7 to July 28. BPA didn't disclose the potential cost of the Brownlee proposal, but others said it was worth close to $5 million. Biological benefits were not disclosed, but Washington's fish agency had earlier estimated a one percent survival benefit for juveniles in the Snake.
However, early this week, the word on the river was that the Brownlee proposal was still being negotiated, with the likelihood of a proposal being released that focuses on an August no-spill scenario at only Bonneville and John Day dams.
BPA’s Mosey said the agency hopes to get an amended proposal out by the end of the week to allow for a few more days of public comment and off to BiOp remand judge James Redden by the end of the month “as a courtesy” to give the judge a whole month to study the amended proposal before it’s slated to begin.
Meanwhile, the Idaho Fish and Game Department applied for an incidental take permit for the state's spring chinook fishery on returning hatchery fish, which it estimated could kill up to 700 ESA-listed fish.
PNGC Power responded with a May 27 letter to NOAA Fisheries’ salmon recovery division that pointed out a “double standard” in play, since the state offered no mitigation for killing more ESA salmon. "While the proposal to reduce spill has been the subject of months of collaboration and is held to account for every last fish, the conditions catalogued within the application for Incidental Take include only vague references to monitoring and policing.
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