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Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Bulletin


Table of Contents

* 'Early Bird' Basin Water Supply Forecast For Spring, Summer Shows Below Average

* Mid-Columbia Coho Restoration Program Showing Fish Returns 'Beyond Expectation'

* Refined Forecasts Show 2010 Could See Record Return Of Wild Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook

* Increased Efforts To Reduce Bird Predation At Mid-Columbia Dams Help Achieve Fish Survival Standards

* Study: New Acoustic Tag System Tracks Salmon Survival, Migration More Precisely Than PIT-Tags

* Agencies Take Further Steps On Assessing Proposed Gas Terminal's Impacts On Columbia Salmon, Steelhead

* Study Looks At How Glacial Watersheds Contribute To Marine Food Webs

* ODFW Reporting Strong Winter Steelhead Runs On Coast, Sandy, Clackamas, Willamette Rivers

* Are There Times When Restoring Natural Water Flows Can Cause Ecological Harm?

* Draft Plan Released To Remove Black Slag From Upper Columbia River Beach

* Group Agrees To Move Forward On Plan To Address Yakima Basin Water, Fish Issues


* 'Early Bird' Basin Water Supply Forecast For Spring, Summer Shows Below Average

Hydro system and fish managers are praying for rain and snow after hearing the season's initial monthly "early bird" forecast, which predicts that the water supply gushing from mountain snowpacks this spring and summer will be much less than the historic average across the Columbia-Snake river basin.

The Dec. 31 forecast from the Northwest River Forecast Center "is, generally speaking, below normal across the board," Steve Barton of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told other members of the Technical Management Team Wednesday.

The Corps and Bureau of Reclamation operate the dams in the Federal Columbia River Power System to produce power, facilitate navigation and irrigation and make sure fish can get up and down the rivers in as good condition as possible. Those fish operations include such things as spilling water to provide fish passage and augmenting flows by releasing water from reservoirs during key periods of fish migration.

The TMT's federal, state and tribal members meet to discuss how the federal hydro system might be tailored, sometimes day-to-day, to improve conditions for salmon and steelhead stocks that migrate through the system. A total of 13 of those stocks are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

A below-normal water supply likely would make hydro operational decisions tougher because of the many demands on the system.

The National Weather Service's NWRFC said in its early bird forecast that the most likely scenario would be that 89.3 million acre feet of water will flow past The Dalles Dam on the lower Columbia between January and July. All of the water from the Snake River basin and the upper Columbia funnels through The Dalles on its way toward the Pacific Ocean.

That would be 83 percent of the average annual flow for the period 1971 through 2000 and the 12th lowest volume in the past 50 years.

The Dec. 31 forecast was produced using observed precipitation totals through the Dec. 28 and assuming future precipitation will be normal. The early bird is the first of three forecasts produced each month during the winter and spring by the NWRFC.

A more complex analysis will be undertaken to produce a "final" monthly forecast that is due today (Jan. 8).

The strength of the early season snowpack is in the north in the upper Columbia in British Columbia and western Montana where the snow-water equivalent to-date is generally in the 80s and 90s as a percent of average with a handful of readings above normal. The early bird predicts runoff past Grand Coulee Dam in central Washington at 89 percent of normal (56.1 MAF). Grand Coulee passes water from that upper Columbia region.

"In the mountains of central Idaho it becomes bleaker," Barton said of the snowpack building in the upper Snake River region so far this winter. The early bird forecast predicts runoff this year past Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake will be 76 percent of average (22.7 MAF).

The forecasted flows into the reservoir behind west central Idaho's Dworshak Dam - a key provider of cool flow augmentation in summer for fish - are 84 percent of average this year, according to the early bird. The dam is on the North Fork of the Clearwater River. 
A forecast being produced by the Corps, which operates the dam, is likely to be lower, in the low 60s, the Corps' Steve Hall told TMT.

"Things aren't looking very good for Dworshak," Hall said.

Prospects are better for another important storage reservoir, Lake Koocanusa above Libby Dam in northwest Montana. The early bird forecasts inflows there at 88 percent of average.

Lower than normal wintertime precipitation in the Northwest was predicted this year, largely because of abnormally high sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific - a sign that "El Nino" conditions will hold sway. The El Nino/Southern Oscillation is a climatic condition that can develop in two forms -- warm phase (El Nino) and a cold phase (La Nina). Each generally lasts from 6 to 18 months.

El Nino conditions can affect weather around the globe and generally tip the odds toward drier winters in the Pacific Northwest. In that condition, high pressure ridges build offshore to shunt storms to the north and south of the region.

The latest three-month precipitation forecast from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center says that there is a greater than 40 percent chance of below normal precipitation in northern Idaho, and north-central and northeastern Washington; a greater than 33 percent chance of the same in central Idaho, the Olympic Peninsula and southern portions of Washington, and northern Oregon; and an equal chance of below normal, normal, or above normal precipitation in the southern latitudes of Oregon and Idaho.

Positive (higher than normal) sea surface temperature anomalies have persisted in the equatorial east-central Pacific since June and, "based on current observations and dynamical model forecasts, El Niño is expected to last at least into the Northern Hemisphere spring 2010," according to a Monday CPC update.

Kyle Dittmer of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission told TMT participants that the most recent days' data shows those elevated SSTs may be "weakening ever so slightly." But a gradual weakening from peak El Nino conditions observed recently gradual change in clmatic conditions.

"If we're looking for a water miracle, we're not seeing it," Dittmer said of a sudden disappearance of El Nino. He did hold out hope that the El Nino conditions would disintegrate more quickly than is now estimated and possibly open the door to springtime snow storms at high elevations.

