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Idaho Offers River Recommendations

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 11, 1999

Idaho has drawn up recommendations for the fourth straight year on how the Columbia River power system should operate its water management process to enhance salmon migration in the Snake River basin. But one state representative says the recommendations should have been considered before a decision was made not to completely refill the Dworshak pool.

James Yost of Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s office told a gathering at last week’s Implementation Team meeting that the recommendations contained in the report, “Enhancing Salmon and Steelhead Migration Success,” represent the governor’s position. They are similar to past years’ recommendations, but the emphasis has changed in some areas. In the past, he said, Idaho’s primary focus has been on hydrology of the river and this plan expands on that.

“We’ve suggested continuing a spread-the-risk strategy,” he said of the plan’s recommendations for downstream juvenile salmon migration. “What’s different is that we added greater predator control for both birds and mammals, minimum gap turbines and a renewed emphasis on reducing harvest.”

Yost said the recommendations are supported by resources groups and developed specifically for the governor, the governor’s staff and agency heads.

“We’re providing it to the IT for distribution, so there are no surprises and you know exactly what Idaho is trying to do,” Yost said. “Are we asking for action? No. Action will occur in the proper forum.”

The plan also assures the region that, according to the 1999 water supply outlook, natural flows in the Snake River basin will be able to meet Idaho’s recommendations for spring migrants and the plan says that the above-normal forecast “provides a high probability of refill for the Bureau of Reclamation delivery from storage of 427,000 acre-feet of water for salmon migration flows.”

However, state Rep. Charles Cuddy of Orofino, believes a management plan that has been in place for most of 1999 didn’t consider Idaho’s recommendations soon enough. In a June 2, 1999, letter to Brian Brown, National Marine Fisheries Service assistant regional administrator for hydro, Cuddy wonders why, with so much water available from snowpack this year, his constituents who use the Dworshak Reservoir for recreation must suffer.

“Obviously the water management plans for Idaho and particularly Dworshak Reservoir has been in place since early 1999 and consideration of Idaho’s plan should have taken place quite some time ago,” Cuddy wrote in the letter.

He said the snowpack in the Clearwater River basin is 140 percent of normal, yet the pool is drawn down to the point where recreation facilities, such as docks, are left high and dry and the pool is not scheduled to fill this year.

Idaho’s plan suggests filling Dworshak Reservoir by June 1, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates the pool level won’t peak until about July 8, when it will reach an elevation of 1,592.99 feet, more than seven feet below maximum.

“With this quantity of available water I cannot understand why Dworshak Reservoir cannot be maintained at full pool at least from June through July,” Cuddy said. “At this point in time most of the recreational facilities remain unused as all but one launch ramp is out of service.”

Writing about two particular recreational areas constructed by the federal government, but now operated by Idaho, Cuddy said, “Federal dam operational changes have reduced these areas to minimal and/or no significant use due to excessive draw down levels substantially beyond facility and original operational design.” He also complained that, when drawing the pool down, no consideration is given to resident species, such as cutthroat trout and bull trout.

He further questioned whether the demands on Idaho’s water and the “ever-increasing restrictions on land use in the name of habitat recovery,” which impact the state’s economy and recreation, when “there remains a fresh and salt-water commercial fishery for the species supposedly being protected.”

Cuddy concluded by wondering if any current salmon recovery plan is realistic.

In fact, one of Idaho’s recommendations calls for a reduction in harvest for fall chinook and steelhead until “recovery is secure.”

The report says that “Idaho is very concerned about mortality of adult salmon and steelhead during migration.” Recognizing these losses are due to several factors, including the hydrosystem, the cumulative impacts of harvest, and predators, the state lays out several considerations. They are:

Other considerations recommended by the report include:

Link information:
Idaho Governor’s Office:

By Mike O’Bryant
Idaho Offers River Recommendations
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 11, 1999

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