Recommendations on a Mainstem Plan for the Fish and Wildlife Program

Rec. 15 - PNGC Power

June 14, 2001

Dear Chairman Cassidy:

During this difficult time in Northwest energy and water policy, we appreciate the efforts of the Council members and staff in striving to address the region's needs in a balanced manner. These comments are in response to your request for recommendations regarding the Mainstem Plan portion of the Council's amendments to the fish and wildlife program. They are offered on behalf of PNGC Power, an energy services cooperative owned by 15 rural electric cooperatives.

These member cooperatives are located primarily in rural areas of the Northwest, and have a significant interest in promoting effective and efficient fish and wildlife conservation efforts. Equally important, PNGC members have signed 10-year contracts for the purchase of power from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). The citizens who are members of these cooperatives will be among those paying for the region's fish and wildlife efforts through their electricity rates.

You have requested that we consider four subjects when developing recommendations for a Mainstem Plan. These include: (1) power supply considerations, (2) consistency with the basinwide provisions of the Council's program, (3) relationship of the Mainstem Plan to the recently released biological opinions on hydropower operations, and (4) long term objectives and strategies for the mainstem. We shall offer comments in these areas along with a few specific recommendations. Once you release a draft of your Mainstem Plan, we would be pleased to provide further specific commentary and documentation.

Mainstem measures come under the jurisdiction of various entities within the federal, tribal, and state governments and within private and public utilities. In general, the Council Mainstem Plan should provide a process for effective evaluation of the many measures that cut across so many jurisdictions.

Recommendation 1: The Council's Mainstem Plan should not be over-prescriptive. Rather it should create methods that enable the Council to effectively evaluate the range of options under consideration by strengthening the Council's analytical capabilities.

A. POWER SUPPLY CONSIDERATIONS

The Council is well aware of the precarious nature of the West Coast power system. Customers of BPA face large rate increases starting October 1 of this year, and the region is grappling with power system reliability concerns for next winter.

In light of this situation, it is time for the Council to more fully integrate the fish and wildlife program with power supply concerns. The Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act ("the Act") was very clear in this respect in §4(h)(5):"The program shall consist of measures to protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife affected by the development, operation, and management of such facilitieswhile assuring the Pacific Northwest an adequate, efficient, economical, andreliable power supply." (Emphasis added)

Recommendation 2: The Mainstem Plan should include a process whereby each fish and wildlife mitigation measure is screened for impacts upon power supply (and screened to ensure tangible biological benefits will result) before being approved by the Council.

We would be happy to work with the Council to better refine the criteria that would be used in such a screening process. The words included in the Act, "while assuring", do not imply that power considerations should be separate or secondary issues. Clearly, they are intended to be part of the same process. The Council should not recommend fish and wildlife measures unless they can be found consistent with this mandate.

The Northwest Power Act was passed at a time when there was great concern about power supply in our region. One of the authors of the fish and wildlife provisions, Representative Dingell, expressed this concern in quoting from the House Commerce Committee Report when he said that the objective is to devise measures that "are also reasonable and will not result in unreasonable power shortages or loss of power revenues." He goes on to say "Such losses, however, should not be a burden on the consumers of the region." Finally, he stated, "The Committee does not intend that these provisions be used to subvert the power objectives of this bill." (Congressional Record, H10683, November 17, 1980)

Thus, any program for the mainstem must include a process whereby the Council can integrate power supply concerns directly with recommendations regarding mainstem measures for fish and wildlife mitigation in a way that "assures" that these power concerns are addressed.

This is easier said than done. The Federal Caucus has struggled with this concept during discussions regarding river operations during this year's water and power emergency. But, the Council has already started to take some laudable steps in this direction during the formation of its recommendations regarding this crisis.

Reliability. With respect to power system reliability the Council is currently predicting a 17% loss of load probability for next winter. This is over three times the standard set in federal emergency criteria. Studies and models used by the Council during this year's deliberations should be developed further until they are more complete and are accurate enough to be consistently applied in order to create a useable linkage between mainstem measures and power supply issues.

Economy. While the adequacy and reliability concerns this year are daunting, the Act also demands that the Council determine whether a measure makes our power supply less efficient or economical. This year the Council has conducted useful studies that begin to look at effectiveness of spill, and it has looked at power system costs and reliability. Now, these analyses should be combined in a manner that truly integrates these issues.

Recommendation 3: It is time for the Council to step up to the challenge of conducting real cost-benefit analyses with respect to fish mitigation measures. Development of such analyses should be a part of the Mainstem Plan.

For example, if the Council is considering a 1000 aMW spill and flow regime, it should accurately determine what the biological benefits are, what the direct and indirect economic costs are, and how these costs and benefits compare to other options (SEE discussion of flow and spill regimes in "C" below).

