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Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
November 11, 2011 Issue No. 598
All stories below are posted on the CBB's website at www.cbbulletin.com
Also available is a free RSS news feed.

Table of Contents

* Researchers Study How White Salmon River Responds To Dam Breaching; Right Now ‘Lots Of Mud’

* Canadian Officials Say ‘No Confirmed Cases’ Of Salmon Virus; NOAA Doing Research, Response Report

* River Managers Mull Operations To Expand Spawning Area For Listed Chum Below Bonneville Dam

* Economic Panel Compares Effectiveness Of Methods To Keep More Water In-Stream For Fish

* Council, BPA Discuss Funding, Timing For Fixing Naches River Fish Screen Impacting Listed Steelhead

* Research: Maintaining Natural River Temps In Flathead Basin May Inhibit Spread Of Invasive Lake Trout

* Alaska 2011 Salmon Harvest Third Best Since 1975 At Over $600 Million In Value

* To Survive Climate Change, Ocean Fish Will Need Swim Faster, Farther To Keep Pace With Shifts


* Researchers Study How White Salmon River Responds To Dam Breaching; Right Now ‘Lots Of Mud’

The flood loosed late last month when southwest Washington’s Condit Dam was breached has literally coated the lower White Salmon River in layers of various thickness of fine, dark sediment.

But researchers predict that the river’s own dynamics make it a prime candidate to clean itself and restore the coarser, gravelly river bed needed for native fish to spawn and rear.

(See CBB, Oct. 28, 2011 “Blast Drains Condit Dam’s Reservoir On White Salmon River; Dam Structure Removal Set For Spring 2012” http://www.cbbulletin.com/413585.aspx)

“If you look at the White Salmon now…. It’s hammered,” researcher Andrew Wilcox said. “If you go there now there’s a lot of mud.”

The University of Montana assistant professor is leading a research project aimed at assessing how the river “responds” to the breaching of the dam and a return to a free flowing state.

“It’s a beautiful natural experiment,” Wilcox said of the opportunity to monitor how the river moves large pulses of sediment that have the potential to snuff out aquatic life.

The blasting of a tunnel through the base of Condit allowed the release of sediment that had been collecting since the dam was completed in 1913. It was estimated that between 1.6 million to 2.2 million cubic yards of sediment would be discharged into the White Salmon River immediately following tunnel’s opening.

Wilcox and one of his graduate students will monitor the lower White Salmon over the next two years to see how well it refreshes itself. The study focuses on sediment transport, or the lack thereof, as well as channel evolution, and habitat response.

The researchers will try to use the data gathered there as well elsewhere to develop a better understanding of how ecosystems respond to such events. That information could be used in planning such events in the future. The study is being funded by the National Science Foundation.

Wilcox has been involved in similar research following the breaching of Marmot Dam on the Sandy River in northwest Oregon in 2007 and the Milltown Dam in western Montana in 2008.

“Reservoirs tend to trap sediment that is fine,” Wilcox said. When the sediment is released it tends to settle into the cobbled river bottoms that salmon and steelhead prefer for spawning, and changes the depth of pools where fish seek shelter. The study aims to monitor when, where and how that sediment is deposited, and how soon the river might mend itself.

“How long do the changes last?” is a key question, he said.

“It is a system that is steep and confined and has a high transport capacity,” Wilcox said of the White Salmon. The slack water in the lowest part of the river “has less capacity to clear.”

The best thing to do is hope for a wet winter.

“It’s supposed to be a La Nina year,” Wilcox said. If the snowpack builds and strong flows develop in the spring, much of the sediment and at least some of the logs dislodged from the reservoir bottom should be swept downriver.

“I’m not going to say the system will be recovered by next summer” but the spring freshet should send it well on its way, Wilcox said.

The lower White Salmon River remains off limits as it has been since before the Oct. 26 breach, which quickly drained 1.8-mile-long Northwestern Lake. The dam is located 3.3 miles upstream from the river’s confluence with the Columbia River.

The river and its banks remains an unsafe place both above the dam in the reservoir reach and below the dam, according to PacifiCorp, which owns the dam. PacifiCorp, local law enforcement and experienced river experts are unanimous in urging the curious to stay away.

“Everyone saw the force of the river last Wednesday,” said Tom Hickey, PacifiCorp’s project manager. “Now downstream wherever the river narrows, there are logjams. In the former reservoir above the dam, the river is cutting through the sediment creating unstable slopes and moving debris such as buried logs as expected.

“Transported sediment is also building up in downstream areas. Working with our contractors, we have plans in place to deal with these obstructions, and they all require that everyone stay out of harm’s way and a safe distance from the river,” Hickey said.

