“Major dam improvements occurred, acres of habitat were improved, predators were controlled, and fish status overall was good,” according the conclusion of the annual report summarizing a third year of implementation of the 10-year Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion.
The report was released last week to the public and filed with the U.S. District Court in Portland. Judge James A. Redden in August declared the NOAA Fisheries BiOp, which was completed in May 2008 and supplemented in 2010, illegal but left its terms in place until a new or supplemental strategy is produced. Redden set Jan. 1, 2014 as the deadline for delivery of a BiOp “that corrects this BiOp’s reliance on mitigation measures that are unidentified, and not reasonably certain to occur.”
In his Aug. 2 order Redden directed that BiOp annual progress reports be submitted to the court.
“Any party of amici shall have 10 days to comment on the reports,” Redden said. That 10-day clock began ticking Sept. 30.
NOAA Fisheries and federal “action” agencies in the 2008 BiOp’s “reasonable and prudent alternative” assigned themselves the task of producing annual reports, as well as more comprehensive evaluations in 2013 and 2016, describing progress made toward implementing actions aimed at improving survival of Columbia/Snake river salmon and steelhead stocks that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The FCRPS includes 14 hydro projects in Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Washington.
The actions committed to by the federal agencies include the use of spill and surface passage structures at dams, management of water releases from storage reservoirs, expanded control of predators that prey on young salmon, improvement of tributary and estuary habitat, and implementation of hatchery reforms. The action agencies are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation, which operate the dams, and the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets power generated in the system.
The overriding goal of the BiOP is to avoid jeopardizing listed stocks as a result of the existence and operation of the federal dams.
“The actions described in this annual report are focused on achieving biological performance standards, achieving programmatic performance targets, and addressing factors that limit certain life stages for specific evolutionarily significant units (ESUs) or distinct population segments (DPSs) of salmon and steelhead,” the summary says.
The annual report is organized into three sections. RPA implementation highlights are presented in Section 1, as are discussions of how findings that will inform future RPA implementation. Section 2 addresses progress on RPA implementation by action. Section 3 lists projects implemented during 2010 and includes habitat metrics completed the same year.
The new report details RPA implementation progress during the period Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2010.
The document summarizes goals, as well as 2010 accomplishments, by category.
Chief among the hydro accomplishments was the completed construction at The Dalles Dam of an extended spillwall to improve juvenile survival in the tailrace, along with first-year of performance standard testing. Estimates of dam passage survival for spring and fall chinook exceeded the BiOp performance standard while the estimate for steelhead was slightly below (95.3 percent) the 96 percent standard.
Another step forward was completion of increased coverage of wire arrays to deter avian predators at John Day Dam, along with surface weir modifications in the spillway, to increase juvenile project survival to near performance standard levels. A rebuilt John Day north ladder exit section and count station is expected to reduce adult delay, counting problems, and fish jumping behavior.
In the habitat category the goal is to improve tributary and/or estuary habitat used by salmon for spawning or rearing. The report describes actions that resulted in “increased streamflows by protecting 18,920 acre-feet of water in tributaries throughout the Columbia River Basin.” Those gains were mostly accomplished through the lease or purchase water rights or installation water efficiency improvements to increase the amount of water in streams.
Other actions addressed fish entrainment with installation of 41 fish screens in tributaries. Fish screens at irrigation diversions prevent fish from becoming trapped in irrigation ditches, providing immediate improvements to juvenile fish survival.
Other habitat accomplishments in 2010 include:
-- Improved or opened access to 516 miles of tributary spawning and rearing habitat.
-- Improved 595 acres of riparian habitat in tributaries and increased the complexity of 58 miles of streams used by anadromous fish.
-- Leased or purchased 2,302 acres of riparian habitat in tributaries.
-- Improved and restored 2 linear miles of stream/channels in the estuary.
-- Removed tide gate to open up 800 feet of historic tide channels in the estuary.
-- Removed 700 feet of levee to reconnect historic estuary tidal channels.
-- Removed invasive plant species and planted and maintained native vegetation in riparian wetlands on 796 acres in the estuary.
In 2010 the federal agencies worked with hatchery operators to revise 39 draft Hatchery Genetic Management Plans to initiate ESA consultation and to identify operations to reduce or eliminate (where appropriate) detrimental genetic and ecological effects on listed species.
The new report also describes abundance and abundance trends at the species or ESU level as of December 2010.
“Species-level status is determined based on a review of population-level status and includes consideration not just of abundance, but also productivity, spatial structure, and diversity. These are the attributes of a viable salmonid population,” the report says.
The summary says that returns are, generally, trending upward.
“In 2010, more than 1.8 million adult and jack salmon and steelhead were counted as they passed Bonneville Dam (jack salmon are young males that mature and return to spawning grounds earlier than others in their age class).
“This number exceeds historical averages (i.e., for 2000 and earlier) and is above the 10-year average,” the summer says. “… counts in 2010 of adult steelhead, chinook, and sockeye passing Bonneville Dam exceeded the 10-year average; the counts of spring and fall chinook were substantially above the 10-year average, and the count of sockeye was more than three times the 10-year average. The count of adult coho was slightly below the 10- year average.”
Specific adult return and trend information for the species addressed in the BiOp are presented beginning on page 31 of the summary.
The full FCRPS 2010 Annual Progress Report, which includes the Detailed Description of RPA Action Implementation and Project Tables for RPA Action Implementation, is available online at: http://www.salmonrecovery.gov/BiologicalOpinions/FCRPS/BiopImplementation/2010FCRPSBiOpimplementation.aspx