agreement signed this week by federal agencies, states and a tribe promises
additional spring spill next year at Columbia and Snake river dams to aid juvenile
salmon passage, but how the spill is conducted will be by agreement among six
parties and not by court order, as it was in spring 2018.
year spring spill to state total dissolved gas limits, known as gas caps, at
lower Columbia and Snake river dams was by an April 2017 order from Judge
Michael H. Simon of the U.S. District Court of Oregon. Simon had ordered
24-hour spring spill for the year 2018 only beginning April 3 at lower Snake
River projects and April 10 at lower Columbia River projects, and ending June
21 on the Snake River and June 16 on the Columbia River.
with this Dec. 18 agreement, although start and end dates are the same, daily
timing of the spill will now be flexible as to dam and time of day in order to
reduce costs to the Columbia River basin power system. The new agreement could
be for as many as three years, or until federal agencies complete in 2021 a
federal Columbia River power system environmental impact statement and
biological opinion for salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species
the interim, the agreement will be tucked into a 2018 BiOp NOAA Fisheries had
planned to complete by the end of this year. That additional work will delay
the BiOp to about March 2019, according to NOAA spokesperson Michael Milstein.
to the new flexible spill regime are the states of Oregon and Washington, the
Nez Perce Tribe, the Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.
addition, the states of Idaho and Montana reviewed the agreement and are
supportive of the flexible operation, a federal agency joint statement said.
spill agreement, according to the statement, said the parties “have aligned on
a flexible spring spill operation premised on achieving improved salmon
survival while also managing costs in hydropower generation.”
is key to this new approach to Columbia River system management,” the joint
statement said. “Working together, the region’s states, tribes, and federal
agencies have developed an approach that demonstrates environmental stewardship
and affordable sustainable energy are not mutually exclusive.”
landmark agreement will allow for more spill over Washington’s hydropower dams
and more water in our rivers for salmon,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a
Facebook post. “The outstanding hard work and partnership that went into making
this possible will give our Southern Resident orcas a better chance at
agreement that will govern spring spill from 2019 to as far out as 2021, when
the final BiOp will be approved, requires flexible spill at levels equal to or
higher than that ordered by Simon.
to a joint news release by Earthjustice, Save Our Wild Salmon, the Sierra Club
and the Coastal Trollers Association, the “most comprehensive scientific
analysis available demonstrates that these higher levels of spill will increase
juvenile salmon survival and subsequent adult returns.”
Agreement is a small step forward for Snake and Columbia River salmon. It is a
stop-gap measure to help struggling salmon populations for the next three
years,” said Todd True, Earthjustice attorney. “It is not, however, the kind of
major overhaul of dam operations, that the imperiled salmon – and critically
endangered Southern Resident Orcas – so urgently need if they are going to be
part of our region’s future.
should ultimately be working toward restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River
by removing the four lower Snake River dams,” he continued. “If we use the next
two years to put in place the kind of actions that will revive orcas and
salmon, this interim agreement will be worth it. If we fail to use this
opportunity to take bold action, we will fail not only the salmon and the
orcas, but ourselves and future Northwesterners.”
to a Dec. 18 Status Report filing in Simon’s court by all parties to the
agreement, under the interim agreement the parties to the previous BiOp and
spill lawsuit have indicated that they do not intend to continue litigation for
more spill. The Status Report and attached 2019-2021 Spill Operation Agreement
are at https://www.bpa.gov/efw/FishWildlife/SpillOperationAgreement/doc/ECF-2298_Spill-Notice-and-Agreement.pdf.
sum, the Agreement reflects that the signatory parties are working
collaboratively on fish passage spill operations and related matters during the
NEPA remand period,” the Status Report says. “While this Agreement is in
effect, the signatory parties and the National Wildlife Federation, et al.,
Plaintiffs do not intend to engage in any litigation. If these circumstances
change (e.g., the Agreement terminates), the signatory parties will notify the
the agreed to spill operations will need to be incorporated into the 2018 BiOp
that NOAA had intended to release this month. Now, according to the Status
Report, “NMFS intends to complete an ESA consultation before spring fish passage
spill operations begin in April 2019. In the interim, the Action Agencies and
NMFS will take any necessary administrative steps to address incidental take
occurring between the expiration of the 2008/2014 biological opinion and NMFS’s
completion of consultation in April 2019.”