The company’s options for clearing debris include using cranes and yarders or in some instances explosives to remove barriers. The entire area from the Northwestern Lake Road Bridge to the mouth of the White Salmon River continues to be an active construction zone and a dangerous place to be.

“We are still a long way from anyone attempting to boat the White Salmon River within the project area or downstream,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest stewardship director of American Whitewater. “Those of us who know the river well urge everyone to stay safe and out of this river area until next fall when PacifiCorp has had a chance to complete the channel restoration work and address the severe hazards affecting navigability."

PacifiCorp will continue to post updates on closures and restrictions in the Condit area as work proceeds. Go to www.pacificorp.com/condit for updates. Signs will remain posted in the immediate areas to remind the public about the closures.


* Canadian Officials Say ‘No Confirmed Cases’ Of Salmon Virus; NOAA Doing Research, Response Report

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco has directed NOAA Fisheries to assemble a report on Infectious Salmon Anemia – due by the end of November – that will outline steps needed on surveillance, research and response, including contingency plans for handling the potential spread of the virus.

That was the word from a Sunday (Nov. 6) get-together at a Seattle fish research lab where U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, joined officials to provide an update on heightened interagency coordination to deal with a virus that they fear may threaten Pacific Northwest salmon.

Cantwell and officials highlighted existing research and surveillance and discussed the next steps needed to stay ahead of the virus, including standardizing the methodologies for testing for the salmon virus known as ISA.

Meanwhile, Canadian officials this week said that based on analysis conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the province of British Columbia and the Atlantic Veterinary College, “there have been no confirmed cases of ISA in wild or farmed salmon in BC.”

Testing has been ongoing since mid-October, they said, when a laboratory at the Atlantic Veterinary College reported that it had detected the virus.

Officials said DFO has tested all 48 samples received as part of the original reports and the results are all negative for the virus.

“These results are consistent with the findings of an independent laboratory in Norway, which also tested samples associated with this investigation and provided a report to the CFIA,” said the CFIA.

Additional testing continues and results will be provided when ready, the agency said.

As part of the investigation, the CFIA and DFO are also looking at how the samples were collected, handled, transported and stored.

In Canada, infectious salmon anaemia is a "federally reportable disease" in Canada. This means that all suspected or confirmed cases must be immediately reported to the CFIA.

In another ISA development, Brian Wallace, senior commission counsel for the “Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River” issued the following statement:

“Testing of samples of Pacific salmon from two areas of the province has indicated the possible presence of the Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) virus in several Pacific salmon. The commission has been advised that further results will be available in about one month. We have requested disclosure of documents related to these fish and the current testing.

“The commission plans to convene a two-day hearing in mid-December to put new information about the possible presence of the ISA virus in BC on the commission’s record. Further details, including any witnesses or exhibits for those days of hearings, will be released later.”

The Cohen Commission (www.cohencommission.ca) was established on November 5, 2009. It holds hearings to investigate and report on the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River.

Based on its findings, the commission will make recommendations for improving the future sustainability of the sockeye salmon fishery in the Fraser River, including, as required, any changes to the policies, practices and procedures of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in relation to the management of the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery.

The commission’s final report must be submitted on or before June 30, 2012.

Canada’s federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Keith Ashfield said: “It has been a difficult few weeks for the fishing industry in British Columbia, and across the country, while waiting for these preliminary test results to come back. Because some have chosen to draw conclusions based on unconfirmed information, this has resulted in British Columbia’s fishing industry and Canada’s reputation being put at risk needlessly.

“Our government takes the health of our fisheries very seriously. We have taken appropriate and immediate action to follow up on the allegations of the presence of ISA in BC waters. We can now confirm that, preliminary analysis, using proper and internationally recognized procedures, has found that none of the samples has tested positive for ISA.

In recent years, more than 5,000 fresh, properly stored and processed salmon have been tested by the BC government and Fisheries and Oceans Canada and there has never been a confirmed case of ISA in British Columbia salmon. An active, science-based sampling program continues for both farmed and wild salmon.”

British Columbia Minister of Agriculture Don McRae said: “It is vitally important that we base our policy decisions on sound science so as to preserve and protect BC’s reputation as a reliable supplier of high quality seafood to the world. This is particularly true for the dozens of coastal communities that rely on wild and farmed fisheries to feed their families and maintain their way of life. Reckless allegations based on incomplete science can be devastating to these communities and unfair to the families that make a living from the sea. Since Premier Clark is currently on a trade mission to China, I have personally asked her to reassure our valued trading partners that now as always BC can be relied upon as a supplier of safe, sustainable seafood.”

