Film Explores Decline And Rebuilding of Kootenai River White Sturgeon

posted May 20, 2015


White sturgeon in the Kootenai River of northern Idaho and Northwestern Montana became landlocked during the last Ice Age. For thousands of years these giant fish, which can live more than 80 years, have been an important part of the river ecosystem and the diet and culture of the Kootenai Tribe.

In modern times, the river channel was altered and dikes were built to prevent flooding and provide water for agriculture, and Libby Dam was constructed. These changes altered the river habitat and affected the sturgeon population, particularly the production of juvenile fish, which declined noticeably after the dam was completed in 1972. By 1994, when the population was listed as an endangered species, it had been in decline for some 40 years.

But the people whose culture is bound up with these fish and the people who control the river today are working together to restore sturgeon to their native habitat. The Kootenai white sturgeon story is told in a new film by George Sibley, Gale Force Films. The film aired on the MontanaPBS network in April 2015, and can be viewed here.


Forest Fires and Fish Habitat

posted May 19, 2015

A fire may not mean disaster for fish. Photo:

Forest fires may be good for salmon habitat.

That’s one of the conclusions from a recent day-long workshop in Portland, where scientists with expertise in aquatic ecosystems and wildfires gathered to discuss how fires affect habitat for fish and other aquatic species. It’s an opportune time to consider those impacts, as the coming wildfire season is expected be severe, exacerbated by drought that has spread across all four Northwest states.

“Habitat restoration programs across the basin must take fire science into account if those programs are going to successfully help recover threatened and endangered fishes,” said Linda Ulmer, Columbia River Basin coordinator in the Northwest regional office of the U.S. Forest Service, in a release before the workshop.

Here are some of the conclusions from the workshop:

  • After a forest fire, fish appear to have higher juvenile production, and growth of juveniles to adults is faster. This may be due to more sunlight driving faster food web development and warmer waters, which increase fish metabolism. The abundance of insects, food for fish, also increases.
  • Fish seem to prefer stream confluences where at least one stream has experienced a recent fire above the confluence.
  • Debris flows that follow fires increase spawning gravel, and also the amount of large woody debris, which creates sheltering locations for fish.
  • Stream ecosystems appear to “reset” to conditions that are beneficial for fish following a fire.
  • Riparian zones – the banks of a stream that are important for fish habitat -- often do not burn in a fire, and if they do, tend to recover more quickly than adjacent uplands.
  • Bull trout may be at exceptional risk from fire, as they tend to remain in one area and may be isolated into small sub-populations by large fires.

BPA Administrator Notes “Historic Era” For Electricity Industry

posted May 14, 2015

Elliot Mainzer, Bonneville Power Administration Administrator

In a wide-ranging conversation with the Council this month, Bonneville Power Administration Administrator Elliot Mainzer said the ongoing transformation of the electricity industry, characterized by a steady transition away from fossil fuel-fired power plants to greater reliance on renewable energy and energy efficiency, makes the current era a historical period for the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s not a flash-in-the-pan set of activities,” Mainzer said. “If you look at the national policy agenda, I think it’s fair to say something fairly significant is likely to come out of the carbon conversation that is happening now,” adding, “there are huge implications for the industry in terms of the generating and transmission systems, voltage stability, and infrastructure.”

He said changes in the design of the wholesale energy market in the West also are attracting attention, if not concern, of Bonneville and its utility customers.

“The changes that are happening, particularly in California, with the creation of an energy imbalance market by PacifiCorp, the California ISO and the other utilities that are joining, should not be underestimated in terms of its impact on the West,” he said. “It will be a very, very significant change in the operating environment, and it has major implications for all of us in the region.”

Mainzer also noted the major technology innovations underway in the energy industry, and their potential impacts in the Northwest. One in particular, the ongoing and rapid developments in energy storage technologies, particularly large-scale batteries, will impact how much utilities continue to rely on the West-wide grid of high-voltage transmission lines.

“These are huge issues,” Mainzer said. “At Bonneville, we are spending quite a bit of time thinking about these topics and what they mean for the Northwest and particularly our customers, who are gong to be experiencing them on the front lines.”

He praised the region’s accomplishments in improving energy efficiency and protecting fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin, but he cautioned that continued progress depends on Bonneville’s ability to compete in the energy marketplace.

“Everything we do at Bonneville and the region, from energy efficiency and fish and wildlife mitigation to low-income assistance to technology innovations, basically is enabled by one thing, and that’s our ability to be cost-competitive today and to remain so in the long term,” he said. “That falls apart if we’re not running a viable organization, and so I am a bit concerned at the moment about the long-term cost structure of the Bonneville Power Administration.”

Also see his full 26-minute presentation.


The Region’s Economy Grows More Efficient

posted May 7, 2015


At its May power committee meeting, the Council reviewed regional employment and economic output trends and their impact on electricity sales. The overarching picture is of a regional economy that, over time, continues to produce more with less energy.

According to data from 2007 to 2014, the regional economy and employment have grown, while retail sales of electricity have stayed the same. Some key points:

  • Gross state product grew 10 percent
  • Employment has returned to pre-recession levels, adding about 100,000 jobs in 2014
  • Retail electricity sales have been stable
  • Retail electricity revenue is growing faster than sales

The growing efficiency of the economy, from investments in energy efficiency and improving efficiency in products, means that consumers can enjoy low electricity bills even as the cost for electricity grows.


If electricity rates go up, will my bill go up, too?

Making the business case for energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is now the Northwest's second largest resource, and growing



Hydropower Shortage Unlikely Despite Low Regional Water Supply

posted May 6, 2015

This map shows severely depleted snowpack throughout the Columbia River Basin

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 last 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.

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.

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.

This Plan Is Your Plan

posted Apr 30, 2015

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