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Economic and dam related articles

Politics Played Big Role
in Adding Summer Spill to 1995 BiOp

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, June 22, 2004

Former BPA administrator Randy Hardy said last week that the expensive summer spill strategy added to the 1995 BiOp had little to do with helping ESA-listed stocks, but was included to garner tribal support for the BiOp by helping non-listed Hanford Reach chinook past dams. The lower Columbia tribes' fall fishery mainly targets the healthy Hanford chinook run.

Hardy's remarks capped a three-hour comment session on the amended spill proposal that BPA and the Army Corps of Engineers announced June 8 . It has been reduced significantly from the original Mar. 30 proposal, but is still estimated to save ratepayers up to $30 million after paying a $10-million bill for offsets to make up for both listed and non-listed fish lost from reduced spill.

"I was there when the '95 B. O. went in," Hardy said at the June 14 public hearing in Portland, "... the administrator of BPA. I was there when we put summer spill in, it happened in the 95 B. O. And I am here to tell you that if you have a candid discussion with Bob's [NOAA Fisheries' regional head Bob Lohn] predecessors in his job, that was put in for reasons that had very little, if anything to do with listed fish.

"It was put in as a measure to assist, principally, the tribal harvest for the non-listed fish down river," Hardy said. "It was a means by the prior administration to politically balance, you know, a difficult question since the tribes weren't going to support the B.O. anyway. And that's a fact.

"We had a little data at the time that said this might work," Hardy added. "We've got more data in subsequent years that said yeah, there's a benefit, but it is clearly tangential."

Hardy, who now serves as a power industry consultant, told the assembled group of state and federal representatives, tribes and public citizens that it was important to put the summer spill issue in historical context.

The latest version includes a $4-million deal with Idaho Power to pay for the release of 100 KAF of water in July to aid the passage of ESA-listed Snake River fall chinook, a strategy that federal biologists said could improve inriver survival through Lower Granite Reservoir by about one percent. Parties are now wrangling over whether the Brownlee water is really "new" water that BPA could claim for ESA offset credit, or if Idaho Power was planning on releasing it, anyway.

Hardy said he had hoped that policymakers would have taken more risk. "For listed fish, we are talking, in reality, about a range of probably, in the five to 10-fish adult return area. Those are four-to seven-million-dollar fish if we do not go ahead with this proposal."

Hardy said if policymakers don't go ahead with the action to reduce spill, it will just increase public cynicism of federal agencies and whether "appropriate balances" are struck or not. "Even if you go ahead with this, we are talking about one-million-dollar fish in terms of the amounts that are paid for the offsets."

Idaho and Montana representatives voiced support for the latest proposal, with Washington spokesman Larry Cassidy giving credit to the feds for the latest proposal, noting that non-listed stocks were now getting equal treatment with listed ones. Oregon remained somewhat uncommitted, though a representative from Gov. Kulongoski's office voiced general support for the idea.

The feds heard from most of BPA's largest customers, including Snohomish PUD, irrigators, and the Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative. All called the proposal a step in the right direction, but not nearly enough.

"We believe this is overly conservative as it goes to extraordinary lengths to assist even more fish than the small number supposedly impacted from the spill reduction out of the millions of total smolts," said PNGC Power vice-president Scott Corwin.

But tribal representatives called for the federal agencies to take the proposal off the table and promised to sue if they did not. The tribes said proposed offsets were still not enough to make up for fish losses from reduced spill.

The feds had pointed out in their latest proposal that spill was reduced from the earlier version, but not the impacts to non-listed fish, which effectively inflated their offsets.

But that argument had little effect on some attendees. Both tribes and fishing groups complained at the June 14 meeting about the numbers of fish that would be lost to harvesters and discounted the value of such offsets as the programs to reduce stranding of Hanford Reach chinook and get rid of more smolt-eating pikeminnow through a pumped-up bounty program.

In fact, the Nez Perce Tribe announced that same day they were filing a lawsuit to block one of the proposed offsets, a measure suggested by WDFW to fund them to keep 200,000 Lyons Ferry hatchery chinook over the winter and release them the following spring, which would significantly improve their survival to adulthood. The strategy was estimated to add another 1,600 adults to Lower Granite Dam.

But the tribe said the proposed offset was a breach of a federal agreement under the US v. Oregon process and would adversely affect management of chinook fisheries overseen by the salmon treaty between the US and Canada. Later that day, state officials decided to release the fish this June as originally planned.

Some fishing groups, both sport and commercial, were also critical of the amended proposal, citing concerns over the projected benefits that the action agencies had estimated from their offset actions to non-listed stocks, pegged at a midrange of around 10,000 fish.

But Oliver Waldman, representing the Astoria-based commercial fishing group Salmon For All, thought the offsets were unconvincing and claimed the spill proposal would cut chinook numbers to Southeast Alaska, Northern BC coastal fishermen and inriver Columbia gillnetters by 14,000 to 23,000 fish. He said later that the numbers came from a preliminary analysis by the Pacific Salmon Commission, but staffers there said they were not aware of any such analysis.

NOAA scientist Dell Simmons, who co-chairs the salmon commission's chinook technical committee said it was likely a staffer from a member organization who ran the group's model, and that's exactly what happened. A staffer from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission came up with the potential harvest impacts used in Waldman's testimony, an analysis that did not add any fish from the potential offsets discussed in the amended proposal.

This preliminary analysis pegged the harvest losses in the 2-percent range for Alaska and BC, and about double that for Columbia River fisheries, with even higher losses with more pessimistic assumptions about flow and delayed mortality.

Waldman's testimony failed to mention that the potential 14,000-fish loss is a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly 600,000 chinook that Southeast AK and northern BC fishermen will be allowed to catch this year, or the approximately 160,000 fish expected to be landed from this year's upriver Columbia River run by both treaty and non-treaty fishers.

The spill proposal is likely to be ready for formal ESA review by Wednesday, which would take another week or two, with a final decision expected by the Corps of Engineers by the end of the month. NOAA Fisheries regional head Bob Lohn has already informally endorsed the amended proposal.

Bill Rudolph
Politics Played Big Role in Adding Summer Spill to 1995 BiOp
NW Fishletter, June 22, 2004

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