Yearly Archives: 2012

Lawmaker wants hydropower recognized as renewal energy

By Michelle DuplerTri-City Herald

Rep. Larry Haler is hoping to lower energy prices in Washington by amending the state constitution.

Haler, R-Richland, has filed a piece of legislation called House Joint Resolution 4200 that would change the state constitution to recognize hydropower as a renewable energy resource.

It’s a response to voter-approved Initiative 937, passed in 2006 by just under 52 percent of the state’s voters.

The initiative requires utilities with at least 25,000 customers to buy at least 3 percent of their power from eligible renewable resources, such as wind and solar, and increase that to 9 percent in 2016 and 15 percent in 2020. Read more

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The Elwha River transformed already

By Linda Mapes
The Seattle Times

Have you looked at the web cams on the Elwha River lately? Have a look at this: the Elwha River, without the powerhouse, surge tank or transmission lines. The remake of the landscape is already incredible, just a few months in to dam removal.

As of mid-December, the transmission lines were gone, and now the powerhouse, a signature monument to the river’s use for hydropower for nearly 100 years, is history, too. The surge tank is toppled, and has been hauled away in hunks. Much of of the material will be re-used or recycled, according to the park service. Read more

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Forecast down for Columbia spring chinook

By Allen Thomas
The Columbian

A spring chinook run of 141,400 — the poorest in six years — is forecast to enter the Columbia River destined for upstream of Bonneville Dam. “This is awful,” said Larry Snyder, president of the Vancouver Wildlife League and an avid spring chinook angler.  “I don’t see a very long season this year.”

The forecast for Oregon’s Willamette River is 59,845 spring chinook, down slightly from a run of 65,100 in 2012.

Upriver spring chinook are the finest salmon in the Columbia River. They fuel a sport-fishing frenzy that ramps up in early March and continues until the allocation is caught, normally in early to mid-April.

Spring chinook also are prized by commercial fishermen, fetching the gillnet fleet their best prices of the year.

State, federal and tribal biologists completed their upper Columbia forecast last week and Willamette prediction this week.

In 2012, the upper Columbia prediction was for 314,200, but the actual run was only 203,100.

This upper Columbia return would be the smallest since 86,000 came back in 2007.

Stuart Ellis, a biologist with the Columbia Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said the forecast includes 115,000 4-year-olds and 25,700 5-year-olds. The older fish tend to return earlier.

The forecast is based on the 2012 return of 3-year-old “jack” upper Columbia spring chinook that to a variety of hatcheries and traps in the watershed upstream of Bonneville Dam.

At Bonneville Dam, the jack count was 10,337, the poorest since 2006.Spring chinook are the most difficult of the major salmon stocks to forecast, with the runs often returning much smaller or larger than predicted.

The relationship between jacks and adults in recent years has differed from historic norms, causing state, federal and tribal biologists to use a variety of models to attempt a forecast.

This year, the upper Columbia models are mostly in agreement, ranging from a low of 100,000 4-year-olds to a high of 145,000 4-year-olds.

Until about early May, Washington and Oregon manage the upper Columbia spring chinook run with a 30 percent buffer to compensate for forecasting error and assure catch balancing with the four treaty tribes.

The buffer means the states will manage the run as if it will be no larger than 98,980 and the total catch (plus release mortalities) in the combined sport and gillnet fisheries can be no larger than 7,325, Ellis said.

The Willamette forecast is for 30,550 4-year-olds and 26,665 5-year-olds, said John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.”If we get good weather and 4 or 5 feet of water visibility we’ll be finished by early April,” Snyder said. “Maybe the new requirement for barbless hooks and high water conditions will extend the season a bit.”

Snyder said he thought the improvements in streamflows for fish at the Columbia River dams in recent years would result in more stable returns of spring chinook.

“With the fish flush, I thought we’d get sustainable numbers,” he said. “I guess this shows the ocean in more important that what we can do inland. I’m devastated. I expected a good season.”

In 2012, sport fishing downstream of Bonneville Dam was open through April 22, plus May 26-27, with a total of 13,300 adult spring chinook kept and 2,400 adults released.

Obviously, catch allocations in 2013 will be significantly less.

Washington and Oregon officials will meet at 10 a.m. Jan. 30 at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, 8235 N.E. Airport Way, to set the 2013 sport-fishing season for the lower Columbia.Cowlitz-Kalama-Lewis — Weak spring chinook runs are predicted for the three Southwest Washington tributaries.

The forecast is 1,600 spring chinook back to the Lewis River, down from 1,800 in 2012.