“Canadian and international partners can be confident that current practices and procedures to protect our wild and farmed salmon industries from disease are in place and working,” Ashfield said. “I will be communicating directly with concerned parties domestically and internationally over the coming weeks to reassure my counterparts, the fishing industry and consumers that BC salmon is healthy and safe."

Previous outbreaks of ISA in Chile and Norway did significant damage to their fishing industries.

Washington’s Sen. Cantwell said the virus may pose a threat to the Pacific Northwest salmon fishing industry and the coastal economies that rely on it.

“Washington’s coastal economy, and the thousands of jobs they support, deserves a rapid response to this potential threat,” said Cantwell. “We need to act now with an aggressive action plan to protect these Washington state jobs. Fortunately, Washington is home to some of the most cutting-edge tools, like the lab we’re at today, for dealing with this virus. I’ve called on key Senate Appropriators to support a comprehensive plan immediately.”

Last week, Cantwell, along with Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, and Mark Begich, D-AK, sent a letter to key senate appropriators calling for the federal government to independently test samples of a recently detected salmon virus, and not rely on Canadian testing.

The full letter can be found at http://cantwell.senate.gov/news/110211_Salmon_Virus_Letter.pdf

The senators urged appropriators to prioritize the resources and coordination necessary to address “this emerging salmon virus threat.”

Cantwell’s amendment to investigate and develop a rapid respond plan to prevent the spread of ISA passed the Senate by a vote of 69 to 30. The amendment was included in the minibus appropriations bill (H.R. 2112). The next step will be a conference of the House and Senate. It calls on the National Aquatic Animal Health Task Force to evaluate the risk the virus could have on wild salmon off West Coast and Alaskan waters, ensure adequate monitoring of wild salmon populations, and to develop a plan to address ISA.

The amendment requires a report be delivered to Congress within six months which outlines surveillance, susceptibility of species and populations, potential vectors, gaps in knowledge, and recommendations for management.

The British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association this week said: “Following up on unconfirmed results publicized widely by anti-salmon farm campaigners four weeks ago, the CFIA tested the same sample collection plus additional samples collected and had no positive results for ISA.”

"This is a significant result for everyone involved: researchers, regulators, wild salmon advocates, salmon farmers and our coastal communities," said Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the BCSFA. "After seeing the original news distributed in such an inflammatory way, we hope this update will allay those concerns."

The BCSFA said that “the allegation that ISA had been found in BC was concerning to BC salmon farmers who, while confident that the extensive testing showed ISA is not on their farms, were worried about the possible effect of the virus which is harmful to Atlantic salmon. Pacific salmon are relatively immune to ISA.”

"This is a good example of why proper sampling, testing and reporting procedures are in place and should be followed: the unconfirmed report from Simon Fraser appeared to be designed to create as much hype as possible. This has cost significant resources in time and money in emergency follow-up while also potentially impacting international markets for our business," said Walling.

"We're pleased to see the thorough way CFIA is following up, but are dismayed at the way campaigners used this to create fear about our operations," said Walling.

The BCSFA said it “understands that the investigation by the CFIA is continuing. The industry is providing any additional information to the CFIA as needed. In the meantime, our farmers continue in their regular, ongoing sampling/monitoring program.”

The BCSFA represents salmon farm companies and those who supply services and supplies to the industry. Salmon-farming, says the association, provides for 6,000 direct and indirect jobs while contributing $800 million to the provincial economy each year.

For more information see CBB, Nov. 4, 2011 “Senators Call For U.S. To Conduct Independent Testing To Assess Risk Of Salmon Virus” http://www.cbbulletin.com/413770.aspx and CBB, Oct. 21, 2011 “Researchers Say Lethal Marine Influenza Virus Found In Wild Salmon Off British Columbia Coast” http://www.cbbulletin.com/413445.aspx)


* River Managers Mull Operations To Expand Spawning Area For Listed Chum Below Bonneville Dam

Fishery managers are hoping for high chum salmon numbers and high flows (precipitation plus) this late fall and winter to enable Columbia River dam operators to create an expanded spawning area for the threatened species below Bonneville Dam.

NOAA Fisheries’ Paul Wagner on Wednesday presented for consideration a “framework” that would allow, -- “if fish numbers of unspawned adult chum salmon are significant and natural precipitation results in flow levels that require a substantial increase in nighttime flow to maintain the 11.5 foot daytime tailwater” -- an increase of the tailwater elevation to 12.5 feet during the last week in November, and to 13.5 feet in December.

