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Federal Agencies Deliver
Final Summer Spill Plan to NOAA

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 25, 2004

The Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers delivered a summer spill plan to NOAA Fisheries Thursday, June 24, that includes a slightly smaller reduction in spill and a $3 million reduction in revenue benefits for BPA's customers.

However, despite the changes to spill, at least one court challenge is likely and BPA customers say the final plan is not enough.

NOAA is expected to issue a findings letter by the end of next week that rules whether the newest summer spill plan is consistent with NOAA's 2000 biological opinion for the Federal Columbia River Power System.

The federal dam operating agencies think the new plan, officially titled "Final Proposal for Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) Summer Juvenile Bypass Operation," does meet that consistency test. They said in a cover letter delivered with the plan to Bob Lohn, NOAA's regional administrator in Seattle, that the newest plan provides equal or better benefits for listed salmon as does the BiOp. The letter was signed by Steve Wright, BPA administrator, and Brig. Gen. William T. Grisoli, division engineer for the Corps.

Nothing short of withdrawing the summer spill proposal would have been acceptable to Northwest tribes, who now say they will turn the issue over to their attorneys.

"We are deeply disappointed the agencies have decided to move forward with this proposal despite its flaws," said Charles Hudson of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "Our feeling is that science has done its work and it's now time for our legal team to do its work. I'm not sure there was anything the federal agencies could have done to convince the tribes that this was not a lawsuit waiting to happen."

Given the 2001 drought and power crisis and the curtailed spill that summer, Hudson said the federal agencies should wait on reducing spill again until "we have a good idea of what happened to those migrants. They returned in 2003 and 2004 and we should at least have that analysis before we proceed this year." That would require waiting one more year, he added (see table at bottom below).

Hudson said the tribes would wait for NOAA to complete the findings letter and for the Corps to complete a record of decision (ROD), the last administrative step before implementing the spill reductions, before they would take legal action.

BPA customers continue to be disappointed in the plan, said Shauna McReynolds of the Coalition for Smart Salmon Recovery, a coalition of farmers, employers, utility customers and public utilities in the Northwest.

"The proposal doesn't go far enough," McReynolds said. "It could have been more and I'm disappointed. Every time I look at this, the benefits are a little lower. But as frustrating as it is, we have to start somewhere."

She said her organization will urge Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Monday to send a letter to the federal agencies asking them to go forward with the plan. She said that Montana has already delivered such a letter and that Idaho and Washington are in the process of completing one as well. The purpose is to show the agencies that there is broad political support in the region for the summer spill plan, she said.

With an acceptable findings letter in hand, the Corps promised to deliver its ROD by July 6. At that time, both agencies will take the ROD to the Judge James Redden's court for review before it is implemented, said Mike Hansen of BPA.

BPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their original summer spill proposal March 30. That was a three-year proposal calling for reducing spill by 55 percent (as compared to spill called for in the BiOp) in July and August and providing $2 million to $5 million worth of offsets to make up for reduced juvenile salmon survival. The plan would have increased BPA net revenues by $40 million. BPA estimates the total cost of spilling water in the summer at $77 million.

The agencies released an amended spill proposal June 8 that would curtail less spill than the original proposal. It was a one-year plan that recognized increased impacts on juvenile salmon, cutting spill by 39 percent and providing up to $10 million in offsets, with net revenue gains for BPA between $20 million and $31 million.

The final summer spill plan extends BiOp spill at Ice Harbor and John Day dams through Aug. 25. The amended spill proposal stopped spill at those dams Aug. 21. There will be no spill at Bonneville and The Dalles dams in August, the same operation proposed by the amended spill proposal. Hansen said the change in the amount of spill is small and the agency continues to estimate the cut to summer spill at 39 percent, although the change will cut the net revenue gains for BPA by $3 million. Those gains are now estimated at $18 million to $28 million.

Another change in the final plan is a drop in the biological impacts on threatened Snake River fall chinook from an estimated 943 juveniles to 927 juveniles. Non-listed biological impacts remained the same.

