Spill Proposal Trimmed
by Bill Rudolph
The action agencies' proposal for a one-year reduction in summer spill OK'd by NOAA Fisheries has been trimmed a bit from the version announced in early June but is still estimated to save ratepayers $18 million to $28 million, after paying for $13 million worth of actions to offset fish losses.
"We believe that the proposal provides equal or better benefits for listed salmon as in the 2000 BiOp," said a letter sent June 23 to regional NOAA Fisheries administrator Bob Lohn from Bonneville Power Administration head Steve Wright and Corps of Engineers' Brig. Gen. William Grisoli. "We also believe the proposal provides equal benefits to non-listed salmon as occur under the 2000 BiOp summer spill regime."
The agency heads requested that NOAA analyze the proposed action based on hydro operations alone, "along with an assessment of habitat and hatchery potential for ESUs [Evolutionarily Significant Units] where a gap is identified."
The action agencies said they would develop a supplemental proposal "as necessary" for targeted habitat and hatchery operations as offsite mitigation for the hydro operations, which could also include further changes to the proposed hydro operation.
The operations have been scaled back a few more days from the June proposal, which had called for no August spill at Bonneville and The Dalles dams, and no spill for the last 10 days of August at Ice Harbor and John Day.
The latest offering trims the no-spill drill at Ice and John Day by four days, but uses the same impact analysis as the June version, which found the reduced spill plan could kill up to 1,000 listed smolts out of a run size of about one million juvenile fish. The analysis pegged losses of non-listed fish up to 737,000 juveniles out of a 50-million fish migration.
The original March 30 proposal called for no spill at any of the dams in August, with tests or BiOp-level spill during July.
The changes are partly due to a revised NOAA Fisheries analysis that estimated more adverse impacts to ESA-listed fall chinook from the Snake River. As a consequence, BPA has forged an agreement with Idaho Power to pay for another 100 kaf of water from Brownlee Reservoir to augment flows in July.
In early June, BPA paid Idaho Power $1 million for the option to use the water, and exercised that right on June 23 by paying the private utility another $3 million.
In addition to funding offsets for reduced Hanford stranding and a beefed-up bounty for pikeminnow to improve numbers of non-listed fish, the final proposal calls for adding $10 million to the basin's fish and wildlife program over the next three years, contingent on spill reductions in 2005 and 2006.
BPA said it would also spend $2 million to increase production at specific hatcheries and establish a $2 million fund for habitat improvement for spawning fish affected by the spill reduction.
Though the spill proposal itself only calls for a one-year reduction, it includes discussion of possible harvest reductions and other potential offsets in the next two years. Between now and next January, BPA said it will facilitate meetings among harvest stakeholders to discuss and gauge support for more selective fishing methods in the non-tribal fisheries. With enough regional support, the agency said it would fund a three-year study of pilot fisheries.
The action agencies also embraced recommendations by Oregon and Washington fish managers to speed up construction of removable spillway weirs and other improvements for fish passage at dams.
The latest politician to weigh in on the issue was Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who said he thought the spill proposal risked too much "for too small of a reward--the few cents it will save the average residential customer." In a June 9 letter to BPA, he asked the agency to withdraw the proposal, at least until NOAA Fisheries releases their revised BiOp (expected by Nov. 30).
In late March, Rep. Peter De Fazio (D-Ore.) and nine Northwest politicians from both parties voiced support for the reduced spill effort and called for testing this year. Rep. David Wu (D) and Sen. Gordon Smith (R) of Oregon also supported testing the proposal in 2004.
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