For the Kalama, 700 spring salmon are predicted. The return in 2012 was 600.

The Cowlitz is anticipated to get 5,500 spring chinook. This year’s return was 9,200.

Fishing restrictions are expected in the Kalama River and possible in the Lewis.

Summer chinook — The Columbia River forecast is 73,500. That compares with a forecast in 2012 of 91,200 and an actual return of 58,300. Summer chinook return in mid-June and July.

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BPA tries to hold the line on wildlife spending

Associated Press
Wentache World

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Bonneville Power Administration is proposing to hold down spending on wildlife programs, even as it faces court requirements to show progress in fish restoration.

The agency says it’s a blip in programs where spending is rising rapidly, and the belt-tightening won’t affect its commitments under court orders to preserve and restore populations of threatened fish.

The agency’s customers are worried about the rising spending, and low natural gas prices threaten to undercut the revenue BPA uses to reduce rates to the 140 public utilities that buy power directly from the agency, The Oregonian reported Friday (bit.ly/R0Zjif).

At a meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council this week in Astoria, BPA executives said they have already added $13 million to the wildlife budget for the coming year.

But the agency said it is looking to trim spending by deferring land and equipment purchases, paring programs that aren’t specifically related to the impact of federal dams on salmon and steelhead, and suspending operations and maintenance that aren’t critical.

The agency has asked six of its largest partners, including Oregon and Washington and the Nez Perce Tribe, to cut their budgets by 10 to 15 percent. Read more.

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Feeding the river

By Rich Landers
Spokesman Review

Two major Bonneville Power Administration projects are tending to the welfare of Kootenai River fisheries, which have been starved for more than attention since Libby Dam went online in 1972.

The success of the multiyear, multimillion dollar projects is easy to confirm with an Idaho fishing license and a fly rod. Trout, whitefish and suckers are bigger in the river’s Idaho stretch, and their numbers have increased.

Floating the river’s 55-mile project area, mostly upstream from Bonners Ferry, and scanning data from fisheries research is even more convincing. Read more.

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Research indicates record salmon returns in Columbia River basin

By Staff
Hydro World

Conservation efforts in the Pacific Northwest are paying off as record numbers of sockeye salmon are returning to the Columbia River.

So far this year, nearly 300,000 Okanagan sockeye salmon have swum up the fish ladder at Bonneville Lock and Dam, while chinook, coho, chums, pinks and steelhead are also expected to return in large numbers. Records show fewer than 9,000 of the above named species returned to the Columbia Basin in 1995, and the Okanagan sockeye – a type particularly difficult to rear in hatcheries – were quickly dwindling.

Although some of the fish population’s increase can be attributed to natural factors such as favorable ocean conditions, biologists say habitat improvements made at many hydroelectric facilities have also been a significant ingredient in the fish resurgence.

Not only have utilities and hydropower plant owners begun providing more natural spawning areas in their facilities’ designs, but also they have developed flow schedules that give roe a better chance of surviving.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates the 1,076.6-MW Bonneville project, currently is undertaking fish ladder improvements to address lamprey passage at the dam.

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State says Rocky Reach Dam upgrades count as renewable energy

By Christine Pratt
Wenatchee World

WENATCHEE — The Chelan County PUD last month received an extra assurance that it won’t have to buy wind or solar power only to comply with new state targets for renewable energy, or pay an estimated fine of more than $2 million.

The state Department of Commerce confirmed in an Aug. 23 letter that the both the fish bypass and turbine/generator upgrades completed at Rocky Reach Dam after March 1999 create energy efficiencies that the utility can count toward its state renewable energy targets.

Both projects, PUD officials estimate, enable the utility to generate more electricity with the same amount of water for an estimated gain of more than 1 million average megawatt hours in 2012.

If Commerce had ruled that the efficiency gains from the two projects could not count toward the new targets, the PUD likely would not have met its targets with its own generation, Melissa Lyons, power resource analyst for the PUD, said Tuesday. Read more.

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Demolition Of Washington’s Condit Dam Nearing Completion

By Northwest News Network

Federal regulators have granted a short extension to complete the removal of Condit Dam on southwest Washington’s White Salmon River. Originally, demolition crews were supposed to be done with the nearly year-long project by Friday.

The hydropower dam’s owner asked for and received a two week extension from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Portland-based utility PacifiCorp now has until Sept 15th to take out the last bits of what was once 125-foot tall Condit Dam.

Utility spokesman Tom Gauntt says the dam is all gone except for some stubborn footings and an arch. Read more.