Costs imposed upon the hydro system through river operations for fish are felt directly in electricity rates. Under §4(h)(5) of the Act, ratepayers in the region should be told very clearly whether the mitigation measures they are paying for are an efficient use of the resource.

Recommendation 4: In creating mainstem recommendations the Council should clearly indicate how each measure complies with each of the four power supply requirements (adequate, efficient, economical, and reliable). The Council should not recommend any measure that unduly imposes on any one of these aspects.

B. CONSISTENCY WITH BASINWIDE PROVISIONS OF COUNCIL PROGRAM

Context is important to keep in mind when discussing the Mainstem Plan. With respect to salmon recovery efforts, the mainstem portion is important, but it is a relatively small portion of the salmon lifecycle. The benefit for fish that can be extracted from mainstem river operations is limited (See Federal Caucus documentConservation of Columbia Basin Fish or "All-H Paper", and supporting science from NMFS CRI). So, coordination with basinwide objectives is crucial.

The Council's Fish and Wildlife Program provides a new structure that is an improvement over previous plans. It pursues a basinwide, comprehensive approach to fish and wildlife planning that is both ambitious and long overdue. You are to be commended for your efforts in this respect.

Particularly helpful in the Basinwide Provisions are the steps towards creating more accountability. This is the most important concept included in your plan. If a measure can not be proven to have a significant effect for fish and wildlife, and if it can not be proven to make sense from a cost-benefit perspective, than it should not be supported with ratepayer dollars. The only way to achieve real recovery of these fish is hold every project to the highest level of accountability possible. Your adoption of proposals that require an annual report on flow augmentation and create increased oversight of the Fish Passage Center hold the promise of creating better accountability.

One of the biggest hurdles for effective fish and wildlife management in the Northwest is the maze of conflicting priorities and policies among the various state, federal, local, and tribal authorities. This is an area that will require continued scrutiny.

Recommendation 5: As part of the Mainstem Plan, the Council should build on the ideas in its Basinwide Program by including a study of whether the current regional forum process is functioning in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

The region can not operate effectively with respect to river operations for fish unless there is an effective and accountable forum for discussion of these issues. The current forum appears to suffer from internal conflicts, mixed management priorities, and lack of accountability for positions taken by the various entities involved. Some of these concerns were partially addressed in the Basinwide portion of the Council Program.

The Council may also want to use the Mainstem Plan to address some of the inconsistencies contained within the mainstem objectives of its Basinwide Program. The Council's Baisinwide Program often seems pulled in internally conflicting directions. For example, the Council recognizes the value and effectiveness of transporting fish, but then repeatedly utilizes vague and outdated language regarding strategies for "natural physical and biological conditions" (Council Document 2000-19).

The words to "protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife" are stated several places within the Act at §4(h)(1)(A), §4(h)(2)(B), §4(h)(2)(C), §4(h)(5), etc. But, these references are not linked with language in the Act commanding a "natural physical and biological condition" as stated in several of the "strategies" in the Basinwide provisions in the Council program.

Recommendation 6: The Council's Mainstem Plan objectives and recommendations should require direct biological measures of survival rather than vague physical standards.

Only by addressing and monitoring direct impacts upon fish will we make real progress towards achieving needed fish and wildlife mitigation. Continuing to wish dreamily for a return to the "natural" world in a region that now holds 11.5 million people is folly for us, and unhelpful to fish that need sensible mitigation solutions.

Another example of inconsistent objectives within the Baisinwide Plan is the general call for "increasing harvest whenever possible" (i.e. purposefully killing fish). While we realize there are specific stocks assumed within this language, it is troublesome in any case. This is poignant not only in the fact that the language exists at all in a program to "protect, mitigate, and enhance" fish and wildlife, but also in that it appears in the chapter immediately preceding the one that highlights all of the negative "Major Impacts of the Hydrosystem on Fish". If, as noted above, the Mainstem Program is to be cognizant of the need to comply with the Act's edict to ensure an "adequate, efficient, economic, and reliable power supply", perhaps it should take steps to clarify provisions within the Basinwide Plan that appear to create an undue bias against the hydropower system in some instances.

C. RELATIONSHIP TO THE RECENT FCRPS BIOLOGICAL OPINIONS

The 2000 Biological Opinion (BiOp) is filled with what are ominously referred to as "critical uncertainties". This means that implementation of it's measures will necessarily be a dynamic process. The Council can play a helpful role in coordinating federal and non-federal efforts in the mainstem by using the Mainstem Plan to create a tool that evaluates the federal biological opinions and informs the one and five-year implementation plans currently in development. There are many areas where the Council Mainstem Plan might engage to help review the action items of the 2000 Biological Opinion.

