The Grant County Public Utility District commissioners announced Thursday that they planned to plunge ahead with construction of juvenile salmon rearing facilities along central Washington’s White River despite last week’s rejection of requests for state and local building permits.
Chelan County Hearing Examiner Andrew Kottkamp on Feb. 16 denied all the necessary permits for Grant PUD to construct a streamside acclimation facility for juvenile spring chinook salmon. Requested were substantial development, variance and conditional use permits under the Chelan County Shoreline Master Program, as well as riparian and wetland variances, a variance and a conditional use permit that would be required under county regulations.
Grant PUD’s federal license requires the utility to construct facilities that will help restore spring chinook populations in both the White River and Nason Creek. Wild fish are part of the Upper Columbia spring salmon “evolutionarily significant unit” that is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The license, among other things, outlines action to be taken to mitigate for impacts to fish stocks caused by Grant’s Priest Rapids Project, which is comprised of Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams on the mid-Columbia River.
The license, issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under the Federal Power Act, allows Grant PUD to bypass or “preempt” state and local laws in cases where those laws prevent the utility from complying with the terms of its license, according to a Grant PUD press release.
Spokeswoman Rita Bjork said Thursday that the PUD commission on Monday will consider a resolution regarding the plan to move ahead with the project. The target is to file a preemption request in March with FERC.
The PUD’s goal is to begin construction on the facility this spring and “begin acclimating fish there next fall,” Bjork said.
The White River acclimation facility would allow hatchery produced spring chinook to be reared over the winter in large circular tanks and outdoor ponds filled with river water. This process allows the fish to “imprint” on their natal river water, providing the critical cues necessary for them to return to spawn after spending 3 to 4 years in the Pacific Ocean.
The PUD in a test employing temporary tanks, took the fish out of the hatchery in the fall 2010, and released them into the river from the tanks in springtime. In the past most streamside acclimations began in the late winter and spring.
Biologists from the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Yakama Nation and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have said they believe the proposed facility would provide the best opportunity to restore natural runs of spring chinook in the White River. The Upper Columbia spring chinook were listed in 1999.
Grant PUD’s federal license to operate the Priest Rapids Project requires mitigation for spring chinook lost during migrations through its hydroelectric dams. The utility is required specifically to construct facilities that support artificial supplementation of spring chinook in both the White River and Nason Creek basins. The White River feeds into the Wenatchee River just above Wenatchee Lake. The Wenatchee is a tributary to the Columbia River. Nason Creek joins the Wenatchee below the lake.
“We are very disappointed with Mr. Kottkamp’s decision,” Grizzel said last week. “We are in a very difficult position since our federal license requires that we construct the acclimation facility yet the hearing examiner has denied all of the necessary permits.”
Since 2004, Grant PUD has acclimated juvenile spring chinook salmon for a short six-week period each spring in the White River and Lake Wenatchee using temporary methods. While the rate of returning adults has increased since this process began, the return numbers are still far from those needed to meet recovery objectives. Biologists believe acclimating fish over the winter months may increase survival.
The acclimation facility design was a collaborative process between Grant PUD; fisheries co-managers; federal, state and local governmental officials; members of the public and other stakeholders. The final concept considered input from all stakeholders and reflected the group’s desire to minimize impacts to the land, the PUD says.
In his decision, Kottkamp said that the ESA “does not require the Hearing Examiner to disregard lawful regulations contained within the Chelan County Shoreline Master Program and the Chelan County Comprehensive Plan” and nor does it “preempt all locale regulations that an applicant believes to be inconsistent with a use proposed to rehabilitate and endangered species.
“The shoreline designation could be changed or the applicant could locate such facilities in a different location with a different shoreline designation.”
Kottkamp’s decision document said the project design involves the installation of fish rearing tanks and ponds, a surface water intake, two groundwater wells, pump stations, water intake and outlet piping, discharge structures and associated outbuildings. In addition, mitigation/site restoration actins including off-channel habitat and wetland creation, rehabilitation and enhancements, as well as streambank enhancement with engineered log jams (ELJs), bio-engineered revetments, and shoreline planning are proposed.’”
The hearing examiner noted that the county’s prohibition against fil’ and dredging within the Natural Shoreline Environment is “valid and enforceable.”
Kottkamp said his findings of fact that a facility such as the one proposed “has the best chance for success of reestablishing this salmon population” and by “the very nature” of the project it must be located close to the river.
“However, because it is designated as a Natural Shoreline Environment, and because the uses of fill and dredging are prohibited in this designation, this application for multiple permits must be denied.”
The proposed project includes dredging in the White River, which is prohibited in an area designated as Natural Shoreline. Likewise landfill.
“The proposed project includes landfill/fill within a wetland, wetland buffer and riparian buffer, all of which is located within Natural Shoreline designation,” the document says. The landfill is needed to build related structures.
Hatchery “supplementation” – the late-stage rearing of hatchery reared fish near spawning grounds so they will return there as adults to spawn -- was deemed necessary by the NOAA Fisheries in 1995 to increase the number of returning adult chinook and to decrease the risk of extinction of the White River spring chinook. During that year, only five adult spring chinook were observed returning to the White River spawning grounds.
Efforts in the White River and nearby Nason Creek have been under way for more than 12 years, following the species’ listing under the Endangered Species Act in 1999.
Learn more at: www.gcpud.org