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Tribes Lay Out Process For Investigating Feasibility Of Salmon Reintroduction Above Grand Coulee Dam
Posted on Friday, January 16, 2015 (PST)

Tribal officials on Tuesday spoke Tuesday on the need to enlist the aid of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in work aimed at, first, determining the feasibility of reintroducing salmon to long-blocked habitat above central Washington’s Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams on the Columbia River, and potentially following through.

 

D.R. Michel told the Council that tribes both north and south of the border appreciate language in newly approved amendments to the NPCC’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program that support such investigations and actions.

 

Collaboration between the NPCC, tribes, federal and state entities and others “could lead to the biggest action in your program’s 35-year history,” said Michel, executive director of the Upper Columbia United Tribes and a Colville tribal member. UCUT members include the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and the Confederated Tribe of the Colville Reservation.

 

Michel, UCUT chairman Matt Wynne and Stephen Smith of Stephen H. Smith Fisheries Consulting Inc. on Tuesday discussed a recently completed joint paper from the Columbia basin tribes and Canadian First Nations titled “Fish Passage and Reintroduction into the U.S. and Canadian Upper Columbia Basin.” The paper lays out a phased approach that would first assess the viability of reintroduction.

 

Contributing tribes include the UCUTs, Canadian Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, Columbia Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Okanagan Nation Alliance, Upper Snake River Tribes, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. The paper, which was written during the Council’s 2014 Program amendment process, was produced to inform the Columbia River Treaty regarding transboundary passage.

 

Both Council members and staff and the tribal spokesman said that NPCC involvement would be focused on Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph and habitat between those dams and the Canadian border. The Council’s program, created at the direction of Congress’ Northwest Power Act, develops a program to protect and rebuild fish and wildlife populations affected by hydropower development in the Columbia River basin. The program is focused in U.S. portions of the basin.

 

The reintroduction issue is also being studied by both U.S. federal officials and Canadian entities as they consider whether to renegotiate and update the Columbia River Treaty. That agreement between Canada and the United States, now in place for more than 50 years, sought the cooperative development and operation of the water resources of the Columbia River Basin for the benefit of both countries. Those benefits principally involve flood control and hydro power production.

 

Fish too are blocked upstream at Canadian Dams such as Keenleyside, Brilliant and Waneta.

 

Fish migrations upstream were initially blocked with completion of Grand Coulee in 1942. Chief Joseph was later built 51 river miles downstream. Neither of the federal hydro projects provided upstream passage for salmon spawners.

 

Tribes upstream of those dams were deprived of an important source of food, and a staple of their culture.

 

Michel called the upper Columbia region “the most impacted” by hydro development in the United States and British Columbia “and the least mitigated.” He said that the two Washington dams provide 50 percent of the power generated in the Columbia power system, and cost access to 40 percent of the Columbia’s historic habitat.

 

Michel said it’s time to “right that wrong.”

 

In recent years favorable ocean conditions, improved passage at dams downstream for both juvenile and adult salmon and habitat improvements in both the United States and Canada have helped improve survival, abundance and productivity of both summer chinook and sockeye salmon, two species that used to call the upper Columbia home.

 

And fish passage technologies and research tools have advanced significantly, raising the possibility that fish could be successfully passed upstream, the tribes say.

 

As an example, the Whooshh Fish Transport System -- also known as the Salmon Cannon – has proved out in a variety of field tests.

 

“Whooshh is sowing potential in passing adult fish in a cost efficient manner,” said Smith. The system is intended to move fish at the processing plant, farm site, hatchery, or dam through its patented transport tubes that use pressure differentials to “whoosh” the fish from one place to another --gently, quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively.

 

More exhaustive tests of the system’s ability to transport to greater heights and over greater distances are needed, according to Smith. Both dams represent sizeable obstacles.

 

Michel and Wynne said they would like to soon involve the Council and the region as a whole in a process Phase I, which would include the following objectives:

 

1. Evaluate existing passage information from dams, including Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph;

 

2. Evaluate extent and potential production of historical habitats above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams;

 

3. Document capital and operating costs of fish facility options, including any foregone operating benefits;

 

4. Evaluate potential donor stocks (Not ESA);

 

5. Investigate utility and cost of the WHOOSHH technology for interim and permanent passage;

 

6. Conduct pilot releases of chinook and sockeye to determine options and methods for Phase 2 research;

 

7. Develop Structured Decision Framework and multi-phase Project Strategic Plan;

 

8. Create life-cycle models to inform development of Phase 2 study plan, survival targets and passage strategies;

 

9. Develop initial, draft research plan addressing critical uncertainties in fish reintroduction;

 

10. Create and maintain flow of Project Information;

 

11. Assess effects of pilot and permanent reintroductions on resident fish management and project operations Next Work Plan.??

 

Phase 1 would consist of a feasibility study to determine habitat availability, suitability, and salmon potential above Grand Coulee by learning both from previous studies at blockages throughout the basin and a potential new study at Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee.

 

The work plan developed by UCUT and the tribes foresees a logical, phased and collaborative approach that is science based. Key reviews and decisions coming from the process would be offered for Council review. The process, the tribes say, could culminate in permanent passage and reintroduction – if warranted.

 

“It’s tremendously important not just to the tribes but to the entire region,” CRITFC executive director Paul Lumley said of the benefits of restored salmon populations to historic habitat above the dams.

 

“The work plan developed by UCUT and the tribes foresees a logical, phased and collaborative approach that is science based,” Lumley said Monday in a letter to new Council Chair Phil Rockefeller. Key reviews and decisions coming from the process would be offered for Council review. “The process, the tribes say, could culminate in permanent passage and reintroduction – if warranted.

 

“While the Columbia Basin Tribes Coalition continues to discuss approaches to transition into the later phases, we support getting this document out to the region to solicit feedback from others on the draft work and coordination plan for Phase 1,” Lumley wrote.

 

He said CRITFC’s member tribes – the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama – were pleased with the inclusion in the newly amended Council program two statements:

 

“- to investigate reintroduction of anadromous fish above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams to mainstem reaches and tributaries in the United States through a phased approach; and, “-- that strongly encourages the United States to pursue a joint program with Canada to investigate the transboundary reintroduction of anadromous fish to Canadian spawning grounds.”

 

Still to be determined is the structure of the process (who will be involved and roles) and budget sources.

 

Tuesday’s tribal presentation listed as next steps:

 

-- Broadly circulate this draft Work Plan for comments;

-- Develop collaborative project goals;

-- Create Statements of Work from a final Work

Plan;

-- Seek and confirm Phase 1 budget(s);

-- Begin contracting and implementation with funding entities.

 

For more information go to:

http://www.nwcouncil.org/media/7148657/f4.pdf

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