Recommendation 7: The Mainstem Plan should propose a comprehensive review of the spill and flow mandates included in the 2000 BiOp. This review should make use of the Cost-Benefit Analysis mentioned in Recommendation 3 above.

Even the agency (NMFS) that advocates a large spill program has released a chart that shows that the vast majority of the benefits from the BiOp spill program could be achieved in some months with only one-third of the spill in effect (Ruff presentation to Federal Caucus, April 27; later revised for a Draft Paper entitled, "Expected Effects of 2001 Water Conditions and Alternative Spill Operations on Juvenile Fish Survival Through the FCRPS, May 23, 2001). And, the efficacy of spill has been questioned in the Council's own papers (Issue Paper, March 28, 2001) and in enough other venues to warrant serious examination. Studies at The Dalles dam led to a reduction in spill there. And, other outstanding questions, such as the gas effects on fish suffering multiple spills, have been left unanswered for years.

In addition, the power system reliability concerns and enormous price spikes in energy markets this year make this question more pressing than ever. There should be some realistic cost-benefit analysis conducted if spill is to continue. It was mentioned above that there is a 17% chance of some blackouts next winter, a probability that is three times worse than the industry standard. And still, there are advocates who push for spilling water over the dams this summer. Any analysis of the costs of spill should take into account not only reliability concerns, but the price of replacement power and the impacts of pollution in the air from the sources of that replacement power.

With water and energy now worth billions of dollars to the region, customers should be able to know whether spilling water down river is really the best way in which we can help fish. The Council is an appropriate forum in which to raise these issues and demand real accountability.

Similarly, there has been quite a bit of contention about how, or even whether, flow augmentation benefits some species (NMFS White Papers, April 2000; Idaho Water Users, U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Testimony April 18, 2000; Jim Anderson, U.S. House Subcommittee on Water and Power Testimony, May 19, 2001). If the objective is fish survival, at a minimum the region needs to know (1) whether flow makes a difference in survival, (2) the specific reason why it makes a difference, and (3) how to measure the impacts at various levels of flow augmentation.

Until we can specifically quantify the effects of spill and flow, you should strongly resist the call for more of each. These are areas where the science continues to develop, and policy should develop with it.

Recommendation 8: Within evaluations of mainstem measures, the Council should look not only at the value of each measure, but the value of that measure relative to other available proposals.

In addition to analyzing the cost effectiveness of each measure. Measures should be evaluated against each other to determine where our relative priorities should lie. Incidentally, this is a recommendation that could apply to portions of the Council Program outside of the Mainstem.

D. LONG TERM OBJECTIVES AND STRATEGIES FOR THE MAINSTEM

As a region, we should not pretend to have scientific answers for biological questions that have yet to be addressed. In July of 2000, Portland State University conducted a symposium entitled "What We Don't Know About Pacific Northwest Fish Runs: An Inquiry into Decision-Making under Uncertainty". The papers, submitted by some of the top scientists in the field, were striking in their revelations regarding the degree of scientific uncertainty in the region on key salmon recovery issues.

Even more striking at PSU were the comments by Mr. Will Stelle, then Regional Director of NMFS. Although he was involved in the drafting of the 2000 Biological Opinion at that time, he was forthright in outlining the many unanswered questions that exist with respect to items as basic as methods of counting fish to items such as the benefits of diversity and a host of other questions in every geographic portion of the fish lifecycle from freshwater rearing grounds to the high seas. Should this problem freeze us into inaction? Of course not. But, it argues for extreme caution in how we proceed without good, reliable knowledge.

This leads to a few recommendations about what the Council should realistically be trying to accomplish with a program such as the Mainstem Plan.

Recommendation 9(a): Demand substantial scientific certainty before drawing conclusions regarding measures in the Mainstem. Theoretical assumptions regarding mortality or benefits of various measures are not acceptable in the real world where the livelihood of real people is at stake.

Recommendation 9(b): Increase accountability of all parties for real results by creating a tool for ensuring follow-up determinations of actual effectiveness to fish of the measures adopted in accordance with Recommendation 6 above.

Recommendation 9(c): Improve monitoring and evaluation by identifying data collection and modeling improvements that are needed for sound policy decision making.

Examples of needed information might relate to release timing studies, unexplained loss of steelhead, specific effects of flow and spill, cumulative effects upon fish of being spilled through multiple projects. The Council is in a good position to define what the region needs in order to start to answer many of the critical questions facing the fish and wildlife mitigation efforts.

Again, thank you for your time, and for your hard work on this challenging issue. And, thank you for your consideration of these comments.

Sincerely,

Scott Corwin
Manger, Government Affairs
PNGC Power

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