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Wanapum Dam: Tribes Urge Feds To Be ‘Proactive’ In Requiring Monitoring, Evaluation Of Fish Passage
Posted on Friday, April 11, 2014 (PST)

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in an April 2 letter to two federal agencies stresses the need to involve treaty tribes in processes to address issues posed by a fractured mid-Columbia River dam that has the potential to affect survival rates for migrating salmon and steelhead.


Those at the center of the challenge – public utility districts whose dam operations are directly affected – say that they are making “extraordinary efforts to operate in a transparent manner and seek input from key parties,” including the region’s tribes.


CRITFC member tribes “strongly urge that your agencies be proactive in requiring monitoring and evaluation of adult and juvenile passage at these projects for as long as the compromised passage conditions exist and until it is shown that the permanent solution meets the passage need of the fish,” according to the letter, signed by CRITFC’s executive director, Paul Lumley, sent to NOAA Fisheries Service and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.


NOAA Fisheries is in charge with assuring protections for anadromous (freshwater-to-ocean-and back again) species, including those listed under the Endangered Species Act, such as salmon. FERC as part of its dam licensing authority requires that non-federal hydro operators provide ESA fish protections.


The dam in question is Wanapum, owned and operated by Grant County Public Utility District, where a 65-foot-long crack across one of the dam spillway piers was discovered Feb. 27. In order to avoid a potential failure of the structure, Grant PUD drew down the reservoir behind the dam by as much as 26 feet in order to reduce water pressure on the damaged spillway structure.


That drawdown has numerous implications for salmon and steelhead that must pass downstream through Wanapum on their way to the Pacific Ocean, and upstream on their return as adults to spawn. The reservoir drawdown poses problems for fish access at Wanapum and at Rock Island, a hydro project just upstream owned by Chelan County PUD.


Wanapum is the sixth hydro project the fish pass on their way upstream. Spring chinook spawners are expected to begin arriving at the dam by mid-month. Steelhead, summer and fall chinook salmon and sockeye will also be headed upstream over the course of the spring, summer and fall, and juveniles of all species are migrating downstream. Wild spring chinook and steelhead headed to the mid and upper Columbia are ESA listed.


Lamprey and bull trout too depend on up and downstream passage at federal and privately owned hydro projects in the Columbia-Snake river hydro system. Bull trout are likewise listed.


The tribes “strongly urge that your agencies be proactive in requiring monitoring and evaluation of adult and juvenile passage at these projects for as long as the compromised passage conditions exist and until it is shown that the permanent solution meets the passage need of the fish,” CRITFC’s letter says.


The letter reminds the agencies of federal treaty and trust obligations owed the tribes, and asks that they be included in discussions about possible remedies. CRITFC’s member tribes include the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama.


“This action has created an unprecedented situation for migrating salmonids and lamprey,” the CRITFC letter says. “Currently 100 percent of the adult upstream passage of salmon and lamprey is blocked at Wanapum Dam and severely affected at Rock Island Dam just upstream. Juvenile anadromous fish passage is also compromised at both structures.


“While emergency efforts are under way, neither CRITFC nor its member tribes have been formally contacted regarding your agencies’ efforts to address this situation,” the letter says.


“Because actions must be undertaken immediately and throughout the 2014 fish migration season, we recommend that NOAA and FERC establish protocols for regular and ongoing communications to address the fish passage conditions caused by the pier nose failure at Wanapum Dam, and the resulting low water conditions affecting passage at Rock Island Dam,” the CRITFC letter says. “The tribes expect the responsible parties to take the responsibility to assess the damages caused by the emergency situation and to collaborate with the tribes to protect these valuable resources.”


The CRITFC letter says that most of the planning effort has been focused on adult salmon, which the member tribes acknowledge is a high priority. But lamprey need to be added to the equation.


“Grant County must provide a plan for passing adult lamprey upstream. Lamprey requires different passage conditions than salmon. While we are hopeful that the proposed modifications at the Wanapum ladder will work for salmon; it is very unlikely to work for adult lamprey, and this needs to be addressed,” the CRITFC letter says. “We are willing to cooperate with Grant PUD and others to implement lamprey passage measures that the tribes have pioneered with the Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation.”


Downstream juvenile passage also needs to be accommodated, and monitored carefully, the tribes say.


Juvenile bypass is “likely to be compromised because of the design characteristics of the Wanapum Fish Bypass,” according to technical comments submitted by CRITFC. “The Bypass was designed to operate at a flow of 20,000 cfs [cubic feet per second] to provide suitable forebay and tailrace egress conditions.


“Due to expected forebay conditions operations, the Wanapum Bypass will operate at a flow rate of approximately 5,000-6,000 cfs or roughly one-quarter of its designed operation. In addition, the turbines at Wanapum Dam are likely to operate far outside peak efficiency and near cavitation limits.


