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Science Panel: Research, Monitoring Plan For Willamette Valley Salmon Restoration On Right Track
Posted on Friday, December 30, 2011 (PST)

A recently completed draft “Research, Monitoring and Evaluation” plan represents a “significant step” toward the development of a framework to guide efforts to revive salmon populations and other fish stocks in Oregon’s Willamette River valley, according to a report issued by the Independent Scientific Review Panel.

 

At the request of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the ISRP reviewed the Corps’ draft plan and fiscal year 2012 concept papers and proposals for the Corps’ Willamette Valley Project. The Willamette Project consists of 13 multipurpose dams, five fish hatcheries, and approximately 42 miles of fortified riverbanks (intended to keep the river from meandering) in western Oregon’s Willamette River basin.

 

The plan, concept papers and RM&E project proposals represent an effort to plan and implement studies of juvenile and adult fish passage, flows, water quality, hatchery management, and habitat restoration.

 

On July 11, 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service issued Endangered Species Act “biological opinions” to complete consultations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration and the Bureau of Reclamation on the impact of the Willamette Project’s dams on listed species in the Willamette River basin. Those species include wild steelhead, spring chinook salmon, bull trout and Oregon chub.

 

NOAA Fisheries’ BiOp said that the action agencies’ plan for operations and fish and wildlife mitigation alone was not sufficient to avoid the two listed upper Willamette salmonid species. The Corps operates the dams; BPA markets hydro power generated at the facilities and the Bureau allocates water from the associated reservoirs for irrigation.

 

“As a result, NMFS provided additional measures to mitigate for the projects’ effects. These measures include fish passage at three dams, temperature control downstream of another dam, changes in downstream flows, screening of irrigation diversions, improved hatchery practices and facilities and habitat improvement projects,” the BiOp says.

 

(For more information see CBB, Aug. 12, 2011, “Willamette Plan Released; Calls For Reintroducing Salmon, Steelhead Above Santiam, McKenzie Dams” http://www.cbbulletin.com/411454.aspx)

 

The ISRP report notes that in past reviews of projects in the Columbia River mainstem implemented through the Corps’ Columbia River Fish Mitigation Program, the ISRP recommended that a research plan be developed to guide efforts. The Willamette Valley Project draft plan “represents a significant step in providing this useful guidance framework.

 

“The plan contained much useful information including substantial content on hatchery research, monitoring, and evaluation. It identifies many critical uncertainties, but there are still some gaps in coverage,” the ISRP report says.

 

“To improve on the next draft of the plan, the ISRP recommends several deficiencies be addressed including prioritization of proposed monitoring and research activities, more consideration of carrying capacity of tributaries, a landscape approach, impacts of hatchery stocks on wild fish, and incorporation of a management decision framework, according to the ISRP review.

 

The ISRP reviewed 18 project proposals aimed at implementing the RM&E plan. The panel found that two of the proposals met scientific review criteria, nine met criteria with some qualifications, and seven did not meet criteria.

 

“Many of the seven projects that did not meet criteria could be improved by revising, and in some cases rethinking, the proposal to add additional details on rationale and methods,” the ISRP review says. “Although most of the 18 proposals addressed important issues, it was unclear why these particular projects were selected for implementation whereas other projects identified in the plan were not.”

 

The report can be found at:

 

http://www.nwcouncil.org/library/report.asp?d=648

 

The Willamette RM&E is being implemented through the Corps’ CRFM program, which is funded via congressional appropriations which are reimbursed to the U.S. Treasury by BPA. ISRP review of projects under this program was directed in the 1998 U.S. Congress Senate-House conference report for the fiscal year 1999 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill. The ISRP’s review responsibilities are also incorporated in the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s 2009 Fish and Wildlife Program.

 

The ISRP reviewed each of the RM&E proposals using its standard criteria, that the project is based on sound science principles; benefits fish and wildlife; has clearly defined objectives and outcomes; and has provisions for monitoring and evaluation of results.

 

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