The system operations request was submitted Wednesday to the Technical Management Team, which mulls federal Columbia-Snake river hydro operations that might benefit fish. TMT is made up of federal, state and tribal hydro and fish managers. NOAA Fisheries is charged with protecting fish stocks, such as lower Columbia chum, that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Higher tailwaters would inundate additional areas on Ives Island just below the dam that have in the past been known as “very desirable habitat” for chum, Wagner said.

That would help to “reduce the risk” to chum spawning populations, Wagner said. A December shift to the 13.5 elevation should not result in great numbers of fish spawning at the higher elevation, he said. Peak redd density at Ives Island typically occurs around Dec. 1 with a lesser number of spawners arriving after that date.

“Higher tailwater through Bonneville will potentially increase the amount of spawning habitat and change the locations of suitable redds, and may provide additional returns to this area,” according to the SOR, which was signed by NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Russ Kiefer, who represents the state of Idaho at TMT, said his state supports the request but chose not to weigh in officially as a signatory because Idaho is not involved in chum management. The Columbia River chum populations are for the most part confined to areas downstream of Bonneville, which is located at river mile 146. Idaho bound salmon and steelhead must swim 400 miles and more up the Columbia and Snake rivers to reach their destination.

Chum seek spawning areas that have upwellings of spring water that are, generally, somewhat warmer that the surface water.

Higher tailwater elevations would then, ideally, be maintained into April when juvenile chum emerge from the gravels. Maintaining higher elevations can, depending on the available water supply, reduce the flexibility of Bonneville and dams upstream to be operated for power production and other fish needs.

The Ives Island area is the target of the only hydro system operational prescription outlined in NOAA Fisheries’ 2008 Federal Columbia River Power System specifically to benefit chum salmon. It calls for the maintenance of a tailwater elevation below Bonneville Dam of approximately 11.5 feet beginning the first week of November (or when chum arrive) and ending by Dec. 31, in the area of the Ives Island complex and/or access to the Hamilton and Hardy creeks, which feed into the Columbia in the Ives-Pierce island area, for the spawning population. The goal in recent years has been to keep the tailwater in the 11.3-11.7-foot range.

Thereafter TMT is charged with guiding operations, when possible, that assure egg-filled chum redds remain underwater. That involves calling on the resources of the system’s two main storage reservoirs, Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam on the mid-Columbia in central Washington and Lake Pend Oreille behind Albeni Falls Dam on the Pend Oreille River in the northern Idaho Panhandle. The Pend Oreille is a tributary to the Columbia.

A primary limiting factor for chum operations is another BiOp goal -- achieving a Lake Roosevelt elevation on April 10 that represents the maximum amount of water storage allowed within flood control constraints. Operators want to assure there is enough space in the reservoir to protect against downstream flooding, while holding as much water as possible for use later in the spring and summer to augment flows for other salmon and steelhead stocks that are migrating toward the ocean.

No decision was made Wednesday regarding the SOR, which offers an off ramp if weekly updates long-range forecasts of water supply take a turn for the worse.

“If these forecasts indicate that the 85 percent probability of reaching the April 10 refill objective [at Grand Coulee] is at significant risk, the tailwater elevation would be lowered to an appropriate level,” the SOR says.

“Some additional risk [to the refill objective] exists by placing redds at the higher elevations, but the numbers of redds expected to be formed at these higher elevations will be low, which will reduce the downside risk to the population if they cannot be maintained through emergence,” the SOR says.

The raising of the tailwater elevation would depend on whether wet weather, and wet forecasts, materialize.

“If not, we would likely abandon the higher elevation redds, should they exist,” Wagner said.

“The recent completion of additional spawning habitat in the Hamilton spring channel site should further reduce the risk to chum salmon spawning in the Ives Island area,” the SOR said restoration work that has taken place over the past year in the nearby Hamilton spring area.”

Another goal of the proposed expansion of accessible habitat is to reduce the incidence of superimposition of spawners, i.e. redds being built on top of redds.

The SOR argues that raising the tailwater elevation to increase the habitat area is worth a try, since Ives Island spawning populations have been in decline since 2002, which was a high-water mark, in terms of estimated spawning populations, at most lower Columbia sites since officials began considering chum for listing. The chum listed in 1999.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s John Roache said his agency would not object to such an operation, as long as it was sure it could still carry out planned operations of Grand Coulee. Likewise it is important to the Bureau that it be able to fill Banks Lake near Lake Roosevelt. Banks is used for irrigation during the summer months. And the agency must have the ability to help satisfy the Vernita Bar agreement, which outlines operations needed to protect fall chinook redds and juveniles in the Columbia’s Hanford Reach.

“We need to look at all of that stuff” before implementing such an operation, Roache said.

Likewise Sherry Sears of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation said the tribes would not support a Lake Roosevelt drawdown to accomplish the SOR.

