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Regional Managers Discuss
Reduced Spill Offset Details

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 11, 2004

The amended spill proposal released Tuesday (June 8) by the Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contains six offset measures that the agencies say will mitigate for juvenile salmon losses in 2004 caused by curtailing spill in July and August.

But many of the details for those measures have yet to be settled.

The measures will cost BPA about $9.7 million and, together with a $3.3 million payment to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Fish and Wildlife Program, will reduce the net revenue gained from the additional generation resulting from curtailed summer spill by $13 million.

BPA has set the generation value of the proposal at $33 to $44 million. That would be reduced by the offsets to $20 to $31 million.

The one offset measure proposed for 2004 that will specifically mitigate for threatened Snake River fall chinook is the purchase in July from Idaho Power an additional 100,000 acre feet of water from the utility's Brownlee Dam reservoir.

However, at a cost of $4 million, some are concerned that the purchase is buying water that Idaho Power would have released in July anyway or that the utility will refill the reservoir in August, leaving less water in the river during another critical summer month.

The impact of the reduced spill proposal to listed salmon has been estimated by NOAA Fisheries to be in the range of 143 to 943 juvenile fish, but the fisheries agency says those impacts can be mitigated solely by the additional water provided from Brownlee. BPA said that the $1.5 million enhanced pikeminnow program, while not specifically a mitigation measure for the Snake River salmon, will also offset from 271 to 597 fish lost when spill is curtailed.

"Based on the best available information regarding the estimated impacts, it appears that we can fully offset the impact to Snake River fall chinook with the Brownlee water," said BPA's Suzanne Cooper at this week's multi-agency Implementation Team meeting. "Also, the pikeminnow program will provide benefits to Snake River chinook, but that is not included in this proposal."

However, Tony Nigro of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that Idaho Power had released extra water in July over the past three years.

"If they normally do this, why all of a sudden not this year and, instead, force Bonneville to pay them to do it?" Nigro asked.

In 2001, 2002 and 2003, Idaho Power drafted the reservoir two to three feet between July 1 and July 31, said Jim Athearn of the Corps. The 100 kaf represents about seven feet of draft. "It seems like it should be 100 kaf on top of what has happened before," he said.

"If they've released 45 to 50 kaf in past years and this year they say they will give 100 kaf, it sounds like (with this offset) you are guaranteeing a change in operations of, maybe, 50 kaf?" Nigro said. "You could make the argument that what Bonneville is doing is purchasing the certainty it will happen irrespective of what their plans are."

"They were planning on keeping the reservoir full, pass inflow and not draft," Cooper said of the operation plans Idaho Power had shared with BPA as they negotiated the agreement. "We can track whether the water comes down and we are trying to get more information from Idaho Power."

In addition, she said, the understanding in the negotiation with Idaho Power is that there would be no refill of the reservoir during the migration period. However, she wasn't certain when and if refill would occur, nor how Idaho Power might shape the July releases from Brownlee Dam.

The new spill plan would also impact 130,000 to 742,000 unlisted salmon. Those losses would be offset by:

Cooper said the impact analysis for nonlisted fish has not been adjusted for the amended spill proposal and is the same analysis BPA and the Corps had completed for the original March 30 proposal that curtailed spill by 55 percent. The amended proposal reduced the curtailment to a 39 percent reduction in summer spill.

"These impacts are an overstatement and applies to the original proposal," Cooper said. "So, this is a somewhat conservative approach."

She also said BPA has yet to decide how the $2 million for hatchery improvements and the $2 million for habitat projects would be spent, but that the intention is to target individual impacted salmon runs.

"We received a bunch of individual proposals and we do not want to prejudge any," Cooper said. "The $2 million for each is roughly the estimation of the sum of these proposals." She added that the sum of the proposals was about $6 million, but that was for the original spill proposal, which was a three-year plan.

The $3.3 million payment that will go to the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program in 2005 is not technically a mitigation offset, Cooper said. Again, the $3.3 million is roughly one-third of that in the original spill proposal, which was $10 million, but the money will not be subject to the criteria that it should be used for impacted stocks.

"Really, this is an offset to help cover the cost of the transition to different budgeting methods," Cooper said.

"It looks like it would just help prevent programs that were to be cut from being cut," said John Palensky of NOAA Fisheries.

BPA and the Corps have asked for public comments by the close of business, Monday, June 14. The federal agencies will meet with Northwest tribes Monday morning and with states and tribes Monday afternoon at a meeting at the Embassy Suites, Airport, that starts at 1 p.m.

The agencies' top regional executives will send a final proposal to NOAA Fisheries for its approval by Friday, June 18, and the fisheries agency will issue a findings letter by the end of June, according to Jim Ruff of NOAA.

The Corps, which is the agency ultimately responsible for implementing the curtailed spill plan, would issue a Record of Decision just after the July 4 holiday weekend, Athearn said. Once that is done, the ROD goes to the Judge James A. Redden of Oregon's U.S. District Court for review before it is implemented. The federal agencies are committed to that review, he said.

Related Sites:
Amended summer spill proposal:

Mike O'Bryant
Regional Managers Discuss Reduced Spill Offset Details
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 11, 2004

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