Research: Salmon disappearing, sea lions increasing

posted Nov 5, 2014 by John Harrison

Sea lions crowd a walkway at a mooring basin in Astoria

If the circumstantial evidence bears out, adult salmon returning from the ocean to the Columbia River Basin are being killed by seals and sea lions between the estuary and Bonneville Dam in alarming numbers, according to research by NOAA Fisheries.

Preliminary results of research that began in 2010 show a steady increase in fish mortality over a five-year period that may be attributable to seals and sea lions. Adjusted for other mortality factors, average spring Chinook salmon survival was just 55 percent in 2014, down from 69 percent in 2013 and 82 percent in 2012. If the estimate represents the run at large, this means about 45 percent of the 2014 spring Chinook run died somewhere between the mouth of the river and Bonneville Dam.

“Even I have a hard time believing those numbers, but at least through 2013, estimates of fish mortality do fall within theoretical estimates of predation,” lead researcher Dr. Michelle Wargo-Rub of the Seattle-based Northwest Fisheries Science Center told the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee in November.

She said fish mortality, and the number of sea lions in the estuary, have increased dramatically in recent years. NOAA research focuses on spring Chinook because run coincides when the sea lion population is largest in the river.

Mostly males, the sea lions follow the spring-returning fish between March and May. Most of the sea lions then go to breeding grounds off southern California in the summer.

Dr. Wargo-Rub and her research team catch and tag salmon in the estuary near Astoria. More than 2,200 salmon have been tagged since the research project began, and of those about 68 percent were determined by genetic testing to be destined for the river and tributaries above Bonneville.

Survival varies over the course of the run, Dr. Wargo-Rub said. It appears that a higher proportion of early-migrating fish die before reaching Bonneville Dam since they take longer to reach the dam and are exposed to potential predators for a longer time.

Committee Chair Phil Rockefeller, a Washington member of the Council, said that even if the 2014 numbers are adjusted, “the trend is such that we have a growing predation problem.” He pointed out that the Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program calls on federal agencies to use their authority to address the problem.

Committee member Bill Booth of Idaho, called the research results disturbing.

“When the region is directing more than half a billion dollars a year to fish and wildlife recovery and nearly half of the spring run is being consumed by seals and sea lions, then we definitely have a problem.”

Why We Have a Regional Power Plan

posted Oct 29, 2014


What is the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and why is it writing its Seventh Northwest Power Plan?

The Council was authorized by Congress 1980 when it passed the Northwest Power Act, giving the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington a greater voice in how we plan our energy future and manage natural resources.

Congress created the Council partly in reaction to the region’s disastrous decision to build five nuclear power plants in the state of Washington in the 1970s. The decision was based in part on inaccurate Northwest electricity load forecasts. Only one of the plants, the currently operating Columbia Generating Station, was ever completed. Due to exorbitant cost overruns, the other four plants were abandoned or mothballed prior to completion.

Two of the unfinished plants were responsible for one of the largest bond defaults in the history of the nation, while the financing for the other three plants was backed by the Bonneville Power Administration. Even today, more than 30 years after the Northwest Power Act was enacted, BPA pays millions of dollars a year on debt service for two of the unfinished nuclear plants. And, from 1978 to 1984, BPA was forced to raise its rates by 418 percent (adjusted for inflation) to pay for the cost of these plants. Congress concluded that an independent agency, without a vested interest in selling electricity, should be responsible for forecasting the region’s electricity load growth and determining which resources should be built.

One of the Council’s primary responsibilities, along with the fish and wildlife program, is to write a 20-year, least-cost power plan for the Pacific Northwest and update it at least every five years. The plan includes several key provisions, including an electricity demand forecast, electricity and natural gas price forecasts, an assessment of the amount of cost-effective energy efficiency that can be acquired over the life of the plan, and a least-cost generating resources portfolio. The plan guides BPA’s resource decision-making to meet its customers’ electricity load requirements.

Congress concluded back in 1980 that energy efficiency should be the priority energy resource for meeting the region’s future load growth, a decision that even today rings boldly. The Act includes a provision that directs the Council to give priority to cost-effective energy efficiency, followed by cost-effective renewable resources. In effect, for the first time in history, energy efficiency was deemed to be a legitimate source of energy, on par with generating resources. The rest is history. Since the release of the Council’s first Northwest Power Plan in 1983, the region’s utilities have acquired the equivalent of more than 5,600 average megawatts of electricity, enough savings to power five cities the size of Seattle.

