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Council Moves Proposal For Evaluating Salmon Habitat Above Grand Coulee To Science Review
Posted on Friday, December 18, 2015 (PST)

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council this week took another step towards evaluating passage for salmon and steelhead above Grand Coulee Dam when it sent the only proposal it received for the initial study of upriver habitat to the Independent Science Review Panel.

 

The council at its October meeting approved a request for proposals for a habitat reach assessment.

The Council, along with the Bonneville Power Administration, then released the RFP asking for proposals to investigate whether over 500 river miles of tributaries and mainstem river from Grand Coulee (river mile 545.1) to the Canadian border (river mile 745) are suitable habitat to support runs of anadromous fish, including chinook and sockeye salmon, and steelhead.

 

The single proposal received at the Council by its Dec. 15, 2015 deadline, according to Lynn Palensky, Council staff in the Fish and Wildlife Division, was submitted by the Spokane Tribe and a collaborative group of regional co-managers. That group includes the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and with technical support from the U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia River Research Laboratory and NOAA Fisheries. The Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) submitted a letter of support for the proposal.

 

“The proposal has been sent to the ISRP for review as of this afternoon (Thursday),” Palensky said.  “We asked them to review the proposal based on sound scientific principles and methodologies as defined in the Program.  The proposal defined work based on the tasks and deliverables that were described in the RFP.”

 

Funding for the study could be as high as $200,000, although it is unknown what the proposal’s price tag might be until after the ISRP review. Much of the cost would be assumed by BPA.

 

Tony Grover, Council staff, at the October meeting had anticipated that a coalition of partners would submit a proposal and that it likely would include upper Columbia River tribes who had already done much of the work, along with the Salmon Recovery Board and other federal agencies.

 

At that deciding meeting, Council members approved the measure unanimously, but some made it clear that they were only voting to fund a study of the habitat above Grand Coulee Dam, not approving measures that would reintroduce anadromous fish into the area. That could come later after ISRP review.

 

(See CBB, October 16, 2015, “Can Salmon, Steelhead Survive Above Grand Coulee Dam? Council Investigation May Provide Answer,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435273.aspx)

 

When the Council amended its Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program in October 2014, it updated program provisions that included investigating the possibility of reintroducing anadromous fish back into blocked mainstem Columbia River reaches and tributaries.

 

See http://www.nwcouncil.org/fw/program/201412/program/partthree_vision_foundation_goals_objectives_strategies/iv_strategies/c_other_strategies/3_anadromous_fish_mitigation_blocked_areas/

for language in the Fish and Wildlife Program

 

The program calls for the pursuit of “a science-based, phased approach to investigating the reintroduction of anadromous fish above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams including juvenile and adult passage at the dams.”

 

The RFP targeted just one element of the work that still needs to be done before fish are passed upstream of either dam – the investigation into the area’s habitat potential. 

 

Among the specific tasks required by the RFP are:

--compile what is known about the area and species from existing studies, GIS information, reports and local knowledge.

--identify areas where information is weak or lacking

--identify and prioritize target reaches for potential field surveys

--perform field studies if needed in target areas to evaluate existing habitat condition and suitability for anadromous fish

--summarize and analyze previously existing and newly collected data to determine what species and life histories can be supported by the existing habitat, the salmon survival potential and species interaction, particularly with native and non-native fishes.

 

The approval process includes ISRP review, public comment and Council recommendation to Bonneville, according to Palensky. 

 

“Bonneville has the final funding decision since they hold the contracts,” she said.  “We anticipate funding recommendations and funding decisions to be made in late spring/early summer.”

 

The preliminary ISRP report is due Jan. 13, 2016, in time for the January monthly Council meeting. The ISRP could seek feedback from the coalition, with the final ISRP report due Feb. 24, 2016. Written public comment is due March 24. The Council will make its recommendation to BPA in May and Palensky anticipates that BPA will conclude its contracting process in the summer of 2016.

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