posted May 6, 2015

This map from the Northwest River Forecast Center shows that the water supply in most of the Columbia River Basin is average or below average through May 6.

While nearly all of the West is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, with drought emergencies declared in California and three of the four Northwest states, the water supply in most of the Columbia River Basin is close enough to normal that hydropower shortages are unlikely, a Council analysis indicates.

However, conditions will not be normal for salmon and steelhead migrating in the Columbia and Snake rivers, where low snowpack is running off quickly, water temperatures later this spring and during the summer likely will be warmer than normal, and dams may be operated differently to try to keep flows and temperatures near normal. At the same time, an ongoing weather anomaly has warmed the north Pacific Ocean to the point that production of food organisms for fish likely will decrease.

Jim Ruff, the Council’s manager of mainstem passage and river operations, reviewed current conditions for the Council at a meeting this week. Ruff said maps produced by the Natural Resources Conservation Service the Northwest River Forecast Center show widely varying precipitation across the Columbia River Basin. This, combined with higher than normal temperatures during most of the winter and into the spring, resulted in an early spring runoff from a meager mountain snowpack.

Regional water supply forecasts deteriorated through April. While British Columbia, western Montana, north-central Washington and the headwaters of the Snake River have near to slightly below normal runoff forecasts, those for the lower Snake River, southern Idaho, and eastern and western Oregon and Washington are mostly well below average. Water supply forecasts are low enough that drought declarations have been issued in more than 20 counties and water resource inventory areas in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

The outlook for May, June, and July is for probable above-normal temperatures for most of the West, and continued warm water temperatures in the eastern Pacific as the result of a huge pool of warm sea surface temperature, nicknamed “The Blob,” which has been in place since early 2014. This anomaly likely affected weather patterns in the Pacific Northwest through the winter and into the spring, resulting in much warmer than normal temperatures, Ruff said.


posted May 6, 2015

Tern with a smolt in the Columbia River estuary. Photo: Tony Grover, Northwest Power and Conservation Council

Scientists estimate that fish-eating birds consume 35 percent of the juvenile Upper Columbia River spring Chinook salmon, an endangered species, as they migrate downriver to the Pacific Ocean each spring.

Caspian terns, double-crested cormorants, and California gulls pick off the juvenile fish as they migrate downriver, digest them, and then deposit Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags from the fish at 12 nesting colony sites between central Washington and the estuary near Astoria, Oregon. Researchers from Oregon State University, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Real Time Research scan the nesting sites, record the tags, which are specific to locations and fish populations, and then estimate predation rates. They reported their 2014 results this week at a meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

In addition to upper Columbia spring Chinook, PIT tags from Snake River steelhead, upper and middle Columbia steelhead; Snake River spring/summer and fall Chinook; upper Willamette River spring Chinook; and Snake River sockeye salmon also were recorded. Snake River sockeye are an endangered species; the others are all listed as threatened.

Predation rates vary by nesting colony, by salmon and steelhead population, and by year, the researchers reported, adding that bird colonies thus have unequal impacts on smolt survival. Predation on upper Columbia spring Chinook, for example, was highest at Crescent Island near the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers (6.6 percent), and at East Sand Island in the Columbia River estuary (6.8 percent). At several other colony sites, predation on that population was 1 percent or less.

If there is any good news for salmon and steelhead in the report this week, it is that the Caspian tern colony at East Sand Island was slightly smaller and smolt consumption slightly lower last year than in 2013, the scientists reported. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built tern nesting habitat on two lakes in southeastern Oregon and in southern San Francisco Bay, and those appear to be successful at attracting terns away from the Columbia River Basin. But severe drought in southeastern Oregon caused the water to recede around two of the islands last year, and the birds stopped using them.

Regardless, the total number of breeding Caspian terns at all colonies in the Pacific Northwest was a bit lower in 2014 than in 2013, the scientists said.

Spring Chinook Crowd the Fish Ladders at Bonneville Dam

posted Apr 30, 2015

Chart: University of Washington Data Access in Real Time

It's an avalanche of spring Chinook salmon at Bonneville Dam, 146 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and the first place on the Columbia River where salmon and steelhead returning to spawn can be counted.

It looks like a big part of the 312,600-fish return predicted by the Washington and Oregon departments of fish and wildlife already has arrived. If the prediction holds up, the 2015 run will be just a little smaller than last year’s, which was a very good run.