“We don’t want to jeopardize our resources to water an additional 100 redds,” she said. The tribes are involved in the management of chinook salmon and other species that call the mid and upper Columbia home.

The Bonneville Power Administration’s Tony Norris was skeptical about stepping up the Bonneville tailwater elevation based on a few early-season rain events and forecasts.

“13.5 feet is a lot of water. I hope we don’t go there. You may only be affecting a very few fish,” Norris said. “It doesn’t add up for us.” BPA markets power generated in the federal Columbia-Snake hydro system.

The overall chum spawning estimate 2002 for areas from Interstate 205 and Portland up to Bonneville was 11,351. But annual estimates have been generally been in decline since then. The 2010 preliminary estimate is for a total spawning population of 3,509, which was actually more than double the 2009 total. But estimates from 2005-2008 were 2,000 or less.

The Ives area spawning population estimated was 4,466 in 2002, according to data provided to TMT by Cindy LeFleur of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. That total dropped to less than 2,000 in 2003, then fell off the table. Estimates from 2004 through 2010 have been less than 400. The preliminary 2010 total was 214.


* Economic Panel Compares Effectiveness Of Methods To Keep More Water In-Stream For Fish

There’s no runaway winner, but it appears water transactions such as rights purchases and leases may have an edge in Columbia-Snake river basin efforts to keep more water in-stream for the benefit of salmon and steelhead.

“It kind of looks like water transactions might be more cost efficient” as compared to investments in less wasteful irrigation delivery systems, according to John Duffield, chairman of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Independent Economic Advisory Board.

Duffield on Tuesday previewed for the Council the IEAB’s review of “the ways that improved irrigation efficiency, farm-to-stream water transactions, and related agreements are used to increase stream flows to improve fish habitat and promote fish recovery in the Columbia River Basin,” according to an Oct. 25 memo from Terry Morlan, director of the Council’s Power Planning Division.

The report’s executive summary can be found at:

The IEAB has recently received outside reviews of its draft report “Cost-Effectiveness of Improved Irrigation Efficiency and Water Transactions for In-Stream Flows for Fish.” Those comments provided by other experts in the fields of irrigation efficiency and water transactions are now being incorporated into the IEAB document. The final draft of the report on the IEAB review is expected to be completed sometime next month, according to Morlan.

The IEAB was established in November 1996. Its aim is to use the members’ expertise to helps improve the cost-effectiveness analysis of fish and wildlife recovery measures implemented through the NPCC’s Fish and Wildlife Program. The eight-member IEAB is called on to assist with difficult economic issues associated with the Council’s program.

Duffield is a research professor at the University of Montana who specializes in environmental and natural resource economics

“Overall the evidence suggests that water transactions projects offer greater potential than irrigation efficiency projects,” according to the draft report’s executive summary. “Water transactions contracts can be designed to assure conditions that will protect fish whereas irrigation efficiency alone may not be enough to protect fish in dry years.”

Duffield said the report cautions that in some cases reduction in water diverted because of irrigation efficiency may be diverted by others downstream such as more-junior water rights holders that are not receiving their full allocation.

“Water transactions generally allow water users to decide how to meet their contractual obligation at least cost. This decision may include irrigation efficiency, crop idling, deficit irrigation, internal water transfers, and other management to minimize net revenue losses,” the summary says. “The locations where a water transactions contract may be possible, and where it will correspond to the need for improved fish habitat, appear to be less restricted than in the case of irrigation efficiency projects.

“However, one drawback of water transactions projects should be noted. Water transactions projects generally involve a reduction in crop production with corresponding local economic effects, and this has led to resistance to water transactions projects in small rural communities that are reliant on a healthy farm economy.”

The report includes eight case studies involving an examination of the relative cost-effectiveness of irrigation efficiency projects compared to alternative approaches to improve in-stream flow to benefit fish populations. Those case studies include Lemhi, Yakima, Salmon Creek, Upper Grande Ronde, Walla Walla, Deschutes, Hood, and Blackfoot river basins.

The case studies reveal that both irrigation efficiency projects and water transaction projects have been used successfully to achieve an increase in in-stream flow at times and in locations where the fish habitat is impaired.

“Costs for these improvements range widely among the projects sampled; many irrigation efficiency and water transactions projects undertaken in the past decade have achieved these in-stream-flow increases at costs below” $50 per acre foot, the report says. Just which is more economical largely depends on the basin in which the water savings effort is carried out.

The case studies did show that water saving projects funded by the Bonneville Power Administration through the Council’s fish and wildlife program are “doing some good,” Duffield said.

