River Operators Explain Draft Recovery Planby Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - August 10, 2001
Three federal hydroelectric operating agencies released for public comment their long-anticipated plan on how they will operate the hydro system and what they will do in the other "H's" -- hatcheries, harvest and habitat -- to aid salmon recovery.
Initially expected in March, the Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation released the draft "Endangered Species Act Implementation Plan for the Federal Columbia River Power System" that outlines how they will implement over 200 actions contained in two federal biological opinions. Both the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service released BiOps in December 2000 for various species of salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and bull trout listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The implementation plan was delayed due to the complexity of the task, but also because the unusually dry year had federal agencies scrambling to simply operate the hydro system.
Katherine Cheney, biological opinion implementation lead for BPA, said the need for a plan was identified in NMFS' 2000 BiOp, which called on the operating agencies to develop a plan to identify actions and progress "needed to achieve hydro and off-site mitigation standards." She and other federal representatives described the draft plan at a meeting of the multi-agency Implementation Team this week in Portland.
Outlined in the report divided into two books are goals, performance standards that will measure progress, strategies to achieve the standards, actions, criteria that guide prioritization of actions and a five-year plan.
Cheney said the goals are similar to those from the "All-H Paper" completed by agencies of the Federal Caucus in December 2000. The goals are to avoid jeopardy and assist in meeting recovery standards for Columbia Basin fish, conserve critical habitat and assure tribal fishing rights and other non-tribal fishing opportunities, while balancing other needs.
Bill Maslin of BPA said the performance standards, which are central to the plan, "build on the concepts from NMFS' BiOp." They establish the level of improvement needed for survival and recovery, but for now only apply to salmon and steelhead. In the future, standards will also be set for bull trout and white sturgeon, according to the draft plan.
A crediting system still to be developed with NMFS help will keep score on how well the region is doing. That system will be based on achieving performance targets and on a research, monitoring and evaluation program. The action agencies then will check on recovery progress in 2003, 2005 and 2008.
Performance standards are divided into tiers "configured to reflect a chain of physical/environmental and biological responses to management actions," the draft plan says. "Management actions are implemented (Tier 4) to cause changes in physical conditions and/or biological responses (Tier 3), which in turn affect life-stage specific survival (Tier 2) that collectively are reflected as a population response (Tier 1)."
Maslin said Tier 1 (population level) standards include targets for population growth and the number of returning fish. Tier 2 (life stage) includes hydrosystem migration survival improvements and off-site actions in habitat, hatcheries and harvest. Tier 3 (biological and physical performance) addresses management actions to protect habitat, address harvest methods and escapement, reform hatcheries and improve survival rates and progress toward flow and water quality targets. Tier 4 (programmatic performance) includes such measurements as stream miles opened to access, number of diversion screens, number of selective nets used in commercial harvests, the number of Hatchery Genetic Mitigation Plans completed and the completion of surface bypass collectors at dams.
Flow targets listed in the draft plan are the same as those in the 2000 BiOp. For example, the spring flow target at McNary Dam is 220,000 cubic feet per second to 260 kcfs, while the summer flow target is 200 kcfs. It sets flows for lower Columbia River chum spawning below Bonneville Dam November through emergence at 125 kcfs to 160 kcfs. Spill is also the same as the BiOp.
Speaking about habitat strategies, Adele Merchant of the Corps said the three action agencies are tying into the subbasin planning work being done by the Northwest Power Planning Council. The draft plan established 16 priority subbasins out of 62. Work at three subbasins will begin each year. The work includes improvements in fish screening at diversions, improving flows and removing barriers in each of the priority subbasins.
"We will focus on those basins where we can get the most immediate results," said Jim Fodrea of BOR. "Much of this occurred in the development of the All-H plan. We'll go into each basin and work at it over several years."
"Work in the habitat area will be coordinated through the Federal Caucus," said Jim Ruff of NMFS. "We expect hydro coordination through this group," he said of IT.