Water supply forecasters always issue early season predictions with numerous caveats. Typically only a small percentage of the season's snowpack is accumulated by Jan. 1 so on-the-ground conditions could change drastically if storm systems buck the El Nino odds and continue to bore through the Northwest in January, February and March.

November precipitation was 64 percent of normal in the area of the Columbia River basin above Grand Coulee Dam, 49 percent of normal in the Snake River basin above Ice Harbor Dam and 65 percent of normal above The Dalles, and from Dec. 1 through Dec. 28, all of the 26 subbasins or groups of subbasins evaluated by the NWRFC had below average precipitation. The east slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Washington experienced only 39 percent of its average precipitation in December, which normally is one of the year's wettest months.

A storm or two this early in the season can change snowpack snow-water equivalent percentages drastically.

As an example, a relatively weepy early January changed the percent in Montana mountains that feed the Kootenai River from 78 percent of average on Dec. 29 to 86 percent of average on Jan. 6. Montana's Flathead River drainage had its snow-water equivalent jump from 82 percent to 94 percent during that eight-day period.

And the year's first storms touched all parts of the Columbia basin. Central Oregon's Deschutes, Crooked, John Day river percentages climbed from 69 percent to 79 percent of normal snow-water equivalent, northeast Oregon's Grande Ronde from 76 to 89 percent, southwest Idaho's Weiser, Payette and Boise river snow-water equivalents from 63 percent of normal to 76 percent and central Washington's Yakima, Ahtanum drainages from 79 to 87 percent and Chelan, Entiat and Wenatchee drainages from 77 percent to 88 percent.


* Mid-Columbia Coho Restoration Program Showing Fish Returns 'Beyond Expectation'

Coho salmon that once called mid-Columbia River tributaries home were decimated in the early 1900s.

And pre-1990s attempts to rekindle populations with hatchery programs were ended because of a failure to produce adequate adult returns.

But one of the latest attempts, led by the Yakama Nation, is showing signs of not only succeeding, but of creating self-sustaining natural populations like those that once flourished in the region.

This past late summer and fall set a modern-day record for coho returns headed to the middle and upper Columbia River, where once there were none. Ten years ago, 12 adult coho returned past Rock Island Dam near Wenatchee, Wash. And that followed a six-year stretch during which only 30 coho, total, climbed Rock Island's fish ladders.

But, in 2000 (1,624 coho counted) and 2001 (10,465), returns began to show the benefits of the YN's Mid-Columbia Coho Restoration Project, which was launched in 1996. Since then the counts have, for the most part, been on the rise.

In 2009 a total of 19,805 coho passed the dam. That was the most ever since counts began in 1977. The previous record was 16,604 in 2007, according to data posted by the Fish Passage Center. Prior to 2001, the highest count had been 1,624 in 1982.

Rock Island is the seventh dam the coho hurdle on their return to the Wenatchee and Methow river basins where the tribal restoration plan is focused. The program is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, Chelan County Public Utility District, Grant County Public Utility District and NOAA-Fisheries.

"It's gone beyond our expectations," the Yakama Nation's Tom Scribner said of the growing returns and the progress toward developing local broodstock and, ultimately, shutting down the hatchery program when naturally producing populations have become entrenched.

The program is designed to be terminated when a self-sustaining naturally reproducing population is established (natural-origin return escapement of more than 1,500 coho to each subbasin with enough fish available to allow terminal and mainstem harvests in most years). Those involved believe that goal can be reached when coho of hatchery origin have produced five generations in the wild (by approximately 2026).

Scribner, the project manager, said that already a third generation of fish has returned to the Wenatchee to spawn.

The program was started with hatchery-bred fish from the lower Columbia, since no local coho adapted to the mid- Columbia remained.

The early years of the program - when it was called the Mid-Columbia Coho Reintroduction Feasibility Study -- were used to determine whether lower river stocks, some of which had been hatchery bound for many generations, had the stamina to make the long trip upstream and spawn successfully.

"There was a question whether it was really possible to do this so far above the dams," said Roy Beaty, BPA's project manager for upper Columbia coho restoration. "We really didn't know whether the fish could swim that far."

The coho are still hatched and reared elsewhere, but by 2006 the program had reached the point that 100 percent of the coho smolts released in both basins were the progeny of second-generation mid-Columbia broodstock that returned to spawn in the wild.

"We knew how important it was to develop a local broodstock," Scribner said.

About 1.1 million coho smolts are transferred from Willard National Fish hatchery and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Cascade Hatchery annually for acclimation at multiple locations in the Wenatchee area, including Leavenworth Hatchery, Winthrop, Rolfing Pond, Beaver Creek acclimation pond and Coulter pond. A unique feature of the ponds is that they are semi-natural, taking advantage of off-channel backwaters.

The adaptation -- making the switch from a lower river hatchery lifestyle to one that starts and finishes in the wild -- is taking place before the biologists' eyes. Scribner said the egg-to-smolt, and smolt-to-adult return survival data from the second generation spawners is comparable to other steelhead and chinook supplementation programs in the mid-Columbia region, many of which now rely on local-origin broodstock.

"It's looking very good. We're comparable to other programs up there," Scribner said.

Mid-Columbia coho salmon populations were decimated in the early 1900s as a result of the construction of impassable dams, harmful forestry practices and unscreened irrigation diversions in the tributaries, along with an extremely high harvest rate in the lower Columbia River, according to the a project description.

The loss of natural stream flow degraded habitat quality and further reduced coho productivity. Over the years, irrigation, livestock grazing, mining, timber harvest, road and railroad construction, development, and fire management also contributed to destruction of salmon habitat.

By the end of the 20th century, no indigenous, natural coho salmon, and very few hatchery fish, remained. A Turtle Rock Hatchery program, which annually produced about 600,000 coho smolts, was terminated in 1994 because of poor returns.

