Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Crooked River Salmon Recovery Hinges on Flows

From the Bend Bulletin, an editorial by Native Fish Society River Steward Tom Davis calling for environmentally sound water allocation in Prineville Reservoir on the Crooked River which give recovering salmon populations adequate in stream flow to ensure recovery. HR 2060 guarantee's only 17 cfs for fish in the crooked at least ten times less than what is needed trout and salmon.

The reality is recovery of ESA listed salmon and steelhead in the Upper Deschutes will eventually require more water. For the time being NMFS has given Upper Deschutes salmonids an "experimental" designation, which does not come with the same stringent requirements that a normal ESA listing might. This wont last forever and when the time comes it is better for the fish to be on their way to recovery and for water management and use to be in balance with both agricultural and ecological demands of the system. Otherwise it will be up to the courts to decide for Central Oregon how they should best manage their water.

Here's Tom's Editorial

Solutions for Fish Reintroduction

For more than 40 years, the Upper Deschutes habitat was closed to steelhead, spring Chinook and sockeye. The first adult salmon of one of the most ambitious reintroduction efforts in U.S. history are now returning to Pelton Round Butte Dam.

The relicensing agreement for the dam included a temperature-management and fish collection/passage structure. The total reintroduction cost is expected to exceed $300 million. The threats include low flows, water quality, passage and politics.

Recent OSU research on Whychus Creek concludes “an estimated four steelhead trout adults would be expected to return.” Low flows that are too warm and inadequate state flow targets mean low potential for steelhead, so the Crooked River watershed is exceptionally important.

The steelhead fry released were twice the number of Chinook fry released above the dam through 2009. The Chinook smolts that arrived in 2010 at the dam's fish collection facility were five times the number of steelhead smolts and this may portend poor steelhead success. Hopefully the outmigration of steelhead will improve, since Chinook typically smolt in their first year, but steelhead can smolt in their first, second or third year.

The Crooked River below Prineville and many tributaries have flows that are too low and too warm. The good news is that the problems appear to have feasible solutions.

The total storage capacity of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Prineville Reservoir is 150,200 acre-feet, with 148,600 acre-feet of active/usable space. Of that, 70,282 acre-feet of Prineville Reservoir storage space is for irrigation and other storage accounts, with 82,000 acre-feet uncommitted.

This suggests that Crooked River flows can be adequate for Chinook, redbands and steelhead, without compromising irrigation or other needs. In drought years, some small, proportional reduction of flows for fish and irrigation may be needed. The actual flow augmentation releases would depend on credible flow targets and adaptive management decisions made as-needed by the responsible fish managers.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recently analyzed a 2001 best-available-science study performed by a consultant for the USBR. Flow recommendations for steelhead spawning below Bowman Dam ranged from 140 to 160 cfs in the 2001 study.

The ODFW analysis emphasized flat-water boating and fishing in Prineville Reservoir. The impact of adequate flow releases on flat-water recreation during the infrequent low water years would usually be minor and mitigation is possible by extending/lowering the launch areas.

More than 100 large reservoirs and lakes exist in Oregon for such recreation. There are four large reservoirs and at least six large lakes within a one-hour radius of Redmond that provide flat-water recreation.

Reintroducing ESA-listed steelhead into hundreds of miles of habitat is a rare opportunity and should be a high economic, biological and ESA priority.

Flow augmentation for steelhead and Chinook will be needed for only three or four months during most years, and 70,000 acre-feet of reservoir space would accomplish that. The USBR supported “providing some of the now unallocated space in the reservoir for fish and wildlife.”

HR 2060 authorizes 17 cfs for downstream flows, which is way below best-available-science flows. It contains a “First Fill” provision so in the occasional dry years irrigation would get the water it would in a normal year and steelhead, Chinook and redbands would take the loss. The USBR testified that first fill presents an “increased possibility for conflict.”

Legislation should allocate 70,000 acre-feet of the available 82,000 acre-feet of unallocated Prineville Reservoir space to downstream flows and 5,100 acre-feet for City of Prineville mitigation. The full 70,000 acre-feet would seldom be needed. The flow release decisions must be by fish professionals and should vary by season, life stage, run characteristics and flows otherwise in the river. The flow objectives must be the 2001 best-available-science recommendations for steelhead and Chinook. For public transparency, these flows must be noted in the bill that eventually passes as objectives of the adaptive management process.

- Tom Davis, PE, is a volunteer with the Deschutes Reintroduction Network, an informal group working on fish reintroduction in the Upper Deschutes.

The Senate is considering a bill (HR 2060) which will have important implications for the future of the Upper Deschutes. If you live in Oregon please take this opportunity to weigh in on these issues. Here's a list of talking points drafted by the Deshutes Recovery Network:

· 82,000 acre-feet of Prineville Reservoir storage space is uncommitted, and therefore available. 70,000 acre-feet must be allocated to downstream flows for Chinook, steelhead and redbands. The actual water available in the 70,000 acre feet of space will vary according to year and season.

· The flows needed from Prineville Reservoir storage specifically for fish would vary over the year. The amount released must be based on adaptive management decisions by professionals from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (CTWS) and US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR).

· The flexible objectives of the ODFW-NMFS-CTWS-USBR adaptive management decisions must be the best available science (BAS) regarding optimum flows for steelhead and Chinook. The BAS is the 2001 Hardin-Davis evaluation prepared for the US Bureau of Reclamation. For public transparency these flows must be listed in the bill that eventually passes as objectives of the adaptive management decisions. The optimum, minimum steelhead flow needs below Bowman are 140 to 160 cfs for spawning and 160 to 180 cfs for juvenile habitat. The Chinook needs are similar.

· Dry-year proportional reduction of reservoir space for salmonid flows and irrigation is essential. First fill as requested by irrigation interests is unacceptable.

· The relocation of the Wild and Scenic River boundary downstream for a hydropower generator must avoid disturbing redband-spawning beds and the new location justified.

Contact the offices of Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley with your concerns.

Senator Wyden:

· To – Wayne Kinney - -
· cc – Dave Berick - -

Senator Merkley:

· To – Susanna Julber - -
· cc – Adrian Deveny - -

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