The most immediate action at hatcheries will be to complete HGMPs at all federal hatcheries, said Maslin. However, there is currently no plan to fund implementation of hatchery reforms at non-federal hatcheries. One of the criteria for hatcheries calls for marking all hatchery fish to facilitate action in other areas. Both selective fishing opportunities and hatchery supplementation "require the ability to distinguish between hatchery and naturally produced fish," the draft Plan says.
According to John Skidmore of BPA, harvest strategies will include developing selective fishing technologies and that will require "mass-marking of fish. If we go to selective fisheries, we will need that to fully reap the benefits," he said, adding that NMFS has formed a steering committee to guide mass marking.
"We're pleased," said Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "This section looks stronger than even the BiOp or All-H Paper. We're excited. This could have a huge impact on the quality of the fishery."
RM&E is a significant part of the draft plan. That is how action agencies will track the status of fish populations and track the response to the draft plan's various actions.
"NMFS, Fish & Wildlife, the river operators, the Council all are doing RM&E," said Howard Schaller of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. "How do we all coordinate?"
"You must have something to say about this," Tweit said to NMFS. "RM&E is your eyes and ears."
Maslin said BPA doesn't intend to fund the region's entire study needs, but did plan to coordinate and work with others.
In fact, one of the issues brought up at the IT meeting had to do with funding, responsibility and credit for actions completed or not completed. So far in the draft plan, responsibility has not been set among the federal agencies, although Cheney said that will be included when the plan is finalized at the end of September and Ruff said the federal family is now working on a budget.
"Credit is important," Tweit said. "Are you complying with the ESA or the federal Power Act? That basic accounting is unclear in this plan."
"That's not as big a point if you're successful," said Tony Nigro of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "But it becomes a really big point if you fail. If you realize you're not meeting the performance standards, the question is what do you do?"
Tweit also thought the draft plan was weighted heavily in favor of ESA-listed fish. "You need to consider balancing stewardship for unlisted populations with ESA-listed populations," Tweit said. "Don't get too much into robbing one to help the other." That could result in more stocks in jeopardy, he said.
The action agencies intend to take public comment on the draft Implementation Plan through Sept. 7 and have a completed plan by the beginning of their 2002 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The draft plan is available on the Internet.
Draft Implementation Plan
Action 147: As a contingency plan, the Corps (in cooperation with other Federal agencies) shall develop a project management plan to reeavaluate more intensive hydropower related actions (including breaching) for the four lower Snake River dams. The project management plan will identify the scope, schedule, costs, tasks, products, and responsiblities for the reeavaluation study. the study should assess all significant changed conditions to the Lower Snake river Feasibility Report and Environmenta Impact Statement (Corps 1999c). The project mangagement plan should be consistent with direction from Congress, Corps authorities, and other legal requirements. The completed project management plan should be coordinated with the appropriate regional interests. The project management plan should include, but not be limited to, plans to mitigate disproportinate impacts to communities, industries, and Tribes, detailed water and air quality effects, implementation plans, and a complete public involvement program. The decision to start the reeavaluation study should result from the NMFS check-in processs . . .
Action 148: The Corps shall conduct detailed engineering and design work for improvements recommended in the general reevaluation report and supplemental environmental impact statement described in the preceding action. The Corps shall seek fuding to allow initiation of the engineering and design work to occur immediately upon completion of the final general reevaluation report. The engineering and design work shall include only those activities on (or near) the implementation schedule critical path for the recommended actions, up to the award of the first construciont contract. For a dam breach recommendation, the critical path activities shall include turbine physical modeling (for use as low level outlets), rock source explorations for embankment erosion protection (riprap), and hydraulic (physical) modeling for the embankment removal and channelization. Tentative milestones for the general reeavluation report/EIS and engineering and design work are as follows, based on the check-in process identified in Section 9.5 (See Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives for list).
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