Feds Spell Out Proposals
by Bill Rudolph
A new federal analysis of summer spill options released at the January meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council supports an earlier council study that estimated trivial adverse impacts on ESA-listed fish from reducing BiOp-mandated spill levels at four federal dams.
And even better, members heard that costs to mitigate losses of other stocks, like the healthy and hard-fished Hanford Reach run, would only be a fraction of the amount saved by the spill reduction.
Cutting all spill in July and August could save the Bonneville Power Administration an average of $77 million annually, but was estimated to reduce numbers of returning adults by about 19,000 fish, less than 5 percent of the 11 stocks included in the analysis.
Most juvenile losses that translate into fewer returning adults would occur to upriver brights from the Hanford Reach, which were expected to dip to 195,000 from about 205,000 fish.
Since most ESA-listed Snake River fall chinook are barged, any change in spill regimes would have little effect. No spill in July and August would reduce their numbers by about 24 fish. (The estimate was made using a generous 2 percent smolt-to-adult return rate, about twice the rate seen in recent years for fall chinook).
Cutting spill in August alone could save ratepayers $42 million and reduce future adult numbers of all stocks by only 6,000 fish. The effect on the listed Snake fish would be minimal--only six fish were expected to be lost.
Another option calling for no spill at Ice Harbor Dam, no August spill at Bonneville Dam and 30 percent spill at John Day, was expected to save $54 million and reduce ESA Snake fall chinook numbers by only 12 fish over BiOp conditions. This, in turn, would reduce overall adult-equivalents by about 9,000 fish for all 11 stocks modeled.
Estimating Adult Returns
The collaborative effort between NOAA Fisheries, BPA, and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers marks the first time all three agencies have agreed to look beyond juvenile survival data and estimate adult returns. The modeling effort used a full range of smolt-to-adult returns [SARs] from 0.5 percent to 4 percent, which was plugged into five other spill scenarios that ranged from no summer spill to the full BiOp-spill option.
State and tribal fish agencies hadn't seen the federal analysis before the council meeting, and said nothing after the presentation. Staffers at the Columbia Basin Inter-Tribal Fish Commission had completed their own analysis using the same basic model [SIMPAS], and announced findings at a Jan. 15 meeting of the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority. They reported that ending summer spill Aug. 1 would reduce future adult fall chinook numbers between 652 and 9,673 for Snake, Hanford and Deschutes stocks, and would also adversely affect other basin salmon and lamprey as well.
However, to head off criticism by states and tribes, along with addressing previous concerns by some council members, the feds have developed a suite of potential offsets to make up for any fish losses.
To mitigate impacts to ESA-listed fish, the analysis showed that a smallmouth bass management program might add another 20 to 50 adult-equivalent fall chinook.
Other fish enhancement strategies included beefing up the pikeminnow predation program, which could add another 7,000 to 56,000 adults annually after being in place for eight years, and would cost another $1 million a year.
Another area with a large potential payoff is to further reduce flow fluctuations in the Hanford Reach during spring operations, a strategy that's already in place to boost fish survival. The feds estimate that 30 million fry could benefit from the action in 2004, which adds up to 50,000 more returning adults. The cost for such added protection was pegged at only $100,000.
Other potential offsets included paying harvesters a total of nearly $300,000 to reduce their catches, though politically that seems to be a long shot, especially since the spill-reduction proposal has already generated a negative response from the state of Alaska.
Boosting research into avian predation might ultimately save another half million young fall chinook a year for an annual outlay of $300,000. Removing 18,000 pilings at $70 apiece was also a potential offset. Such a strategy would remove perches for foraging cormorants.
Several million dollars could be earmarked for habitat improvement, though there was no quantitative benefit estimated for this activity.
BPA's Greg Delwiche said the spill proposals would be sent for discussion to the technical management team that governs weekly hydro operations at their Feb. 4 meeting, with more debate the following day by policy makers at the monthly Implementation Team meeting.
Corps of Engineers' spokesman Witt Anderson said the feds want regional input by the middle of February, pointing out the need to engage the states and tribes at "the highest levels" in order to get a final decision on the matter by early March.
Montana council member Ed Bartlett asked about progress on evaluating potential changes to operations at federal reservoirs in his state, which is part of the council's mandate to look at flow and spill regimes. NOAA representative John Palensky said the proposal was being reviewed by CPFWA's resident fish committee.
Utility folks seemed especially pleased with the direction of the latest spill analyses. Scott Corwin, representing the Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative, said the proposal indicates "we're entering a new era of salmon recovery," one that's based on performance rather than prescriptive rules.
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