Self-sustaining coho populations were not established in mid-Columbia basins despite plantings of 46 million fry, fingerlings, and smolts from Leavenworth, Entiat, and Winthrop National fish hatcheries between 1942 and 1975.

The failures in part were due to hatchery rearing at high densities in concrete raceways, an incomplete understanding of fish health and nutritional needs, the use of water supplies with unnatural temperature profiles, and unacclimated, non-volitional releases directly from hatcheries into the wild environment produced smolts with low survival rates, Yakama Nation biologists reasoned.

The Yakama program aims to remedy two of the suspected causes of the failures - the absence of locally adapted broodstock and in-basin habitat degradation. The reintroduction program is being carried out in parallel with habitat restoration efforts by the tribe and others.
Upriver coho did not receive protection under the Endangered Species Act, since none were left to protect. That left earlier coho programs as lower priority than programs for other salmonid species.

"Coho are a kind of Rodney Dangerfield of the Columbia River anadromous fish world -- they don't get much respect," said Nancy Weintraub, a BPA project manager who works on coho. "It's great to see them succeed."


* Refined Forecasts Show 2010 Could See Record Return Of Wild Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook

Fishery officials are refining their run-size forecasts for components of this year's return of spring chinook salmon to the Columbia-Snake river basin with the updates repeating the same refrain, "2010 should be a very good year."

Federal, state and tribal officials continue to breakdown their early December forecast of an overall spring chinook salmon return to the mouth of the Columbia of 559,900 adult fish. That estimate includes 470,000 upriver spring chinook, which would break the record of 439,885 set in 2001. Upriver spring chinook are fish headed for hatcheries and spawning grounds above Bonneville Dam, which is located about 45 river miles upstream of Portland and 146 mile from the river mouth.

The upriver prediction for 2010 is for a return of 272,000 Snake River spring/summer chinook, including 73,400 "wild" fish. That would be the biggest wild return dating back to at least 1980. The return in 2001, 60,437, now stands as the record.

The 2010 upriver spring chinook forecast also includes a 57,300-fish Upper Columbia estimate that has a 5,700-fish wild component.

The wild Snake River spring/summer and Upper Columbia spring chinook stocks are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Just before Christmas the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released estimates of the 2010 spring chinook returns to Washington tributaries that feed into the Columbia in the Bonneville Pool. Like other stock estimates, the targets there are set high, based in large part on 2009 returns of "jacks." Jacks are 3-year-old fish that mature precociously and return to freshwater after only one year in the ocean to attempt spawning.

The size of the jack return in one year has long been considered a strong sign of the return size of 4-year-old fish the next year. But in recent years that relationship seems to have broken down, and served to foul run-size forecasts. In 4 of the past 6 years preseason forecasts have overestimated the adult return by an average of 45 percent. Last year the forecast was for a return of 298,900 adult upriver spring chinook to the mouth of the Columbia River; the actual return fell short by nearly 130,000 fish.

The run-size forecasts are used by managers in setting sport and commercial fisheries on the mainstem.

So this year several new statistical models were explored to predict Wind River and Drano Lake returns for 2010, according to WDFW.

The 2010 preseason forecast is for a return of 28,900 adult spring chinook to Drano Lake and the Little White Salmon River. That would be the largest since at least 1970. The largest return to-date was 17,600 in 2002.

Last year's return included 3,150 jacks, which was the largest since at least 1970 and 470 percent greater than the previous high of 664 in 1976. The actual adult return in 2009 was 10,700, slightly greater than the preseason forecast of 9,600.

The preseason forecast is for a return of 14,000 adult spring chinook this year to the Wind River. That would be the largest return since 2003 and more than 300 percent greater than the recent 5-year average.

The 2009 jack return to the Wind River was 1,200, the second highest total since at least 1970. The record is 1,500 in 1971. The adult return last year was 4,650 as compared to a preseason forecst of 6,900.

A return of 4,500 adult spring chinook is forecast this year for the Klickitat River. That would be the second largest since at least 1977. The largest return was 5,250 fish in 1989, but it included 4,100 4-year-old Carson stock adults. The 2010 return will be composed entirely of Klickitat fish.

In 2009 the adult return to the Klickitat totaled 1,500 as compared to the preseason forecast of 2,000. The return also included 1,250 jacks, the second highest total sicne at least 1977. The highest total was 2,900 in 1979.

Fishery officials are now at work developing 2010 preseason forecasts for upriver steelhead stocks, which will likely be available later this month. Fall chinook and coho preseason forecasts will be completed in February.


* Increased Efforts To Reduce Bird Predation At Mid-Columbia Dams Help Achieve Fish Survival Standards

The covering of bird predation hot spots with wire arrays and launching of an intensified hazing effort in combination appears to have dissuaded Caspian terns and gulls from congregating below the mid-Columbia River's Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams to feed on migrating juvenile sockeye salmon, according data compiled last year by Grant County Public Utility District researchers.

The 2009 effort did double duty, helping achieve a 95 percent salmon survival standard for each dam while also allowing biologists to better evaluate the fish mortality resulting from passage through the "concrete."

Data collected from early May through July last year showed that steelhead survival at Priest Rapids Dam was 95.36 percent, a big improvement from the 91.55 percent rate in 2008. Sockeye survival jumped from 85.71 percent in 2008 to 95.16 percent last year, according to preliminary data presented by Grant PUD biologist Behr Turner during the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' "Anadromous Fish Evaluation Program annual Review 2009" Dec. 1-3 in Walla Walla, Wash. The review each year features presentations by scientists from universities, research laboratories, agencies, utilities and others engaged in research aimed at improving passage conditions for fish.

