Nor'wester Issue 236

December 20, 2005


In this issue:


Judge Redden orders summer spill, no additional flow for 2006

Dredging begins on the Lower Snake and Clearwater Rivers

2005 was a good year for salmon returns in the Columbia

Register for the 2006 Mission to Washington

Recent Articles of Interest

Judge Redden orders summer spill, no additional flow for 2006

At the conclusion of the December 15 hearing on interim operations for Columbia Basin salmon, Judge Redden gave an oral summary of the ruling he intends to issue in the next two weeks. The hearing was on the National Wildlife Federation�s and CRITFC tribes� motions for preliminary injunction seeking increased flows and spill.

Navigation interests were pleased when the Judge said he declined to require additional flow augmentation. Instead, he said the collaboration now under way as part of the 2004 Biological Opinion (BiOp) remand is going well and he wants flow to be the subject of that collaboration. That collaboration will inform the development of measures that will be included in the new BiOp NOAA Fisheries is ordered to develop by October 2006. By not ruling on flow measures, it is expected that flow will be governed by the 2004 BiOp and the Updated Proposed Actions (UPAs) that are a part of that BiOp. Navigation in the lower Snake River should be able to continue with a full 14-foot channel, as the UPAs call for operating the four Snake River pools at minimum operating pool (MOP) unless the Corps needs to raise the pools to maintain a safe navigation channel. McNary and the other Columbia River pools will operate above MOP under the UPAs, and navigation should not be hindered.

Energy interests had mixed results. They, too, were pleased with the flow decision, as the plaintiffs were seeking to shift large volumes of water from energy production to flow augmentation. However, Judge Redden said he would continue the 2005 summer spill program in 2006. This will add from $100 to $400 million to regional power costs for limited, if any, fish benefits. The plaintiffs had also requested massive spill in the spring, whereas the federal government proposed maximizing fish transportation during that time. The Judge said he would take some time to consider whether to increase spring spill as requested by the plaintiffs.

Jay Waldron, Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt attorney for the Inland Ports and Navigation Group (IPNG, a subset of PNWA members) addressed Judge Redden, making two points. One, collaboration works. He cited the success of IPNG, the federal agencies and the plaintiffs in reaching a settlement in the Snake River dredging case and the use of independent scientists to review biological issues in the Columbia River Channel deepening. Two, he asked the Judge, if he rules in favor of the plaintiffs, to include a footnote in his ruling that would allow the Corps to manage reservoir levels to maintain safe navigation. Waldron told the Judge about the recently discovered pinnacles in the McNary pool below Ice Harbor lock. Redden acknowledged that he was aware of the problem, which was described in one of the Corps�s declarations to the court. The pinnacles should not restrict navigation if the agencies follow the operations outlined in the 2004 BiOp UPAs.

PNWA staff contact: Glenn Vanselow, email Glenn, 503-234-8551, 503-234-8551


Dredging begins on the Lower Snake and Clearwater Rivers

Long overdue maintenance dredging began on the Lower Snake and Clearwater Rivers last Thursday, December 15th. PNWA member firm Manson Construction Company was selected from among five companies submitting proposals to restore the 14-foot congressionally authorized channel depth. Dredging will occur this winter at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, the navigation lock approaches to Lower Granite and Lower Monumental dams and the berthing areas at the ports of Clarkston and Lewiston. The dredged material will be beneficially used to develop rearing and resting habitat for juvenile salmon in the Lower Granite reservoir.

The Corps has not performed navigation maintenance dredging since the winter of 1998-99, as permitting issues and court injunctions have prevented the Corps from dredging. That changed when the plaintiffs (National Wildlife Federation), the federal government and the Inland Ports and Navigation Group (a subset of PNWA members who had intervened in the case) reached an agreement to settle the lawsuit in September. The Corps was able to move quickly to advertise and award a contract, and identify funding that could be used to fulfill this necessary work.