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Pikeminnow pursuit

By Allen Thomas
The Columbian

RUFUS, Ore. — Rick Farris cast the 3-ounce cannonball sinker and pearl Gitzit tube off the John Day Dam powerhouse into the roiling waters of the Columbia River. He bounced the offering almost 200 yards downstream before feeling the tug of a northern pikeminnow. Instinctively, he set the hook and slowly retrieved the line, fighting the fish and the strong and swirling current.

Farris winched the pikeminnow up the front of the powerhouse, unhooked it and marked the size of fish and time of catch on a tally sheet.

“I had 190 one week,” said Farris, a resident of The Dalles. “We were really cranking them out.”

Farris is a dam angler.

He’s part of a four-member crew paid hourly to fish from mid-May to mid-September off the front of The Dalles and John Day dams in the joint state-federal effort to reduce the pikeminnow population in the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Pikeminnows are effective predators of young salmon and steelhead migrating downstream. Eighty-two percent of young salmon and steelhead consumed by fish in the Columbia are taken by pikeminnow.

The dam anglers are an adjunct to a popular sport-reward program that pays sportsmen up to $8 per pikeminnow to remove the predators from the river.

Farris said he has a good job, but it can still be work, especially when the temperature on the powerhouse exceeds 100 degrees.

“It is a lot of fun until the last month when your legs are dead and your arms are tired,” he said. “It’s still fishing and it’s still fun, but bodies wear out.”

There are lots of pikeminnows immediately below the dams, but sport reward anglers are not allowed on the dams due to the obvious security concerns, said Eric Winther, northern pikeminnow program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The dam anglers get after those fish. In the early 1990s, tribal fishermen worked the dams for four or five years. Then, about a decade ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture took over.

Three years ago, dam angling became part of the state-federal pikeminnow program, which is financed by the Bonneville Power Administration.

In 2011, the dam anglers caught about 4,526 pikeminnows, with 1,204 coming from The Dalles Dam and 3,322 from John Day.

Winther said the fishing is better early in the season at The Dalles and best late at John Day.

Catching pikeminnows at the dam is not like trout in a hatchery.

“You have to be in touch with the bottom,” Winther said. “It takes time to get the hang of it.”

Not just pikeminnows are caught.

“There are a fair amount of smallmouth and walleye, plus a few channel catfish,” Winther said. “Sometimes, we’ll hook a sturgeon. A salmon or steelhead is pretty rare.”

Farris said the sturgeon are no fun.

“You’ll hook into a 30- to 32-inch sturgeon,” he said. “They are not quite big enough to break off. You fight them and they wear you out.”

Winther said the Gitzit tubes have proven to be the crew’s most effective lures.

“We haven’t found anything better and don’t want a bycatch of sturgeon or salmon that you would get with bait,” he said.

Pearl, shad and rainbow trout were the most productive colors on Aug. 16, but dark smoke hologram and black copper glitter have been the top producers by far during the past three seasons.

Once the summer sun reaches over the powerhouse wall, the temperatures soar.

“It was 80 degrees at 10 a.m. the other day,” said Scott Mengis, another dam angler. “At 11:15, it was 120 degrees. You drink lots of fluids.”

Winther said the winds of the Columbia Gorge also can make conditions tough.

“The wind can be a pain,” he said. “It blows in your face. It wears on you. It makes it harder to fish.”

Marikay Jester, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biological technician, samples the stomach contents of the pikeminnow.

She finds small lamprey, shad, crawfish and bass as well as young salmon and steelhead.

“They are very opportunistic feeders,” Jester said.

Miroslav Zyndol, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers biologist at John Day Dam, lauded the dam angling program.”This area is restricted to the public, but this is an area with a lot of pikeminnow available,” Zyndol said. “We see evidence by the number of fish caught it’s a pretty big problem.”

Farris said over the course of the summer he’ll occasionally lasso a pikeminnow without actually having a hook in the fish.

“Anybody can catch them,” he said. “It takes someone special to lasso them.”

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Federal power turned Northwest’s ‘darkness to dawn’

By Rocky Barker
Idaho Statesman

Few projects carried the hope and hubris of the New Deal more than the Bonneville Power Act. Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the law creating the Bonneville Power Administration 75 years ago tomorrow. His dream was to harness the Columbia River and turn nature’s flows into electricity to power industry, provide jobs to lift the poor out of poverty and transform the life and economy of the Pacific Northwest.

“This vast water power can be of incalculable value to this whole section of the country,” Roosevelt said in a speech in Portland in 1932. “It means cheap manufacturing production, economy and comfort on the farm and in the household.” Read more.

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