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Fish Managers Challenge
Change in McNary Operation

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - March 19, 2004

Fishery managers this week challenged a plan by river operating agencies to run McNary Dam turbines outside the 1 percent peak efficiency range. While the change could net as much as 15 megawatts more power from the dam, fishery managers say juvenile salmon mortality would rise by over 1 percent.

The NOAA Fisheries 2000 biological opinion of the Federal Columbia River Power System's Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA) number 58 calls for turbines to be operated within the 1 percent peak efficiency range during spring and summer while juvenile salmon migrants are in the river.

Fishery managers say there is plenty of evidence to support continuing this operation and that the action agencies are putting power production above protecting fish. This week at the Technical Management Team meeting they submitted a system operations request to ensure the RPA is honored.

The Bonneville Power Administration had proposed in May 2003 to lift the restriction at the dam and to test the impact on juvenile salmon. Fishery managers opposed that proposal. Turbines operating within the 1 percent peak efficiency range are not fully loaded and going outside the limit would increase the dam's power output. It is particularly useful during high spring flows when the dam involuntarily spills water. Instead, more water could be directed through turbines.

This year the operation found its way into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's draft spring/summer update to its Water Management Plan due to a request by top regional executives for the involved federal agencies to draw up a monitoring plan for the test. The Corps' Walla Walla District is working on the plan.

"We don't see any evidence this is good for fish," said Steve Haeseker of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "This doesn't make sense. We need a basis for going outside the BiOp, but there is no basis. We're needlessly studying something we already know will harm fish. Why monitor something we know is bad?"

Fishery managers cited studies that show a 1.1 percent increase in juvenile mortality when going outside the 1 percent peak efficiency range (Skalski et al) and pointed to several ways the operational change would do that.

"Increasing the proportion of flow routed to the turbines will decrease the proportion and number of fish passing over the spillway during involuntary spill periods," the SOR says. "The spillway route is widely accepted as the passage route associated with the highest survival and least delay. Increasing the volume of flow routed to the turbines will also result in deterioration of fish passage conditions in the gatewells, on the vertical barrier screens, and in the tailrace."

In a May 2003 letter to the operating agencies, fishery managers said that the BPA proposal "is based on BPA's decision to place the burden of proof for protection upon the ESA listed salmon, and other anadromous fish resources in favor of anticipated economic benefits to BPA."

According to Chris Ross of NOAA Fisheries, which didn't sign the SOR, accepting the SOR would mean that research to test the operation wouldn't get done this year. He said the testing was planned this spring at five of the dam's turbines, not at all turbines.

It is not the case that all of the McNary Dam turbines would operate outside the 1 percent peak efficiency range, Cindy Henriksen confirmed, but she did say that the Corps has been given the task by the federal executives to develop a monitoring plan for such an operation.

That plan will outline how to monitor and minimize the impacts on juvenile salmon if the region decides to remove the 1 percent restriction, she said.

"The direction we received was to put together a monitoring plan all can agree to so that as we go through the season we can operate outside the 1 percent range," Henriksen said. "We would all have to agree to the plan and it would have to have all the appropriate off-ramps." For example, if temperatures rise in the gatewells due to the operation, then the operation would stop.

"It is potentially a full time removal of the restriction provided we can agree on monitoring and the off-ramps to put it back to within 1 percent," Henriksen said. "The reason we are doing this is because this is the task the execs handed to us."

The monitoring plan will not get at all the issues, said Ron Boyce of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. He added that the decision by the executives had never been made available to fishery managers and noted that mortality and spill are two of the concerns not evaluated. "The monitoring plan is not looking at the right things. We're asking you to implement the BiOp at McNary and if the action agencies don't do that, tell us why."

"We're just asking you to look at the monitoring plan," Henriksen said. She added that the Corps is developing a monitoring plan, not an evaluation of the operation.

The USFWS, ODFW, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Columbia River Inter-Ttribal Fish Commission signed the SOR. TMT will revisit the issue at its next meeting, March 31.

Related Sites:
Technical Management Team:

Related Pages:
UW Prof Debunks Turbine Efficiency/Fish Survival Assumption Mike O'Bryant, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 2/21/3
New Fish Studies Suggest Cheap Survival Boost Possible at Some Dams Bill Rudolph, NW Fishletter, 11/26/2

Mike O'Bryant
Fish Managers Challenge Change in McNary Operation
Columbia Basin Bulletin, March 19, 2004

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