River Managers Approveby Mike O'Bryant
Pools behind three lower Snake River dams will have more water again this year to give towboat operators the margin of safety they need in the navigation channel to transport goods to and from Snake River ports and to safely enter and leave locks at Snake River dams.
The Technical Management Team this week granted a request made by the Columbia River Towboat Association to retain the Lower Granite, Little Goose and Ice Harbor reservoirs at minimum operating pool plus one foot as river operations head into the juvenile migration period. They also had asked and received approval for the operation in 2003.
"We appreciate your full consideration and for looking beyond your immediate needs to the broader picture," said John Pigott, CRTA chairman. "Hopefully, the dredging issue will be resolved and we won't be here again taking up your valuable time next year."
In its request to raise the pools one foot, the CRTA cited an increase in dangerous shoaling in the lower Snake River navigation channel as the reason it approached TMT for the operations, which is a change from the NOAA Fisheries 2000 biological opinion of the Federal Columbia River Power System. The BiOp calls for lowering water levels at the Snake River reservoirs to MOP April 3 through Aug. 31, and to Nov. 15 for the Lower Granite pool. The lower pool levels result in increased water velocity, an aid to juvenile salmon and steelhead negotiating the pools on their downstream journey to the ocean.
However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hasn't dredged the lower Snake River navigation channel in more than four years. A Seattle-based U.S. District Court judge in December 2002 issued an injunction prohibiting the dredging. But the Corps now says it has a dredging plan that it will present to the court in the next few weeks, and that NOAA Fisheries likely will issue this week a limited one-year biological opinion governing those dredging operations.
"We are proposing to dredge the channel next winter (2004-05) during the in-water work window, but that is contingent on us resolving some outstanding issues in the court case," said Jack Sands of the Corps' Walla Walla office. "We feel there is a justifiable need in the channel and anticipate the court will see that need as well."
He added that the Corps can't promise at this point whether the dredging will occur this winter, "but we have a plan" for Ice Harbor, Lower Granite and Little Goose dredging. Shoaling that would impact navigation hasn't occurred in the Lower Monumental pool. The Corps' in-water work window to dredge the lower Snake River is from Dec. 15 to March 1.
The CRTA initially asked at TMT's March 3 meeting for the same MOP plus one foot pool levels at each of the four lower Snake River dams, but accepted the exclusion of Lower Monumental from the operations. "There are no obstructions preventing safe operations in the LoMo pool," Pigott said.
"It's good to hear you have some resolution to the issue," Ron Boyce of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife told the Corps. "There will be a fishery impact, albeit small, and it would be hard to say what that would be. But we do not object with going forward and look for a resolution next year."
Operating at the higher level will increase travel time for the juveniles, but the operation is needed due to safety issues and the potential environmental disaster if a barge grounds on one of the shoals, said Chris Ross of NOAA Fisheries.
Only the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission objected to the change in operation on policy grounds. "We prefer you follow the BiOp and more, but we also understand the safety issues," said Kyle Martin of CRITFC.
The original lawsuit was filed against the Corps by the National Wildlife Federation, Washington Wildlife Federation, Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources. It charged that the Corps' Environmental Impact Statement on its long-term dredging strategy includes four options that are virtually identical, except that the agency varies the location for the dredge spoil deposits. All four alternatives include 20 years of dredging and substantial increases in the levees in Lewiston, Idaho, the lawsuit said.
Technical Management Team: www.nwd-wc.usace.army.mil/TMT/index.html
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