The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan for shepherding juvenile salmon and steelhead down through the Columbia-Snake river hydro to the Pacific Ocean this summer includes a strong dose of spill as it has in recent years.
The Corps’ 2011 Summer Fish Operations Plan for dam operations June 16 through Aug. 31closely resembles last year's and includes spill and fish transportation operations at Corps operated dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers.
The plan was submitted to U.S. District Court Judge James A. Redden for approval. Redden has presided for more than 10 years over litigation regarding the adequacy of the Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinions. Redden declared the 2000 BiOp and its replacement, the 2004 version, illegal. He is now mulling the legal fate of the 2008/2010 FCRPS BiOp.
BiOps judge whether federal actions, such as the operation of the hydro operations, jeopardize the survival of salmon and steelhead stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act. FCRPS BiOps have included dam operations and mitigation actions, such as habitat restoration, aimed at improving fish survivals.
Summer operations have since 2005 largely been prescribed by court order. Plaintiffs in the litigation that year gained a preliminary injunction that required federal agencies to implement spill that year at the three Snake transportation collector projects in late June through August and at McNary Dam on the Columbia from July 1 through August, contrary to the prescriptions of the 2004 BiOP, which stressed maximum transportation during that time.
Little Granite, Lower Monumental and Little Goose dams on the Snake River and McNary Dam feature collection facilities that steer smolts into raceways leading to barges used to ship the young fish down through the hydro system.
The direct survival of smolts, which are released in the estuary below Bonneville Dam, is high, but critics say those fish are affected by the altered timing and other factors and in many cases survive at a lesser rate during their ocean maturation period.
With litigation ongoing, parties to the lawsuit agreed to basically continue operations for the most part that were outlined in the 2010 FOP-court order. Redden on Tuesday issued an order adopting the 2011 Summer FOP.
“The Action Agencies are committed to the summer spill measures and achieving mainstem FCPRS project hydro performance standards contained in the 2010 NOAA Fisheries Supplemental Biological Opinion (2010 Supplemental BiOp) as supported by the BiOp analyses,” the FOP says.
“The Action Agencies are also interested in expeditious resolution of the case challenging these opinions; therefore, for summer 2011, the agencies support adoption of the project operations contained in the Order for 2010 Summer Spill Operations. The 2011 Summer FOP adopts project operations in the Order for 2010 Summer Spill Operations.”
The operations were jointly developed by federal and regional fish managers to provide timely and safe passage of juvenile fish through the hydropower system, according to the Corps.
Fish pass the dams through the turbines, over the spillways via spill or spillway weirs, or through screened bypass systems where they can be collected for transport or routed directly back to the river.
Evaluations of different spill operations to determine which best meet juvenile passage performance standards in the 2008 BiOp will be suspended this summer because of unusually high flows in the river system. The June final water supply forecast for the Columbia River Basin is 135 percent of normal as measured at The Dalles Dam and 156 percent of normal for the Snake River Basin as measured at Lower Granite Dam.
“The amount of snow remaining in the mountains this late in the season is unusual and means that Columbia and Snake river flows are expected to remain high, fast and cold well into the summer,” said Steve Barton, chief of the Reservoir Control Center for the Corps’ Columbia Basin Water Management Division.
The Corps, Bonneville Power Administration and Bureau of Reclamation operate the FCRPS consistent with BiOps issued by NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Through a coordinated set of hydro project actions, the agencies work together with state and tribal partners to enhance juvenile and adult fish survival, meet performance standards required by the 2008 BiOp, and provide benefits to resident fish.
For more information on the federal salmon and steelhead recovery efforts in the region, visit www.salmonrecovery.gov