Central Idaho’s Lemhi River basin, as an example, saw salmon runs beginning to collapse in 1960s and 1970s because of degraded habitat. And irrigation needs that blossomed to 37,000 acres by the mid-1990s caused further problems. Most of that irrigation, 80 percent, involved flooding fields and pastures, with the loss of 25 to 30 percent of the water in transit into the ground and via evaporation. Streambeds were often completely dry in late summer, Duffield said.

The number of salmon redds counted in the basin sunk into the single digits in the 1990s.

But from 2004-2011 BPA spent $414,000 on eight pipeline programs to reduce water loss and $2,329,000 on 18 sprinklers in the upper Salmon drainage, which includes the Lemhi. The Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program, also funded by Bonneville, cooperated with Idaho Water Board and Idaho Legislature in creation of Lemhi Water Bank

Water right leases were obtained to assure that the river didn’t go dry. And lo and behold, officials saw the counts “go from a very few number of redds to an order of magnitude higher,” Duffield said. There were 91 redds counted in Lemhi in 2009 and 89 counted in 2010.

“This is the kind of thing we need to see more of,” Washington NPCC member Tom Karier said after hearing Duffield’s presentation. The Lemhi example “is a great confirmation that that kind of program works.”


* Council, BPA Discuss Funding, Timing For Fixing Naches River Fish Screen Impacting Listed Steelhead

With a fish and wildlife spending ramp up expected to continue in 2012 and beyond, the Bonneville Power Administration has said it must go slow in deciding whether to fund a $575,000 irrigation diversion improvement project in central Washington that is intended to benefit threatened Mid-Columbia River steelhead.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council on Wednesday recommended that the project be funded by BPA with funds from a $2 million, Fiscal Year 2012 earmark for work responding to requirements of NOAA Fisheries’ 2008 Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion.

Bonneville, which owns the existing Gleed fish screen on the Naches River and pays for its operation and maintenance, has said it will defer judgment on whether to fund the renovation of the screen this coming summer, or push it off into fiscal year 2013, or split the cost between years. The Naches is a tributary to the Yakima River, which feeds into the Columbia River.

BPA, which markets power generated in the federal Columbia-Snake river hydro system (the FCRPS), funds fish and wildlife projects as mitigation for the impacts of the dams. It is also responsible for supporting the recovery of salmon and steelhead that have been affected by the hydro system. Thirteen Columbia basin salmon and steelhead stocks, including Mid-Columbia steelhead, are listed under the Endangered Species Act. NOAA Fisheries’ ESA BiOp outlines actions intended to improve the survival of fish that migrate up and down through the FCRPS.

Much of the fish and wildlife work funded by Bonneville is channeled through the NPCC’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, drawing review from the Council and its Independent Scientific Review Panel. The $575,000 “within-year” budget request from the Bureau of Reclamation and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife aims to make improvements to the Gleed fish screen, which is intended to keep fish out of irrigation diversions.

“The renovation associated with the Gleed fish screen was initiated to improve approach velocities at screens, improve maintenance crews’ ability to manage debris, and address bypass flow for fish and debris passage,” according to an Oct. 27 memo from the NPCC’s project implementation manager, Mark Fritsch.

“Currently, passage deficiencies exist with the majority of the spring smolt outmigration period. These deficiencies are caused by the inability of the current facility to handle the amount of debris during high-flow periods (i.e., spring run-off). During these high-flow periods fish passage criteria are not being met when velocities become too great and/or they get entrapped in the canals.”

BPA Fish and Wildlife Director Bill Maslen told the Council and its Fish and Wildlife Committee Tuesday and Wednesday that the project is a priority, but not necessarily the highest of priorities.

“The improvement is not required by the BiOp” specifically, Maslen said. Rather it is included in a more general BiOp “reasonable and prudent alternative” that calls for tributary habitat quality and fish survival improvements.

More “explicit” BiOp requirements, such as estuary habitat improvements, are looming and may command the budget.

Maslen said that in the past the NPCC and Bonneville have always managed to keep spending well within annual limits. But that ability is being challenged by increased requirements stemming from the BiOp. In 2011, expenditures totaled $221 million, just below the fiscal year’s $225 million budget.

“Our October spending is higher than we’ve ever seen,” Maslen said of the first month of the 2012 fiscal year. That reflects a “ramp up of both BiOp and Accord projects.”

A planned expansion of the budget to, primarily, answer BiOp needs and those of funding “accords” signed with states and tribes has been scaled back as a result of the most recent BPA “rate case,” Maslen said. That evaluation of costs, which is done to determine what wholesale rates the agency must charge for power, saw a $237 million fish and wildlife budget penciled in for FY 2012, as opposed to a prior estimate of $250 million, and a $241 million budget for 2013, down from a earlier projection of $254 million.