What was the most obvious difference between the two years at Priest Rapids? A wire array was built in September 2008 that fanned out across the top-spill configuration that became operational in 2006 to provide fish with a more surface-oriented route downstream. And the hazing of feeding birds was started earlier in the season and continued later in 2009 as compared to past years. The number of hazing days and hazing hours per day was also increased.

Surface-oriented bypass installed elsewhere in the Columbia River basin seems to achieve 95 percent survival or better routinely.

"But we were nowhere close to that. The birds were really hammering them," Turner said. The research he previewed in Walla Walla is aimed at separating the wheat (operational and capital adjustments made to improve survivals) from the chaff (avian predator-caused mortality in the area just below the dam).

"At Priest Rapids Dam, it was hypothesized that avian predation between the downriver control group release site and the dam was superimposing additional mortality upon the concrete smolt survival estimates and could explain why survival estimates were not achieving the expected 95 percent survival standard," according to Turner's study abstract.

The theory was that birds were eating up the hard fought gains of recent years. Grant PUD, which owns the dams, has in recent years installed fish-friendly turbines, completed a fish bypass system, operated turbines within ranges that yield the greatest smolt survival and annually works to improve programs to address predation on smolts by northern pikeminnow and birds.

Much of the work is driven by a settlement agreement signed by the federal government, the state and tribes and by a 2008 Endangered Species Act "biological opinion" issued by the NOAA Fisheries Service that judges the dams' impacts on listed Upper Columbia River spring chinook and steelhead. Both were developed as part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process for considering whether it would renew the dams' operating license.

"There's been a lot going on at these two dams. We're in a period of rapid change," Turner said. "We're learning things every year and tweaking things" to try boost survival of both outmigrating juvenile fish and returning adults.

Observations indicated that most avian predators concentrated their foraging efforts below the new passage devices - the Priest Rapids top-spill bulkhead discharge and the Wanapum Future Unit Fish Bypass discharge (a 290-foot-long "fish slide" that delivers fish from the forebay to the tailrace in 20,000 cubic feet per second of water), as well as where spill discharge merged with the powerhouse discharge.

The gulls are opportunists. They have learned that some of the young fish are a bit confused when they exit the passage devices. "They take fish when they are disoriented" and easy pickings, Turner said.

Before the 2009 migration season the areas were covered with arrays, sets of wires strung from the shoreline up to points all along the face of the dams.

And efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services workers were stepped up, with hazing beginning earlier than ever before to assure that birds would not settle in, become habituated. The Wildlife Services hazers went on a seven-day-per-week schedule and moved to a double shift. The USDA arm is contracted to implement annual avian predator control and to collect data to evaluate the effectiveness of avian control measures.

Fewer fish were eaten in the Priest Rapids tailrace most likely because few birds remained in the area in the face of the predator control efforts. The preliminary data shows that there was a 77 percent drop in the number of birds hazed within the Priest Rapids Dam tailrace between 2008 (13,468) and 2009 (3,072). The average number of birds hazed per hour also decreased from 17.7 in 2008 to 3.7 in 2009.

"We just didn't let them get established," Turner said.

"It appears there was minimal gull consumption of sockeye and steelhead smolts within the Priest Rapids Dam tailrace in 2009," the study abstract says.

The formula appears to have worked.

"That's what we're going to continue" to do while also looking for other ways to improve fish survival, Turner said.

Grant PUD achieved the required survival standard for ESA-listed spring-run chinook for three consecutive study years (2003-2005), as required by the BiOp.


* Study: New Acoustic Tag System Tracks Salmon Survival, Migration More Precisely Than PIT-Tags

A new acoustic telemetry system tracks the migration of juvenile salmon using one-tenth as many fish as comparable methods, suggests a paper published in the January edition of the American Fisheries Society journal Fisheries.

The paper also explains how the system is best suited for deep, fast-moving rivers and can detect fish movement in more places than other tracking methods.

The Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System estimated the survival of young, ocean-bound salmon more precisely than the widely used Passive Integrated Transponder tags during a 2008 study on the Columbia and Snake rivers, according to the results of a case study discussed in the paper. The paper also concludes that fish behavior is affected least by lightweight JSATS tags compared to larger acoustic tags.

"Fisheries managers and researchers have many technologies to choose from when they study fish migration and survival," said lead author Geoff McMichael of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

"JSATS was specifically designed to understand juvenile salmon passage and survival through the swift currents and noisy hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River," McMichael said. "But other systems might work better in different circumstances. This paper demonstrates JSATS' strengths and helps researchers weigh the pros and cons of the different fish tracking methods available today."

Scientists at PNNL and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Portland District co-authored the paper. PNNL and NOAA Fisheries began developing JSATS for the Corps in 2001.

JSATS is an acoustic telemetry system that includes the smallest available acoustic transmitting tag, which weighs 0.43 grams. Its battery-powered tags are surgically implanted into juvenile salmon and send a uniquely coded signal every few seconds. Receivers are strategically placed in waterways to record the signal and track when and where tagged fish travel. A computer system also calculates the precise 3-D position of tagged fish using data gathered by the receivers.

PIT tags are also implanted into juvenile salmon for migration and survival studies, but don't use batteries to actively transmit signals. Instead, PIT tags send signals when they become energized while passing by PIT transceiver antennas.

For the paper's case study, researchers implanted 4,140 juvenile chinook salmon with both JSATS and PIT tags. They also placed just PIT tags inside another 48,433 juveniles. All of the case study's tagged fish were released downstream of Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River in April and May 2008.

A significantly greater percentage of JSATS tags were detected than PIT tags, the case study demonstrated. For example, about 98 percent of JSATS-tagged fish were detected at Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River. About 13 percent of PIT-tagged fish were detected in the same stretch of river. As a result, studies using JSATS require using roughly one-tenth as many fish as those employing PIT tags, which helps further conserve the salmon population.