The Council is now working to update the Northwest Power Plan for the seventh time. The new plan is expected to be completed in late 2015. 


How We Assess Generation Resources

posted Oct 24, 2014


Assessing different generating resources in order to know the best options for ensuring the region's power supply is a key element of the Council's power plan. The analysis considers things like cost, construction timeline, operation and performance, and regional availability. 

The Council's generating resources advisory committee (GRAC) reviews staff cost estimates and assumptions and provides feedback. Members include representatives from utilities, the Bonneville Power Administration, state commissions, and public interest groups.

In October, the committee discussed the preliminary assumptions for utility-scale onshore wind generation and natural gas peaking technologies, among other topics. Next month, they're scheduled to cover utility-scale solar PV and the hydropower potential scoping study. Also in November, the power committee will review the analyses for rooftop solar PV, utility-scale solar PV, combined-cycle combustion turbine technologies, and the wholesale electricity price forecast. In December, the GRAC is scheduled to finalize the preliminary onshore wind and gas peaking assumptions, and discuss emerging technologies, including energy storage, small modular reactors, and engineered geothermal.

The public is welcome to participate in all of the Council's meetings posted on our website. We'll be highlighting our work in the months ahead to keep you informed of how the plan is taking shape and to invite your feedback.

Estimating Energy Efficiency

posted Oct 24, 2014


A key element of the Council's power plan is its estimates of the potential for cost-effective energy efficiency.

At the October meeting, Charlie Grist, manager of conservation resources, described the process and methods used to determine how much energy efficiency is available and at what cost.

The Council's analysis involves a bottom-up review of hundreds of measures. It evaluates cost savings and availability across all sectors of the economy, and it relies on data from a wide range of sources to get a better picture of what is achievable. For the Council's Sixth Power Plan, issued in 2010, there were almost 400 measures considered for buildings, appliances, and processes for residential, commercial, industrial, and agriculture sectors. Measures for the utility distribution system are included as well. Once variations that affect a measure's cost and savings, like climate zone, heating system and building type and vintage, were taken into account, over 1,400 different permutations of savings opportunities were evaluated. The assessment for the Seventh Power Plan will involve a similar approach.

The assessment undergoes a rigorous review by the Council's conservation resources advisory committee and the Regional Technical Forum to vet the analysis and suggest improvements.

Since the Council was established in 1980, the region has acquired 5,600 average megawatts of energy efficiency, saving ratepayers billions of dollars. 



Columbia River Conference: Learning From Our Past to Shape Our Future

posted Oct 14, 2014 by John Harrison


This sculpture by Virgil "Smoker" Marchand, a well-known artist and a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, is at the base of Spokane Falls below the Monroe Street Dam. The sculpture captures some of the major themes of the 2014 International Columbia River conference October 21-23 in Spokane: water, hydropower, ecosystems, and restoring salmon to places blocked by dams downstream. For information, check out the conference website

Seventh Power Plan 101

posted Oct 6, 2014

Weathering a Cold Snap

posted Jan 17, 2014 by Carol Winkel

The Seventh Power Plan

posted Dec 11, 2013 by Carol Winkel

Designing for Efficiency

posted Nov 12, 2013 by John Harrison

The Flexibility Challenge

posted Oct 30, 2013 by Carol Winkel

Northwest Q & A: Robert D. Kahn

posted Oct 29, 2013

Tagging Sturgeon in Astoria

posted Aug 22, 2013

Habitat Tours Focus on Results

posted May 31, 2013

Sustainability Is Success

posted May 29, 2013

A Last Look at Condit Dam

posted Oct 24, 2011

Changing Minds, Changing the Land

posted Jul 26, 2011

Wind Power, Then and Now

posted Apr 18, 2011

The Rebound Effect: Is It Real?

posted Feb 1, 2011

An Update on Didymo

posted Jan 27, 2011

Didymo: A New Kind of Invader

posted Jan 18, 2011

A Good Year for Returning Salmon

posted Sep 30, 2010

Building a Better Battery

posted Aug 11, 2010

Using Batteries to Store Energy

posted Jul 28, 2010

Growing Summer Energy Demand

posted Jul 26, 2010

California's Energy Scene

posted Jul 23, 2010

Ensuring Efficiency

posted Jun 21, 2010

Making Wind Work

posted Jun 7, 2010

Clean Tech Draws VC Funding

posted May 3, 2010

And the Wind Came Up

posted Apr 6, 2010