The lower Snake River is part of an inland channel system that provides navigation from the mouth of the Columbia River near Astoria, Oregon, to port facilities as far east at Lewiston, ID. Over 17.4 million tons of products were shipped through the lower Snake River locks in 2004. That included 12.2 million tons of grain products, 2.1 million tons of petroleum and 1.5 million tons of wood products.

PNWA staff contact: Kristin Meira, email Kristin, 503-234-8556


2005 was a good year for salmon returns in the Columbia

As the year comes to an end, fish counts at Bonneville Dam will be moderately above average for adult salmon returns in the Columbia Basin, with just over 569,000 Chinook and 315,000 steelhead passing the dam by early December. Coho returns (83,000) are also above average and sockeye returns (73,000) are even stronger. The numbers were reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration�s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries).

The ten-year average for Chinook is about 528,000, 312,000 for steelhead, 81,000 for coho, and 54,000 for sockeye. While spring Chinook counts were actually lower than average in 2005, summer and fall Chinook adult returns were above average, raising the total count for the year. In a typical year, about 80 percent of all returning adults are of hatchery origin.

Government biologists said that the numbers reflect improvements to salmon habitat and to hydropower dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers on the one hand, and slowly declining ocean conditions that may have dampened adult returns on the other.

�Certainly we didn�t expect to see the remarkable, record-breaking numbers of a few years ago, when highly favorable ocean conditions helped boost returns,� said Bob Lohn, head of the NOAA Fisheries Northwest regional office in Seattle. �But these numbers are quite respectable.�

PNWA staff contact: Glenn Vanselow, email Glenn, 503-234-8551


Register for the 2006 Mission to Washington

Make plans now to attend the 2006 PNWA Mission to Washington on Sunday, March 5, 2006 through Friday, March 10, 2006!

Join us in the U.S. Capitol and the beautiful Hyatt Regency Hotel for our highly anticipated 2006 PNWA Mission to Washington. Our annual lobbying trip will feature frank conversations with the nation's top decision-makers from the Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies, Congressional staff, and industries that are important to the PNWA membership. Plus, we will spend two days on Capitol Hill, meeting with every single member of Congress from Oregon, Washington and Idaho! Finally, there is the signature Taste the Northwest reception, which brings together legislators, federal agency officials, Congressional staff, and PNWA Mission participants. This is our annual "thank you" reception for our Washington DC friends, and provides an invaluable opportunity to casually chat with the folks that really make things happen.

PNWA has perfected the Mission to Washington over many decades, and no other group provides such a comprehensive, targeted DC experience. This is a rare opportunity, and registration is limited, so don't miss out! Register at

Recent Articles of Interest

Snake River dredging begins
Ships traveling the Snake River will soon have more room. The shipping channel on the lower river is being dredged for the first time in seven years. Read entire article

Corps completes phase one of channel improvement work
Phase One of the Columbia River Channel Improvement Project was completed this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced today. Phase 1 consisted of channel improvement work to deepen the lower 18 miles of the Columbia River (RM 3 to RM 21) and dredging work in the upper river from RM 95 to just past RM 104. With this completed work, more than 2.6 million cubic yards of sand has been removed. Read entire article

Independent economic advisors debunk Idaho Rivers United report
A recent report completed by the Independent Economic Advisory Board (IEAB) on behalf of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council states that an earlier report commissioned by Idaho Rivers United greatly overstated the potential economic benefits of restoring Snake River fish runs. The new report released by the IEAB estimates economic benefits in the $7 million range for the State of Idaho, as compared to $544 million in economic benefits that were claimed in the earlier report by Idaho Rivers United. Read the entire IEAB report

Supporting good science
There has been quite a bit of discussion around Idaho and the Northwest lately regarding my efforts to redirect funding for the Fish Passage Center (FPC) to other entities in the region. Much of this criticism contends that I am placing dams above salmon, "silencing science" or "killing the messenger" that brought bad news about salmon recovery efforts. These catchy phrases may sound good or look good in the local paper, but they aren't advancing the debate about salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest. Read entire article