Washington Council member Phil Rockefeller noted that BPA has “a clear legal obligation to get this done” under the terms of a 1994 memorandum of agreement signed by Bonneville, the Bureau and WDFW.

“This has been a problem for years,” Rockefeller said of fish having to negotiate the debris in the clogged screen. “Is this the beginning of a Bonneville retrenchment” on its responsibility to pay for such projects?

Maslen stressed that it is a potential deferral of project implementation, not a backing off of Bonneville’s commitment. He said his agency needs more time before making a decision about whether to launch construction in 2012.

“BPA supports the proposal but defers of implementing the change request at this time,” according to an Oct. 24 letter from Maslen to the Council. “The facility has operated under such conditions since inception in 1993, and generally provides reasonable conditions except under high flow events. While continuing to operate in this manner is not preferred, and we want to support the improvements when funds are available, we are not prepared at this time to make the funding commitment given other higher priorities for available funds.

“Although BPA and the Council have supported previous change requests leading to the current one, we simply find the current financial situation too constrained to fund the final phases of Gleed, including construction, at this time,” Maslen wrote. “The Gleed within-year request represents one of those difficult project funding decisions BPA must make to ensure funds are available for the highest priority actions, and that we manage spending within the available budget.”

The Bureau made the request to complete environmental compliance, design and construction of the Gleed Fish Screen. The final design is near complete for changes that will address deficiencies that have caused the screen to operate out of NMFS criteria for the majority of the spring smolt outmigration period since the screen was installed in 1993, according to Maslen’s memo. The re-design was developed by BOR and has been reviewed and approved by stakeholders including WDFW, NOAA, Yakama Nation and irrigation districts associated with the Gleed Canal.


* Research: Maintaining Natural River Temps In Flathead Basin May Inhibit Spread Of Invasive Lake Trout

A recently published research paper suggests that maintaining natural temperatures on Montana's Flathead River system may inhibit the movements of invasive lake trout to upstream waters.

The study was based on an analysis of telemetry data collected from 1996 through 1998 from radio-tagged lake trout for the purpose of learning more about their predatory tendencies, said Clint Muhlfeld, an aquatic ecology researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey who is based at Glacier National Park.

With more than 200 waters in the western United States occupied by lake trout, many of them connected to rivers and other lakes, there has been a growing interest in how the species disperses, Muhlfeld said.

“No one had really looked at or discussed the dispersal capabilities of lake trout in interconnected lake and river systems,” he said, adding that data collected for the study showed “enormous” invasive capabilities of lake trout that now occupy most of the lakes on the western front of Glacier National Park.

Mysis shrimp that were introduced in the Flathead Basin from 1968 to 1976 are widely regarded as the cause of a lake trout population boom in Flathead Lake that reached a point where the species started to radiate into upstream waters.

“The incidence of lake trout entering the Flathead River was rarely observed prior to 1989, yet angler creel data suggested that lake trout use of the Flathead River substantially increased in the 1990s,” states the study published in the Fisheries Management and Ecology Journal. “Changes in the thermal characteristics of the Flathead River also may have affected lake trout distribution in the system.”

Lake trout widely used the river system during summer months prior to the 1996 installation of a selective withdrawal system at Hungry Horse Dam that allowed river temperatures to be regulated by drawing warmer water from Hungry Horse Reservoir.

The new system basically restored natural temperatures below the dam in river reaches that had previously been artificially cooled during summer months.

An analysis of the movements of radio tagged fish found they used the river during summer considerably less after the selective withdrawal was installed.

“Lake trout were detected in the river primarily during autumn, winter and spring, when water temperatures were cool,” the study states. “By contrast, fewer were detected when temperatures were warmest during summer and during high spring flows.”

The study concludes that maintaining natural water temperatures may be effective in “reducing the spread of non-native lake trout to conserve native fish populations in the Flathead River system and elsewhere.”

Muhlfeld said one aspect of lake trout he considers important is “enormous” dispersal capabilities that have had major impacts upstream from Flathead Lake, all the way into Glacier Park lakes and Canadian waters.

A rapid invasion of Glacier’s Quartz Lake has prompted an effort to suppress lake trout over the last few years.

Gill netting in the spring and fall has removed 1,600 lake trout so far on the 900-acre lake, and this fall’s five-week effort resulting in nets capturing all six adult “Judas fish” that were radio tagged and tracked to two distinct spawning locations. Because those fish were removed, it is believed that there was a high rate of success in removing adults that are still in the lake.

A fish barrier downstream from the lake is expected to prevent future invasions, and Muhlfeld is optimistic that the project will be successful in suppressing the lake trout population and protecting native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout that are still abundant in the lake.