Survival estimates were similar between JSATS and PIT tags. Forty-eight percent of the JSATS-tagged fish were estimated to have survived migration between Lower Granite Dam and Bonneville Dam, which is the last dam on the Columbia before the Pacific Ocean. For PIT-tagged fish, 43 percent were estimated to have reached the same area.

Having flexibility in where receivers can be placed is advantageous, the authors reported. JSATS receivers can be located in both rivers and dams, while PIT antennas usually can only go inside fish bypasses at dams. Researchers can estimate fish survival for an entire river system when receivers are placed in more locations, the paper explains.

The team also compared JSATS' technical features with those of another acoustic telemetry system, the VEMCO system being used for the Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking project along North America's West Coast. The VEMCO system is best suited for use in the slow-moving, open ocean when observing small numbers of large fish, the authors wrote. In contrast, JSATS was developed to study the migration of larger quantities of small juvenile fish in fast-moving rivers.

A key difference between the JSATS and VEMCO systems is dry tag weight. JSATS tags weigh 0.43 grams and are the smallest acoustic tags available. VEMCO tags that have been used in Columbia River juvenile salmon weighed 3.1 grams. Previous research shows fish can bear a tag that weighs up to 6.7 percent of their body weight without significant adverse survival effects. That means JSATS tags can be implanted into fish as light as 6.5 grams, while VEMCO tags should be used in fish that weigh no less than 46.3 grams.

Another advantage of JSATS is that it is non-proprietary and available for anyone to manufacture or use. Because several companies have been able to competitively bid for the opportunity to produce the system's components, its cost has dropped in recent years. JSATS tags, for example, have gone from $300 per tag in 2005 to $215 in 2008. And JSATS tags cost $40 to $135 less than other commercially available acoustic tags in 2008. Proprietary interests have hindered the development of acoustic telemetry equipment in certain areas, the team wrote.

"JSATS has helped us get a clearer, more complete picture of how salmon migrate and survive through the Columbia and Snake rivers to the Pacific Ocean," McMichael said. "But we're continuing to develop JSATS and hope others will find it useful in studies of other aquatic animals. There's an opportunity for all aquatic telemetry technologies to be improved."

"The Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System: A New Tool." Fisheries, Vol. 35, No. 1, January 2010. The report starts on page 9 of the full January issue, which is online at

More JSATS information is available online at http://jsats.pnl.gov


* Agencies Take Further Steps On Assessing Proposed Gas Terminal's Impacts On Columbia Salmon, Steelhead

The clock is expected to start ticking soon on NOAA Fisheries Service's process for evaluating whether the construction and operation of a liquefied natural gas terminal in the lower river would jeopardize the survival of 13 Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The proposal to build the LNG terminal and associated pipeline has been debated by federal, state and tribal entities, environmental groups, business interests and others ever since the Bradwood Landing site in Oregon was selected in 2004 by Texas-based NorthernStar Natural Gas.

The debate -- centered on potential environmental consequences and economic benefits - have continued through a federal licensing process, and spilled into federal appellate court.

The two federal entities charged with assuring that the project won't hinder salmon recovery remain a bit out of sync, but they have reached the stage where they agree that official ESA "consultation" can begin to develop a biological opinion that will judge whether it would jeopardize species survival.

A "jeopardy" opinion could stall, or even thwart, the project.

BiOps are required to evaluate the effect of federal "actions" on listed species. In this case the action in question is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's September 2008 conditional approval of the federal license needed to proceed with the Bradwood Landing project.

FERC acknowledged concerns about whether the region needs such an additional gas supply and about its potential environmental impacts that had been expressed by state and local government agencies, public officials, non-governmental organizations and members of the public. But it says those concerns were addressed in the FERC staff environmental impact statement completed in June 2008.

The commission gave the companies three years to satisfy some 109 "conditions" for approval and complete construction.

Construction on the proposed terminal and pipeline, which the company wanted begin in 2009, cannot start until all project conditions have been satisfied, including the receipt of state permits for clean air, clean water and coastal zone management, the FERC conditions say.

In addition, the NOAA Fisheries Service must complete the ESA consultation process and issue a BiOp before on-the-ground work can begin, FERC said.

NOAA Fisheries had said before, and since, completion of the EIS and associated biological assessment that it did have enough environmental data to complete a BiOp. The EIS was completed based on information included in the BA produced by the company that includes more than 5,000 pages of technical information.

The EIS evaluates impacts to geology; soils and sediments; water use and quality; wetlands; vegetation; wildlife and aquatic resources; threatened, endangered, and special-status species; land use, recreation, and visual resources; cultural resources; socioeconomics and traffic; air quality and noise; reliability and safety; and cumulative effects.

An initial EIS was completed in March 2007 but NOAA Fisheries responded in May of that year by saying it needed more information. The environmental document was then supplemented and resubmitted last year along with a second request to initiate consultation.

NOAA Fisheries responded to the June 2009 BA with a 35-page letter on Nov. 16 that said the document "is not sufficiently complete to initiate formal consultation.." It outlined the information that was needed.

After meetings Dec. 7-8, the two federal agencies decided to officially launch consultation. But they appear to have made different conclusions about when it would commence, and how long it will take to produce a BiOp.

The Dec. 30 letter from FERC said that during the December meeting it had "reported that the vast majority of the requested material is already contained in the revised BA/EFH Assessment, and that certain other information cannot reasonably be developed or obtained during the scope of the consultation and therefore, will not be provided. To assist the NMFS in its review, we agreed to provide written guidance for locating the requested material in the revised BA/EFH Assessment and identifying those items that cannot be provided."

That written guidance was also made available online Dec. 30. The FERC letter also said "we understand that the NMFS agreed to initiate formal consultation as of December 8, 2009." and that the process would be completed by March 8.