agreement calls for flexible spill operations that meet three objectives:
Provide fish benefits of spring spill in 2019-2021 for juvenile salmon
migrating through the eight reservoirs that are at least equal to 2018 spring
fish passage spill operations ordered by the Court;
Provide federal power system benefits as determined by Bonneville, with the
understanding that Bonneville must, at a minimum, be no worse financially
compared to the 2018 spring fish passage spill operations ordered by the Court;
Provide operational feasibility for the Corps implementation that will allow
the Corps to make appropriate modifications to planned spring fish passage
part of the agreement is for states to change their TDG standards. Washington’s
current standards call for a limit of 120 percent TDG in the tailrace of dams
and 115 percent in the next downstream forebay. The state’s Department of
Ecology is considering eliminating the forebay standard and raising the
tailrace standard to 125 percent.
dissolved gas limits are intended to protect young fish from gas bubble trauma
in the dams’ tailraces during spill.
of the issues for the Corps in 2018 was determining what the forebay TDG level
would be if spill in the upstream dam saturates water to 120 percent TDG. There
are too many variables that influence downstream TDG – barometric pressure,
wind and temperature – so it is difficult to predict the forebay TDG, Dan
Turner of the Corps told the Technical Management Team this week at TMT’s end
of year review.
addition, Oregon will ask the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to
raise TDG tailrace limits up to 125 percent.
will occur at higher gas cap levels for 16 hours a day and at lower levels
called performance standard spill for eight hours a day, according to the spill
agreement. Each of the eight dams has its own spill levels (details are
available in the Agreement).
general, higher spill would occur at times of day when power demand and prices
are at their lowest. Spill levels would drop when more power is needed and when
that power is most profitable – typically morning and evening hours. The operation
would help passage of juvenile salmon when spill levels are high while keeping power
generation losses due to the spill at a minimum.
partners to the agreement, in their joint statement, said “This agreement is an
important step forward for the parties and the region. Rather than focusing on
our differences, we are working together on our shared objectives of improving
salmon passage and providing affordable hydropower for the region’s electricity
spring and summer spill has to some extent been a part of Columbia and Snake
river operations for years, more recently the initial request for injunctive
relief for spring spill to gas cap levels was enjoined with an earlier case
argued in District Court. The initial case, heard by Simon, resulted in a May
2016 remand of the federal Columbia River power system biological opinion for
salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act.
spill plea was initiated in January 2017 by plaintiffs in the original case,
the National Wildlife Federation and the State of Oregon, among others. Simon
agreed that more spring spill would benefit ESA-listed fish but delayed the
action until 2018 while federal agencies completed a spill plan for the dams.
CBB, July 27, 2018, “Court-Ordered Spill Completed In June; Corps Sends Judge
Last Of Three Reports Detailing Operations,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441186.aspx
CBB, June 29, 2018, “Corps’ Second Spill Report To Court Details Impacts Of
High Flows, Involuntary Spill In May,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441024.aspx
CBB, June 8, 2018, “NOAA Fisheries Delivers First Court-Ordered Spring Spill
For Fish Report; Shows Complex Operations,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440890.aspx
CBB, June 15, 2018, “Fish/River Managers Have Differing Interpretations On What
‘Spill To The Gas Cap’ Looks Like,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440945.aspx
May 18, 2018, “Court-Ordered Spring Spill Now Moot As High Columbia/Snake Flows
Forcing Involuntary Spill At Dams,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440765.aspx
April 13, 2018, “Court Ordered Spring Spill For Fish Begins On Four Lower
Columbia River Dams,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440516.aspx
CBB, April 6, 2018, “New Court-Ordered Spill Regime Based On Dissolved Gas Caps
Begins This Week,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440479.aspx