The final plan included most of the offset mitigation measures that were in the amended proposal, but it did drop one of the offsets and firmed up another. The total cost of the offsets didn't change. BPA estimates the cost at $9.7 million.

After a lawsuit filed last week by the Nez Perce Tribe, the proposal to hold over one year 200,000 subyearling chinook at the Lyons Ferry Hatchery was withdrawn. The $140,000 cost for that action is part of the $2 million offset for hatchery improvements recommended, but not yet identified, by BPA and the Corps.

In addition, the one offset that would specifically mitigate for the loss of Snake River fall chinook is the purchase of an additional 100,000 acre feet of water in July from Idaho Power's Brownlee Dam. The cost is $4 million. The agencies had said last week it would deliver the final plan to NOAA June 18, but it has taken extra time to iron out the contract for the Brownlee water, according to Hansen.

"This is basically August water moved forward into July when there are a lot more fish in the river," Hansen said. "We get more bang for the buck that way." But, that means there will be less water available from Brownlee Dam in August, he added. "We aren't creating new water, but it's always been our contention that there are fewer fish in the river in August."

Other offsets for the 130,000 to 742,000 unlisted salmon lost with reduced spill are:

The hatchery and habitat offsets have yet to be identified. According to the cover letter for the final spill plan, those actions will be identified in a supplemental proposal, which "may also include further modifications to the proposed hydro operations," the letter said.

Hansen said BPA believes the final plan to be a win for Northwest ratepayers and a win for salmon recovery efforts. Not only is the reduction in summer spill fully mitigated, it is beyond that, he said. "The fish are better off."

He said the reduced spill plan translates into a 1.25 to 1.8 percent reduction in what the wholesale power costs would have been Oct. 1. Hansen said BPA has not determined the rates yet, so the reduction from the summer spill plan does not necessarily mean an actual reduction in rates.

The final summer spill plan and cover letter can be found on the federal salmon recovery web site at

Related Sites:
July 1, 2004, NOAA Fisheries posted its findings determination in response to the BPA and ACOE final proposal for reduced summer spill in 2004. See which includes the following data for justification:

Preliminary understanding of progress towards achieving these performance standards for Snake River fall chinook salmon, based on a June 30, 2004, memorandum from J. Ruff to B. Brown titled “Estimation of Hydro Performance Standards for Snake River Fall Chinook” (Appendix 2) follows. This information is preliminary and warrants further discussion with the Action Agencies and others regarding derivation and performance standard measurement tools.

  Preliminary Estimate of Adult Survival Preliminary Estimate of Juvenile In-River Survival Preliminary Estimate of Juvenile System Survival With D=0.24
1995-1999 Average1 71.0 10.2 11.7
2000 Estimated N/A 11.0 9.9
2001 Estimated 92.3 1.5 4.2
2002 Estimated 83.3 N/A N/A
2003 Estimated N/A 13.5 11.1
2010 RPA Survival2 74.0 14.3 12.7
1These figures are taken from Table 6.2-7 of the Opinion.
2These figures are taken from Table 9.2-3 of the Opinion.

Juvenile in-river survival has been greater than the 1994-99 average in two out of three available years, but was much lower than that average in the 2001 low-flow and reduced-spill year. The 2010 in-river survival performance standard has not yet been met, and is not expected to be met for six more years. The proposed spill modification and offset should have no effect on the ability to meet this performance standard in 2010, since the benefit of increased flow in July is expected to directly offset mortality associated with spill reductions in August. However, further improvements in in-river survival will be necessary in future years to achieve the 2010 performance standard.

Juvenile system survival has been below both the 1995-99 and 2010 performance standards in each of the three available years. As described above, the 2010 system survival performance standard is not expected to be met for six more years.

Mike O'Bryant
Federal Agencies Deliver Final Summer Spill Plan to NOAA
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 25, 2004

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