The fisheries agency, on the other hand, said that it would begin preliminary work, such as developing a project description, in December but not officially initiate consultation until the additional guidance was in hand in its Portland offices.

"We've been very straightforward," said Cathy Tortorici, NOAA Fisheries Oregon Coast/ Lower Columbia Habitat Branch chief. As of early this week she said she had not yet seen a hard copy of the FERC request and guidance.

NOAA's Nov. 16 letter to FERC said that "the formal consultation process for the project will not begin until we receive all of the information, or a statement explaining why that information cannot be made available."

The ESA says that NOAA should issue a biological opinion within 135 days from initiation of formal consultation (45 days after the 90-day formal consultation period). But in some cases that deadline is relaxed.

"It could take longer than 135 days" because of the complexity of the issues involved, Tortorici said. Her staff is working to develop a timeline for completing the BiOp.

Meanwhile, legal arguments regarding the proposal will begin to take shape this month in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where the states of Oregon and Washington, NOAA Fisheries and Columbia Riverkeeper have filed petitions asking that the court order FERC to reconsider its decision. The deadline for filing opening briefs is Jan. 25.

NorthernStar Natural Gas proposes to build a LNG receiving terminal at Bradwood Landing on 55 acres of a 420-acre site located at approximately river mile 38 between Astoria and Clatskanie on the Columbia River. The facility will be designed to have a peak sendout capacity of 1.3 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas.

Bradwood Landing would include a single berth to accommodate one to two ships each week, two storage tanks (with permitting for a third should the market demand it) and a re-gasification building to convert the liquefied natural gas back into natural gas. The sendout pipeline would stretch nearly 19 miles upriver, cross the Columbia and run 17 more miles to Kelso, Wash.

The company admits that protected salmon stocks would be adversely by the construction and operation terminal, but says a proposed mitigation package would largely balance the biological ledger, according to BA.

The purpose of the Bradwood Landing Project is to import natural gas to the Pacific Northwest. LNG is natural gas that has been turned into a liquid state by cooling it to about minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce its volume for transport in specially designed carriers some distance across oceans from its point of origin to the proposed LNG import terminal.

Columbia Riverkeeper has been is strident in its opposition to the proposal, saying it would involve dredging 700,000 cubic feet of sediment from the Columbia River, creating a large hole in a critical salmon rearing, migration and fishing area.

They say it would also remove over a billion gallons of Columbia River water (along with thousands of juvenile salmon) a year to use as dead weight in the ballast tanks of outgoing LNG tankers. Riverkeeper's mission is to "restore and protect the water quality of the Columbia River and all life connected to it, from the headwaters to the Pacific Ocean."

The company says Bradwood's mitigation plan far exceeds state and federal requirements.

The company has promised to spend $59 million through its Salmon Enhancement Initiative to improve watershed health on the Lower Columbia River. NorthernStar says the mitigation measures would improve salmon survival by 1.77 million juvenile fish per year.

The mitigation aims to restore formerly diked wetlands, rehabilitate wildlife habitat, reshape former agricultural lands into high value shallow water salmon habitat, and rebuild lower Columbia River wetland and estuary areas.


* Study Looks At How Glacial Watersheds Contribute To Marine Food Webs

A study recently completed in the gulf coast of Alaska by federal and university researchers has found that as glacial ice disappears, the production and export of high-quality food from glacial watersheds to marine ecosystems may disappear too. This trend could have serious consequences for marine food webs.

The study, "Glaciers as a source of ancient and labile organic matter to the marine environment," was published in the Dec. 24, issue of the journal Nature.

The research, which was conducted on 11 coastal watersheds in the Gulf of Alaska, has documented an interesting paradox with important implications for coastal ecosystems.

"Glacial watersheds comprise 30 percent of the Tongass National Forest and supply about 35 to 40 percent of the stream discharge," says Rick Edwards, a coauthor on the study. "These watersheds export dissolved organic matter that is remarkably biologically active in contrast to that found in other rivers. Generally, scientists expect that organic matter decreases in its quality as a food source as it ages, becoming less and less active over time."

But the dissolved organic material discharged from the glacial watersheds in this study was almost 4,000 years old; yet surprisingly, more than 66 percent of it was rapidly metabolized by marine microbes into living biomass to support marine food webs, adds Edwards.

The study was conducted by Eran Hood, University of Alaska Southeast; Jason Fellman, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Robert Spencer and Peter Hernes, University of California Davis; Rick Edwards and David D'Amore, Pacific Northwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service; and Durelle Scott, Virginia Tech.

Edwards and D'Amore partnered with their university colleagues to characterize the dominant types of watersheds and variables that control the volume and chemistry of water flowing into the gulf. The study was led by Hood and Fellman, then a graduate student working in the PNW Research Station's Juneau Forestry Sciences Lab.

Rivers fringing the gulf coast of Alaska discharge as much water as the Mississippi River into a marine system that harbors the most productive salmon fishery in the world. As these rivers flow through the temperate rain forests on the coastal margin, they are influenced by vegetation, soils and wetlands, which control the amount and timing of carbon and nutrients delivered to the productive coastal ecosystems receiving that drainage.

"Understanding how these various watersheds respond to management activities and climate change is essential in mitigating the impacts of a warming climate on habitat quality within rivers and productivity within the adjacent marine ecosystem," explains Edwards.

"We don't currently have much information about how runoff from glaciers may be contributing to productivity in downstream marine ecosystems," said Hood. "This is a particularly critical question given the rate at which glaciers along the Gulf of Alaska are thinning and receding."

Highlights of the study include:

--- The greater the amount of glacier in the watershed, the older the dissolved organic matter and the more available it is to marine organisms.