The predicted 312,600 fish includes 220,000 upriver fish destined for parts of central Idaho and eastern Washington. The 10-year average (2005-2014) for those fish at Bonneville is 178,000.  As of April 30 the total Bonneville count was 139,142. Last year on April 30, the count was 78,669.

The chart above compares Chinook daily passage numbers at the dam in 2015 (red) to the 10-year average (green).


Strategic Plan Will Protect Fish and Wildlife Investments Over Time

posted Apr 15, 2015

A fish screen in the Yakima River Basin, Washington.

In revising the Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program in 2014, the Council committed to define and develop a long-term maintenance plan and process to ensure that past investments in projects that implement the program remain properly functioning and continue to benefit fish and wildlife in the basin. The plan also is intended to ensure that projects funded through the program continue to meet Bonneville Power Administration mitigation requirements (See Appendix P of the program, Maintenance of Fish and Wildlife Program Investments, here.).

Since last fall when the Council adopted the revised program, the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee and Council staff have been developing a strategic plan for operation and maintenance of projects in the program.

According to a staff report and committee discussion at the April 7-8, 2015 Council meeting in Helena, Montana, the plan will have four categories: 1) maintenance of fish screens and diversions; 2) maintenance of hatcheries, fishways, and fish traps; 3) protection of high-priority habitats; and 4) the ongoing work of the Budget Oversight Group, which addresses miscellaneous funding requests, such as after project infrastructure is damaged or when there are special needs. The strategic plan also will include an asset management program for long-term maintenance, rehabilitation, and replacement of project investments.

Current ongoing work to develop the strategic plan includes completing inventories of fish screens, existing hatcheries, and lands. These should be completed by July.

The final plan, expected late this year, will be informed by recommendations from the Council’s Independent Economic Advisory Board on approaches to improving planning for long-term costs of fish and wildlife projects. The IEAB began working on its report in January. A work group assisting the Council includes representatives of Bonneville and the Corps of Engineers; fish and wildlife agencies and tribes with expertise in fish screens, fishways, traps, hatcheries, lands, and habitat actions; the Council’s Wildlife Advisory Committee; and the multi-party Fish Screening Oversight Committee.

When completed, the draft plan will be presented to the Council for review and recommendation to Bonneville and the Corps of Engineers.

Region Should Have Adequate Power Supply Through 2020

posted Apr 1, 2015


A preliminary assessment of the region's power supply shows that we're likely to have adequate resources until 2020. Unless economic growth increases dramatically, there's only a 5 percent chance of not meeting demand, the Council's maximum threshold for a shortfall.

The Council's annual assessment helps make sure we're on track to meeting our energy needs for the next five years. Since last year's assessment, which indicated a 6 percent chance of a shortfall in 2019, the region's forecast demand has dropped. Offsetting the drop in demand, however, is the loss of generation from the Big Hanaford gas-fired turbine plant, which is no longer available for regional use. The net result means that, along with the continued energy savings projected in the Council's Sixth Power Plan, we should have an adequate power supply.

The real focus, however, is on 2021, when the Boardman and Centralia 1 coal plants, with a combined nameplate capacity of 1,330 megawatts, retire. That year, the probability for not meeting demand goes up to a little over 8 percent. The region would need to acquire an additional 1,150 megawatts of dispatchable capacity or develop other measures to bring the power supply to adequacy.

Measures to replace the lost coal generation include additional energy efficiency savings, natural gas plants, solar PV, wind, and demand response programs.

Lunch and Learn With the Council

posted Mar 31, 2015

Scenario Analysis Begins

posted Feb 11, 2015

Scenario Analysis Is Coming!

posted Jan 22, 2015

"The Objectives Process" begins

posted Dec 11, 2014

Why We Plan for Uncertainty

posted Nov 19, 2014

Why We Have a Regional Power Plan

posted Oct 29, 2014

Estimating Energy Efficiency

posted Oct 24, 2014

Seventh Power Plan 101

posted Oct 6, 2014

BPA Energy Efficiency Funding

posted Mar 12, 2014

Weathering a Cold Snap

posted Jan 17, 2014

The Seventh Power Plan

posted Dec 11, 2013

Designing for Efficiency

posted Nov 12, 2013

The Flexibility Challenge

posted Oct 30, 2013

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