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Fish Managers Oppose Lower Snake
Zero Night Flow Operation

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - December 19, 2003

Zero nighttime flow at lower Snake River dams is continuing, but Idaho Fish and Game and the Nez Perce Tribe are protesting the operation which allows the Bonneville Power Administration to sell more power during the day when electricity prices are higher and to stop flow during some nighttime hours to refill reservoirs when prices are low.

BPA said at this week's Technical Management Team meeting that it has ordered the dams to go to zero flow every night since the operation began two weeks ago. That, according to some fisheries managers, is far more often than BPA had said it would use the special operation.

But, IDFG and the Nez Perce Tribe, as well as other TMT fisheries managers, are also opposing the operation because it is allowed under a 1987 agreement only under limited conditions. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Control Plan, the operation is allowed only when there are "few if any actively migrating anadromous fish present in the Snake Riverů.zero river flow operations are not recommended at Lower Snake River projects when fish are actively migrating in the Snake River."

The Corps has allowed the projects to go to zero flow from Dec. 1 to the end of February on a limited basis since 1987. An agreement between the Corps and fisheries agencies allows for such an operation at night and on weekends when power demand is low. However, Greg Haller of the Nez Perce Tribe said that "few if any" has never been defined, that there are still about 150 adult steelhead migrating through the dams every day, and that 100 percent of the allowable time isn't a "limited basis" by anyone's definition.

"I think we're all in agreement that we are above a 'few'," said Russ Keifer of Idaho Fish and Game.

"As our populations have grown, is the number significant?" BPA's Scott Bettin asked.

Cathy Hlebechuk of the Corps said that Bonneville used the zero flow mechanism at three of the lower Snake River dams (Ice Harbor was not included) 3 percent of the time in 2000-01, 4.8 percent of the time in 2001-02 and 12.5 percent of the time in 2002-03, based on an operation that takes advantage of a 24-hour availability. However, availability this year is six nighttime hours out of eight hours, which is down from 12 hours per day availability in the past three years. Under the six-hour criteria, BPA used the mechanism 12 percent of the available time in 2000-01, 19 percent in 2001-02, and 50 percent of the time in 2002-03.

Since Dec. 4, when the operations began this year, BPA has used the operations 100 percent of the time, based on the six-hour availability during an eight-hour period (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.). The operation nets the federal power marketing agency about $25,000 per day in additional revenues, according to Bettin.

"We've been trying to use it every night," Bettin said. "It's been very helpful and has an economic advantage."

"The general consensus (among salmon managers) is that 100 percent of the time doesn't fit the criteria of limited use," said Dave Wills of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, there is a difference of opinion among salmon managers about what "few" means, he added. "It would be useful and prudent of us to look at the original 1987 agreement and see if we're on track with the original intent."

Wills said that salmon managers generally agree that the nighttime zero flow regime has little impact on redds downstream from the Snake River dams. The more important issue is adults migrating upstream, but the managers are still sifting through information and have yet to reach any conclusions, he said.

"The tribe is concerned about the impact on adult steelhead passage from this," Haller said.

"The data is uncertain about the impact on migrants," said Ron Boyce, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Still, it seems like an unnatural thing to do, regardless of when it's done. So, we need to continue to explore the potential impacts."

"I think we should stop the operation until we agree on this issue," Haller said.

Hlebechuk said that TMT agreed at its last meeting that the zero flow operation could begin. At that time, she said, the salmon managers were invited to raise the issue to the Implementation Team, but they didn't do that.

Donna Silverberg, TMT facilitator, said that the salmon managers could still elevate the decision to IT any time they want to do so, but that IT would want to see data that supports stopping the operation.

"I sense real frustration, especially from the tribes and Idaho," Silverberg said. "The only thing to do is to move ahead on the data. Until we have numbers (defining 'few', I'm not sure how we determine 'few if any.' "

"The fisheries managers need to come up with criteria and reach a consensus," Bettin said. "It's not clear cut what the magic number is."

Related Sites:
Technical Management Team:

CBB Staff
Fish Managers Oppose Lower Snake Zero Night Flow Operation
Columbia Basin Bulletin, December 19, 2003

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