--- These results support the hypotheses that microbial communities beneath the glaciers grow on soils and forests overrun by the glaciers during the Hypsithermal warm period (between 7,000-2,500 years ago). As they degrade the ancient material, they make new food from old carbon.

--- The quality of the dissolved organic matter is so high that 23 to 66 percent is used by marine micro-organisms and incorporated into food webs supporting higher organisms.

--- As glaciers recede and disappear, the input of this valuable food source will decrease with unknown impacts on productivity of marine food webs.

To read the entire article in Nature visit http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v462/n7276/full/nature08580.html

The Pacific Northwest Research Station is headquartered in Portland.  It has 11 laboratories and centers located in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington and about 425 employees.


* ODFW Reporting Strong Winter Steelhead Runs On Coast, Sandy, Clackamas, Willamette Rivers
The same conditions that led to a banner run of hatchery coho salmon last year appear to have had a similar effect beneficial to winter steelhead.

Several Northwest Region fish hatcheries operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife are reporting strong returns of winter steelhead. The good early winter steelhead returns come on the heels of a strong coho run last fall.

Biologists believe that good flows for outbound smolts in 2008, followed by favorable ocean conditions contributed to better than average survival rates for both runs of fish.

"We have a pile of steelhead showing up in some of these rivers," said Robert Bradley, assistant fish biologist for ODFW's North Coast Watershed District.

On the coast, early hatchery winter steelhead have provided good fishing opportunities in several streams. When angling conditions have been favorable, catches of early returning hatchery winter steelhead have generally been good. Large numbers of fish are still available in the river, as evidenced by increasing numbers of fish being collected at hatchery traps.

The North Fork Nehalem in particular has seen periods of very good fishing since mid-December. More than 1,000 returning adult hatchery winter steelhead have been trapped at Nehalem Hatchery so far this season.

The Necanicum River, Big Creek, Gnat Creek, Klaskanine River and Three Rivers (in the Nestucca River basin) are other streams offering good early season hatchery winter steelhead opportunities. Due to their smaller size, these streams tend to be in fishable condition more often, as they clear more quickly than larger streams.

"There will be lots of bright, chrome fish in these streams for the next two or three weeks," said Bradley. "In another month, most of the early returning hatchery winter steelhead will be gone, so we really encourage people to get out and take advantage of this opportunity while it lasts."

Farther inland, the Sandy and Clackamas rivers and Eagle Creek are seeing large returns, and ODFW's fish counting station at Willamette Falls is seeing some of its largest steelhead crossings in recent years, according to Todd Alsbury, district fish biologist for ODFW's North Willamette Watershed.


* Are There Times When Restoring Natural Water Flows Can Cause Ecological Harm?

Conservation projects often attempt to enhance the water-based transport of material, energy, and organisms in natural ecosystems. River restoration, for example, commonly includes boosting maximum flow rates.

Yet in some highly disturbed landscapes, restoration of natural water flows may cause more harm than good, according to a study published in the January 2010 issue of BioScience.

The study, by C. Rhett Jackson and Catherine M. Pringle of the University of Georgia, analyzes a wide variety of examples in which creating or maintaining reduced flows can create ecological benefits. The presence of nonnative fishes in a river, for example, can argue for maintaining the isolation of some habitats that are separated from the main channel, because the nonnative species may imperil naturally occurring species.

In other cases, novel vegetation that has grown up below a dam may be host to terrestrial animal populations, including endangered birds. Restoring natural water flows can lead to a change in the vegetation that is detrimental to the animals.

Awareness of the potential benefits of maintaining low "hydrologic connectivity" has extended to the creation of artificial barriers to protect species at risk. The endangered native greenback cutthroat trout, for example, is protected from nonnative brook trout moving upstream by the placement of small dams in stream headwaters in the Colorado River basin.

Expensive attempts are also being made to deter exotic nuisance species such as bighead carp and silver carp from invading Lake Michigan via the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Experts disagree on whether the multimillion-dollar electric dispersal barriers now being constructed on the canal will succeed, and some authorities have argued that only permanently disconnecting the canal will protect Lake Michigan.

Many urban streams represent particular challenges when attempts are made to restore natural flows. Expensive restoration efforts in streams in Seattle, for example, led to high pre-spawning mortality of salmon, possibly because they were exposed to copper pollution. Maintaining low flows can also mitigate the effects of pollution on ecosystems when ponds and lakes sequester sediments and nutrients that would otherwise be more widely dispersed. The sediments may contain toxic elements that could cause widespread harm to wildlife.

This insight raises another challenge, however: several National Wildlife Refuges have suffered high mortality of fishes and birds as a result of the concentration of toxic substances in lakes.

What is clear is that restoring natural flows can bring pros and cons.

Jackson and Pringle conclude that "a major challenge is to develop a more predictive understanding of how hydrologic connectivity operates in intensively developed landscapes."

The BioScience article is available at http://www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/


* Draft Plan Released To Remove Black Slag From Upper Columbia River Beach

The public is being asked to review and comment on formal documents that will guide removal of black slag from a beach on the Upper Columbia River.

The slag, which has the appearance of black sand, is an industrial byproduct discharged into the Columbia River from a metals smelting facility operated by Teck Metals Ltd. (formerly Teck Cominco) in Trail, British Columbia.

The documents include a draft work plan that includes what's called a "60 percent engineering design" that provides details of how the removal will take place. They also include State Environmental Policy Act documents ensuring that the work is beneficial to the environment. Comments will be accepted Jan. 4 through Feb. 5.

A public meeting to allow discussion of the plan will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 14, at the Northport High School, 408 10th St. in Northport. The Washington Department of Ecology and Teck American Inc., in Spokane will provide an overview of the project and answer questions from the public.

The state agency and Teck signed a detailed "voluntary interim action" agreement last July to remove slag from a beach area on the Upper Columbia River known as Black Sand Beach.

