in eastern Washington are blaming fisheries managers for choosing spill over
transportation during the spring juvenile migration in 2015, a choice they
allege resulted in the loss of 65 percent of the wild spring chinook adults
returning to the Snake River this year.
said that other hatchery fish were affected, as well, and that the final
numbers of returning adult steelhead will document further losses.
evidence clearly shows that the Fish Managers ignored the legally required, ESA
(Biological Opinion) ‘spread the risk’ policy, in the spring 2015, when they
transported only 13 percent of juvenile salmon/steelhead during low flow and
high temperature conditions, when young fish are the most vulnerable to the
adverse effects of remaining in-river,” the Columbia-Snake Irrigators
Association said in a news release.
was the lowest percent transported since records were first kept in 1993,” they
further its argument, last week, September 29, the CSRIA petitioned the U.S.
District Court in Portland to convene an evidentiary hearing to air their
assertions in court before Judge Michael H. Simon. That information, they said,
is not being considered by NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
as they plan additional court-ordered spill operations at Snake River dams that
are to begin in April.
petition is at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-xN73ylnN7jMVY3MlgzcnczX28/view
irrigators’ “laundry list of potential unintended consequences of increased
spill” includes decreased smolt-to-adult survival rates, decreased annual
juvenile survival and increased exposure of juveniles to predators.
those are precisely the issues that the juvenile transport program is designed
to mitigate and address,” the petition says. “But like the rest of the
documents released to date, adverse effects arising from decreased
transportation are entirely eliminated from consideration in the process.”
had previously petitioned in a letter to the Corps and NOAA Fisheries June 2 to
formally investigate the 2015 decision to keep juvenile salmon and steelhead,
listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, in the river rather than
transport the fish downstream to below Bonneville Dam. That letter asked the
agencies to seek answers to two questions:
did the Army Corps fail to properly implement the long-standing “spread the
risk” orders by U.S. District Court, which among other things called for the
Army Corps to transport juvenile fish downstream?
agencies instead of spreading the risk opted for more spill, the petition says.
did NOAA Fisheries acquiesce to an informal committee of stakeholders called
the Fish Passage Advisory Committee (FPAC) and not request, more forcefully,
that the Army Corps begin transport to avoid jeopardizing fish runs?
spread the risk policy has been in effect for a couple of decades and was
reaffirmed in a 2005 decision by U.S. District Court Judge James Redden when
the Corps said it will both spill water at the Lower Snake River dams for
juveniles, while it also will transport the fish in barges and trucks “in a
relatively equal measure.”
NOAA Fisheries had requested an early start date for transporting the juveniles
in April 2015 due to the lethal conditions building in the river, the requests
were rejected by some fisheries managers, claims the June 2 petition. By the
time that transportation had begun, some 60 percent of the chinook and 50
percent of the steelhead juveniles had already migrated, the petition said.
request for injunctive relief for more spill was enjoined with an earlier case
argued in Simon’s court that resulted in a remand in May 2016 of the Columbia
River hydropower system’s 2014 biological opinion for salmon and steelhead.
request for injunctive relief was brought to Simon in January 2017 by the National
Wildlife Foundation and the State of Oregon, with the support of the Nez Perce
Tribe. The groups asked the court to begin ordering spill to maximum total
dissolved gas levels beginning April 3 this year and to continue for each year
of the BiOp remand.
agreed with the plaintiffs that spill earlier in the year at the dams would
benefit ESA-listed salmon and steelhead, but held off on ordering that spill
until 2018, saying it was “too rushed,” giving federal agencies time to plan
for operational changes at the dams resulting from the earlier spill schedule.
decision ordering more spill was appealed by the federal agencies and Northwest
River Partners in early June to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. However,
the appeal is more of a pre-emptive strategy awaiting the outcome of this
process to develop study designs and spill protocols for each of the eight
dams, according to NOAA Fisheries. In a footnote of the status review, the
federal agencies say that they “fully intend to comply with the Court’s
direction” spelled out in the April 3 order.
other requirements, Simon’s opinion on spring spill called for periodic status
updates and conferences regarding the spill and planning for the spill. The
next status conference is in Portland November 28.
does not support the process by the federal agencies to design an earlier spill
protocol without first considering whether spill is the best route to move
juvenile fish. It claimed the process was being conducted by the federal agencies
behind closed doors and asked the court in its petition:
this court instructed the Federal Defendants to examine carefully the impacts
of increased spill on FCRPS operations and salmon survival to ensure compliance
with the Endangered Species Act, the Federal Defendants have not done so to
date. Instead, they have released a series of preliminary documents that fail
to adequately analyze the likely adverse environmental impacts of the new spill
regime, and confirm that the Federal Defendants have no intent of assessing
adverse effects from reduced transportation.”
said it is entitled to gather evidence and present it in the court “in an
evidentiary hearing before any injunctive relief increasing spill is entered by
the Court.” It also asked the court to “open this process to CSRIA and other
the long run, the CSRIA has previously said that the only practical solution is
to invoke a process contained within the ESA statute called the “God Squad,”
something the CSRIA did in December when it petitioned the incoming Trump
Administration after the presidential election, but prior to President Donald
Trump taking office, to begin thinking about the God Squad as a solution to
perpetual litigation over ESA-listed fish in the Northwest.
July 21, 2017, “Irrigators Petition Corps, NOAA To Investigate River Management
Decisions During 2015 Low/Hot Water,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439311.aspx
June 23, 2017, “Litigants In Salmon BiOp Case Working Together To Develop
Court-Ordered Spill-For-Fish Plan In 2018,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439147.aspx
June 9, 2017, “Federal Agencies Give Notice Of Possible Appeal Of Court Ruling
Providing Earlier Spill For Fish,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439055.aspx
April 1, 2016, “Corps Report On 2015 Columbia/Snake Warm Water, Fish Die-Off
Will Discuss Actions To Avoid Repeat,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436358.aspx
CBB, December 2, 2016, “Irrigators Petition Trump Transition Team For ‘God
Squad’ Intervention In Salmon BiOp Remand,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438042.aspx
CBB, December 4, 2015, “Post-Mortem 2015 Snake River Sockeye Run; 90 Percent Of
Fish Dead Before Reaching Ice Harbor Dam,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435642.aspx
CBB, November 6, 2015, “Report Analyzes Impacts, Causes Of This Year’s Warm
Fish-Killing Water In Columbia/Snake,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435505.aspx
CBB, September 11, 2015, “Snake River Sockeye: Lowest Return Since 2007,
Captive Broodstock Program Increases Spawners,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/434944.aspx