“Such operations are known to cause high levels of juvenile salmon mortality. Grant County’s emergency operations plan does not address juvenile fish passage conditions for 2014. In addition, the Wanapum Dam forebay conditions are likely to adversely affect juvenile passage conditions at Rock Island Dam, where the spillway tailrace exits into a shallow basalt basin.”


The CRITFC letter has attached “Interim Technical Recommendations to Address Juvenile and Adult Fish Passage Affected by Emergency Operations of Wanapum Dam.”


The PUDs say they and their partners continue to respond with intense problem solving efforts.


“None of this is anything we were prepared for, to be honest,” Chuck Berrie, Grant PUD’s assistant general manager told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council during a Wednesday presentation on the Wanapum situation.


There was no instruction manual sitting on the shelf to direct the utilities’ response, said Keith Truscott, Chelan PUD’s Natural Resources director.


But both Berrie and Truscott were optimistic that fish survival can be maintained at or near recent high levels.


“We believe the fish passage will work quite well,” Berrie told the Council. And a new juvenile bypass system in place since 2008 should be operational at Wanapum. About 75 percent of the outmigrants use the facility, where direct survival has in the past approached 100 percent.


“We think that drawdown survival will still be good,” he said.


And, “a tremendous amount of studies” are being developed to monitor survival, Berrie said.


The two PUDs in an April 4 letter to FERC and NOAA Fisheries said that as part of emergency ESA consultation, a work group was created that consists of the PUDs, NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Yakama Nation, the Colville Tribes and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife


This work group collaboratively developed interim fish passage plans for the Wanapum and Rock Island projects. Additional outreach and weekly updates have been provided to other stakeholders that include Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Reclamation, Washington Department of Ecology, the Fish Passage Center and CRITFC.


“Close coordination and development of the plans has been, and will continue to be, focused on supporting the overall goal of providing safe, timely, and effective volitional adult and juvenile fish passage for the Wanapum and Rock Island Project areas under the existing emergency condition,” the PUDs’ letter says.


“Certainly, in these rapidly evolving circumstances new thoughts may emerge that merit consideration,” the PUD letter said. 


“We believe that every effort should be made to use the collaborative process that has served us so well for the past decade and particularly in the past month.


“There are both flaws and possibly some merit in CRITFC's recommendations. It is our view that specific proposals like the ones provided by CRITFC should first be vetted within the established process engaging representatives of all stakeholders who have spent substantial portions of their careers studying and understanding the fishery resources of the mid-Columbia region.”


According to CRITFC’s Tom Lorz, adult passage problems could well mount as the numbers of passing fish rises later in the season. High returns of fall chinook and sockeye salmon are expected this year.


“Using the metrics collected for adult passage, a trigger needs to be developed to signal the need for trap and haul in the event adult passage efforts are not working as planned,” the CRITFC letter says. “The criteria must account for the realistic capacity of the trap and haul program at Priest Rapids Dam.


“The tribes expect Grant County PUD to make every effort to safely pass all upstream adult migrants. The tribes have serious doubts about the ability of Grant County PUD to trap and haul the projected high numbers of adult salmon fish expected to be migrating in 2014.”


Both Grant and Chelan PUDs are at work on modifications to fish ladders at Wanapum and Rock Island dams, respectively. The Wanapum work aims to pump water into the ladder to help the fishes’ ascent and provide safe egress into the reservoir, which is more than 20 feet lower than normal. The Rock Island project aims to extend ladders into the lowered Wanapum reservoir.


The ladder modifications are expected to be complete before salmon begin arriving. Grant PUD has said that a Priest Rapids Dam adult trapping facility, typically used for research purposes, will be used to corral some of the fish so that they can be transported aboard trucks for release at points upstream of Wanapum. Transportation will be used at the very least early in the season until an assessment can be made regarding passage at the remodeled fish ladders.


Fish are on the way. A total of 2,063 had been counted so far this year passing over the lowermost dam in the Columbia River system, Bonneville, as of Wednesday. The April 9 daily count was 346, the highest total to date. The spring chinook run, which branches off into the Snake River or the mid- and upper Columbia, typically reaches peak counts at Bonneville in late April or early May.


Bonneville is about 260 river miles downstream of Wanapum. On the way upstream the fish encounter The Dalles, John Day, McNary and then Priest Rapids dams. A total of 71 adult spring chinook had been counted crossing over McNary Dam as of Wednesday.


For more information, see:


-- CBB, April 4, 2014, “Fish Passage Fixes At Wanapum Dam To Be Completed April 15; Trap/Truck First Weeks Of Spring Run”


-- CBB, March 14, 2014, “Wanapum Dam Crack: With Spring Chinook On the Way Upstream Fish Passage High Priority”


-- CBB, March 7, 2014, “Crack In Wanapum Dam:Reservoir Drawn Down 26 Feet, Officials Assess Options, Fish Passage Strategies”


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