* Alaska 2011 Salmon Harvest Third Best Since 1975 At Over $600 Million In Value

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says the preliminary estimate of the exvessel value of the 2011 Alaska commercial salmon harvest is $603 million.

That’s the third most valuable harvest since 1975, behind the 1988 and 2010 harvests respectively.

Analysts expect the 2011 harvest will surpass the 2010 harvest in value, after final price per pound information is received next spring from processors, buyers, and direct marketers.

While the 176 million salmon harvested in 2011 -- ninth largest since 1960 -- fell short of the 203 million predicted, high prices for all species, especially pink and chum salmon, pushed the value of the harvest to an extraordinary level.

The pink salmon harvest, valued at over $170 million, set an all--time record.

Chum salmon fetched $93 million, the third highest value ever recorded.

Sockeye salmon were worth almost $296 million, a respectable sixth place among historic sockeye harvests.

Chinook and coho harvests, at $20 and $23 million, fell more toward the middle of their historic ranges.

Regionally, Southeast Alaska took first place with the most valuable salmon harvest in the state, worth over $203 million: $92 million from pink salmon and $65 million from chum salmon.

Bristol Bay, usually the most valuable salmon fishery in the state, came in second with a harvest worth $137 million, and Prince William Sound took third with a harvest worth $101 million, mostly from pink and sockeye salmon. Chignik and Cook Inlet also had unusually valuable fisheries, resulting from strong sockeye returns to those areas.

A table with information on harvests, average weights, and prices by species for each management area, can be found at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/fishing/PDFs/commercial/11exvesl.pdf


* To Survive Climate Change, Ocean Fish Will Need Swim Faster, Farther To Keep Pace With Shifts

Fish and other sea creatures will have to travel large distances to survive climate change, international marine scientists have warned.

Sea life, particularly in the Indian Ocean, the Western and Eastern Pacific and the subarctic oceans will face growing pressures to adapt or relocate to escape extinction, according to a new study by an international team of scientists published in the journal Science.

“Our research shows that species which cannot adapt to the increasingly warm waters they will encounter under climate change will have to swim farther and faster to find a new home,” according to a team member, professor John Pandolfi of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and The University of Queensland.

Using 50 years’ data of global temperature changes since the 1960s, the researchers analyzed the shifting climates and seasonal patterns on land and in the oceans to understand how this will affect life in both over the coming century.

“We examined the velocity of climate change (the geographic shifts of temperature bands over time) and the shift in seasonal temperatures for both land and sea. We found both measures were higher for the ocean at certain latitudes than on land, despite the fact that the oceans tend to warm more slowly than air over the land.”

The finding has serious implications especially for marine biodiversity hotspots – such as the famous Coral Triangle and reefs that flourish in equatorial seas, and for life in polar seas, which will come under rising pressure from other species moving in, the team says.

“Unlike land-dwelling animals, which can just move up a mountain to find a cooler place to live, a sea creature may have to migrate several hundred kilometers to find a new home where the water temperature, seasonal conditions and food supply all suit it,” Pandolfi says.

Under current global warming, land animals and plants are migrating polewards at a rate of about 6 kilometers a decade – but sea creatures may have to move several times faster to keep in touch with the water temperature and conditions that best suit them.

Another team member, associate professor Anthony Richardson from the School of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Queensland, became interested in how species might respond to climate change during his work on a global synthesis of marine climate impacts.

He says, “We have been underestimating the likely impact of climate change on the oceans.”

As a general rule, it seems sea life will have to move a lot faster and farther to keep up with temperature shifts in the oceans. This applies especially to fish and marine animals living in the equatorial and subarctic seas, and poses a particular issue both for conservation and fisheries management.

Richardson explains, “There is also a complex mosaic of responses globally, related to local warming and cooling. For example, our analysis suggests that life in many areas in the Southern Ocean could move northward.”

However, as a rule, they are likely to be as great or greater in the sea than on land, as a result of its more uniform temperature distribution.

The migration is likely to be particularly pronounced among marine species living at or near the sea surface, or subsisting on marine plants and plankton that require sunlight – and less so in the deep oceans.

“Also, as seas around the equator warm more quickly and sea life migrates away – north or south – in search of cooler water, it isn’t clear what, if anything, will replace it,” Pandolfi adds. “No communities of organisms from even warmer regions currently exist to replace those moving out.”

At the same time, sea life living close to the poles could find itself overwhelmed by marine migrants moving in from warmer regions, in search of cool water.

The team’s future research will focus on how different ocean species respond to climate change and they are compiling a database on this for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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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