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Columbia Estuary and Plume Plan
Under Peer Review

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - October 31, 2003

A draft plan that sets out an approach on how research in the lower Columbia River estuary and its plume should proceed is in the peer review process and is nearing its implementation date in February 2004.

The Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory recently released the first public draft of the "Research, Monitoring and Evaluation Plan for the Columbia River Estuary and Plume." The plan is intended to set a framework for how research, monitoring and evaluations in the lower river will be accomplished in the future.

While such plans for other areas of the Columbia River Basin were included in the NOAA Fisheries 2000 biological opinion of the Federal Columbia River Power System, research, monitoring and evalution criteria for the Columbia River estuary and the plume were not. However, Reasonable and Prudent Alternative action 161 that was included in the BiOp required BPA and the Corps to provide such a plan during the 2003 check-in.

Taunja Berquam, the Corps' lower Columbia River Basin coordinator, said the plan has a somewhat "salmon-centric" focus, although it does attempt a broader ecosystem management perspective.

"It identifies what things you should look at that would tell you if you are meeting the objectives for salmon restoration," she said.

The plan has three objectives:

  1. Status monitoring seeks to quantify the status and trends of salmon and their survival in the estuary and plume, asking such questions as: What is the ecosystem status of the estuary and plume? What are the biological features of salmonids while there? What are their survival rates? What is the water quality? What are the status and trends of invasive species?

  2. Action Effectiveness Research seeks to quantify the effects of habitat restoration actions on the estuary and plume. Among the questions to be answered are: Do projects meet goals? If not, is adaptive management in place? Do projects increase salmonid survival?

  3. Uncertainties research seeks to resolve such uncertainties about the estuary and plume as: What is the significance of the estuary and plume to salmon? What changes could be made to the FCRPS operations that would improve conditions in the estuary and plume? What restoration improvements are the highest in priority? Is offsite mitigation working?
The research, monitoring and evaluation plan is to be used as a framework for all habitat and restoration projects in the lower river and plume, not just those projects that are the Corps' or BPA's responsibility, Berquam said.

"We tried to write the plan more broadly than the action agencies have the authority to fund under the BiOp," she said. "This framework is for everyone in the estuary to work from. With the information, hopefully we will begin to build a database for all as opposed to protocols for one (the action agencies)."

If everyone is committed to the same protocols, she continued, then data can be compared between projects. "We hope that information will be alike enough so that it can all be analyzed together," Berquam said.

The draft plan does not include performance standards. It defines these standards as "specific numerical objective deemed necessary to improve ecosystem function, improve salmon survival, and ultimately result in recovery for listed fish." However, the 2000 BiOp didn't include such standards for the estuary and plume like it did for other areas of the FCRPS. According to the draft plan, those standards will be developed at a later date by the action agencies.

Monitoring methods were also not included due to time constraints, according to the draft. Action agencies will develop those as well at a later time, but placeholders are included in the draft plan for both monitoring methods and for performance standards.

Some decisions are also left to other forums. They include funding decisions, which are the purview of the Corps' Anadromous Fish Evaluation Program or the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Fish and Wildlife Program. The draft RME says it focuses solely on anadromous fish listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. The near shore ocean areas along the coast north to Alaska and open ocean habitat to the Gulf of Alaska are not included. Finally, the plan doesn't obligate BPA or the Corps to fund everything it recommends.

Berquam said the peer review process with the Independent Science Review Panel, the Independent Science Advisory Board and the Lower Columbia River Estuary Program's Science Work Group is substantially complete. A revised draft is due Dec. 15, a final should be complete in January 2004 and the plan will be synchronized with the entire BiOp research, monitoring and evaluation program by February 2004.

Related Sites:
Draft "Research, Monitoring and Evaluation Plan for the Columbia River Estuary and Plume:"
NOAA Fisheries 2000 BiOp

Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Estuary and Plume Plan Under Peer Review
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 31, 2003

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