The beach is located on state trust land that is managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.  It encompasses approximately one acre three miles south of the Canadian border on the east side of the river north of Northport.

In the fall of 2010, approximately 5,000 cubic yards of granulated slag will be removed and transported for recycling to Teck's Trail smelter facility. Teck has agreed to remove and recycle the slag to avoid continued erosion and movement of the material into the river.

"This is good news for the river and those who visit the beach in summer months," said project manager Chuck Gruenenfelder of the WDOE's Toxics Cleanup Program. "By late this year they'll be able to play, fish and swim at the reconstructed beach. We appreciate that Teck agreed to take this action under our supervision."

Teck will place clean, natural fill material where contaminated sediments were removed. The new beach will contain a combination of sand, gravel, and a coarser cobble-sized material.

The industrial slag contains hazardous substances including zinc, lead, copper, arsenic, cadmium and other metals that cannot be removed from normal processing. Some of the metals harm the health of the river and aquatic life.

The beach is a popular spot for swimming, fishing, camping and other recreational activities.

Construction is being scheduled in the fall when river levels are seasonally low. Access to the beach will be closed during construction. Work is estimated to take three to five weeks.

The full degree of risks to human health and the environment posed by past discharges by Teck's Trail facility into the upper Columbia River and Lake Roosevelt are being investigated under a comprehensive multi-year study being carried out by Teck under the oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and in coordination with state, tribal and federal authorities.

The study was launched by a 2006 agreement between EPA and Teck that calls for the company to fund and perform an EPA-monitored assessment of heavy metals pollution in the river that runs downstream from Canada into northeast Washington on its way toward the Pacific Ocean. Studies will also assess the potential risk contaminants pose to people who live and recreate in the area. There is also concern about the level of contamination absorbed by fish and the risk that poses to people who catch and eat them.

Teck is also evaluating cleanup options, though the agreement does not commit the company to funding any cleanup activities. The study area is a 150-mile strip of river from the border down through Lake Roosevelt to Grand Coulee Dam.

The documents for the slag removal can be seen at the Department of Ecology's office in Spokane at 4601 North Monroe St. by calling Kari Johnson at 509-329-3415, or on-line at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/tcp/sites/blackSandBeach/blackSandBeach_hp.html. They also are available at the Northport Community Library, the Kettle Falls Public Library and the Colville Public Library.

Comments and technical questions should directed to Chuck Gruenenfelder, 509-329-3439; e-mail: chgr461@ecy.wa.gov.

For more information go to: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/tcp/sites/blackSandBeach/blackSandBeach_hp.html, or http://www.ecy.wa.gov.

Litigation is ongoing regarding the company's responsibility under U.S. Superfund statutes for the slag contamination in the Columbia.

Two Colville Tribe members in 2006 filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in an attempt to force Teck Cominco to comply with a 2003 EPA "unilateral order" directing the company to conduct a remedial investigation/feasibility study regarding pollution impacts along the river from the border to Grand Coulee. The state later joined the lawsuit.

The lawsuits were later amended to ask that Teck Cominco be held liable for any environmental cleanup that might be required.

Attempts by Teck to have the lawsuit dismissed were rejected in eastern Washington's U.S. District Court and by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The U.S. Supreme Court was asked to consider the issues but declined, sending the lawsuit back to district court.


* Group Agrees To Move Forward On Plan To Address Yakima Basin Water, Fish Issues

The Bureau of Reclamation and Washington State Department of Ecology say the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Workgroup has reached consensus to move forward with a preliminary Integrated Water Resource Management Plan intended to address water supply and aquatic resource problems of the basin.

The work group -- comprised of state and federal agencies, county commissioners from the three Yakima Basin counties, the City of Yakima, the Yakama Nation, irrigation districts, fisheries managers, representation from the environmental organization American Rivers -- has developed a preliminary outline for the integrated plan aimed at developing new water supplies, storage, and improving habitat and passage for fish in the Yakima River basin.

The work group narrowed down a list of potential actions for further evaluation and analysis before taking the consensus tally.

"While some of the elements included in the integrated plan document may not have unanimous support, Workgroup members do unanimously support further evaluation and analysis of the preliminary integrated plan," said Wendy Christensen, Reclamation program manager.

Christensen said the work group will weigh-in on the final decision to support or oppose the preliminary integrated plan and its elements after an effectiveness analyses of the package has been completed by Reclamation and Ecology.

The Yakima River Basin Study will be jointly conducted by Reclamation and Ecology, in collaboration with the work group, under the U.S. Department of the Interior's Water Conservation Initiative Basin Study Program. The one-year comprehensive study seeks to further define future options for water supply development while improving conditions for anadromous fish. The basin study will also evaluate the potential impacts of climate change on water supplies and demands.

The basin study is cost-shared on a 50/50 basis between Reclamation and Ecology. It is anticipated that a final integrated plan will be developed and presented to the Workgroup for their consideration in the fall of 2010.


For more information about the CBB contact:
-- BILL CRAMPTON, Editor/Writer, bcrampton@cbbulletin.com, phone:
541-312-8860 or
-- BARRY ESPENSON, Senior Writer, bespenson@msn.com, phone: 360-696-4005; fax: 360-694-1530

The stories in this e-mail newsletter are posted on the Columbia Basin Bulletin website at www.cbbulletin.com. If you would like access to the CBB archives, please consider becoming a Member of the CBB website for as little as $5 a month. Your membership will help support maintenance of the 10-year (1998-2008) news database and the production of trustworthy, timely news and information about Columbia Basin fish and wildlife issues.


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The Columbia Basin Bulletin e-mail newsletter is produced by Intermountain Communications of Bend, Oregon and supported with Bonneville Power Administration fish and wildlife funds through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.


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