Warm water blamed for huge Columbia River sockeye die-off

posted Jul 31, 2015

This sockeye strayed from the Columbia into the Little White Salmon River and died. Seattle Times photo.

Federal and state fisheries biologists say more than a quarter million Columbia River sockeye salmon have died in the river and its tributaries this summer as the result of unusually warm water prompted by the regionwide drought and hot weather, which has warmed the river to unseasonably high levels for this time of year. The die-off has wiped out half of the anticipated 500,000-fish sockeye run.

Water temperatures in the Columbia have been measured above 70 degrees, and temperatures in tributaries have been higher. Salmon die if exposed to water warmer than 68 degrees for long. Most of the dead and dying sockeye disappeared between Bonneville and McNary Dams.

Biologists expect the sockeye die-off will continue, perhaps reaching as high as 80 percent of the run before the fish reach spawning grounds in north central Washington, British Columbia, and the mountains of central Idaho. Meanwhile, a robust run of fall Chinook – more than 900,000 fish – is forecast for the Columbia system this year. That species typically enters the river from the ocean beginning in late July and early August.

Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife agencies closed all sturgeon fishing in the Columbia on July 18 after dozens of the big, bottom-dwelling fish washed up on river banks dead, many of them near the Tri Cities of Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco. Officials also closed afternoon and evening fishing in many Northwest rivers where low flows and high water temperatures are stressing fish. Columbia river managers are releasing water from upriver storage reservoirs in an effort to cool the downstream water temperatures for salmon and steelhead migrating now and in anticipation of upcoming fall Chinook and coho migrations.

While the 2015 Columbia River runoff volume is not historically low, the problem for fish is the combination of low flows and high water temperatures brought about by summer days of 90-degree and hotter temperatures. The water temperature above Bonneville Dam, for example, has averaged 73 degrees in recent weeks, nine degrees warmer than the average for the same time period over the last five years. For salmon, that’s the difference between lethal and non-lethal conditions.

The near-record low Columbia River runoff in 2015 did not result from a lack of precipitation but from a lack of snow, particularly in the United States portions of the basin. Thus, the winter of 2014/15 could be an anomaly, or it could be an example of what the average winter in the Pacific Northwest could be like by the end of the century, if predictions of an increasingly warmer climate prove accurate.

Assessing the Costs of Coal Plants in the Seventh Power Plan

posted Jul 27, 2015


We've been receiving a number of letters regarding the NW Energy Coalition's issue paper, The True Cost of Coal: Fully accounting for coal-fired electricity use in the 7th Northwest Power and Conservation Plan, which contends that there are "...two shortcomings in the Council’s resource modeling that makes these polluting coal plants look cheaper than they are as a resource to meet the region’s needs."

According to the coalition's paper, the Council's resource modeling 1) doesn't include out-of-region plants that contribute to meeting Northwest demand; and 2) only focuses on the variable costs of operating in-region coal plants and doesn't account for the cost of capital improvements to meet environmental regulations.

First, the Council doesn't model the out-of-region plants (all owned by PacifiCorp) because according to our data, they're not dispatched to meet Northwest loads and our actions have no effect on their use. If that assumption is incorrect, we'll include the cost of those plants.

Secondly, the power plan will certainly include estimates of all the costs, both capital and operating, of the required upgrades for coal plants that serve the region. The Council is reviewing the compliance data cited in the paper, and if it appears accurate, we'll update the plan's cost estimates. Our goal is to make all of the data used in developing the plan as accurate as possible, so we appreciate feedback from other interested parties.

We'll be discussing the plan's development at upcoming meetings posted on our website and shared in our newsletters. 

Key Observations From Scenario Analysis

posted Jul 21, 2015


At its July meeting, the Council was briefed on the latest findings from the scenario analysis used in developing its 20-year regional power plan. Here's a rundown on some key observations:

Energy efficiency appears to play a critical role in meeting both energy and winter capacity needs. Under all scenarios evaluated to date, 1,300-1,430 average megawatts are developed by 2021. It costs less than other resources, even under low electricity and gas prices. The fact that it can be "built" relatively quickly, and in the amounts needed, without fuel price and carbon risks, also make it the option chosen most often by the model.

"Efficiency acquisition isn't driven by the need for new energy," said Tom Eckman, power division director, "but because it's less expensive than operating existing resources and the surplus energy can be sold and exported outside the region at a profit."

Energy efficiency resource development

For meeting short-term peaking capacity requirements, demand response was preferred over single-cycle combustion turbines, for reasons similar to efficiency: It's the cheapest way to maintain capacity reserves; it can be built more quickly than a SCCT and in the needed amounts; it has no fuel price risk; and it doesn't add to an already surplus energy market.

While renewable resources are developed to satisfy state renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency reduces carbon emissions at the lowest cost. And current commercially available solar and wind technologies don't provide the peaking capacity needed in the winter. 

Thermal resources, while frequently optioned, are rarely constructed before 2026, except in scenarios that assume demand response resources aren't available. Energy efficiency and demand response are developed to replace the generation from already announced retiring coal plants. They meet most of the region's near-term energy and capacity needs. Eckman cautioned that these findings are limited to the need for thermal resources for peaking capacity since the Council's modeling doesn't address the need for resources to balance short-term fluctuations caused by changes in loads and renewable generation.

The next power committee webinar on the 7th power plan is scheduled for August 6 at 9:30 a.m. The next Council meeting is August 11-12 in Missoula, Montana; an additional power committee meeting has been scheduled on the 10th, 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. All meetings are open to the public. 




Spokane Tribal Hatchery Audit Will Be a Template for Others

posted Jul 16, 2015

Fish culturist T.J. Lebret feeds rainbow trout at the Spokane Tribal Hatchery. Photo: The Inlander,

A recent assessment of the Spokane Tribal Hatchery, which raises trout and kokanee for release into Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam, will serve as a template for similar audits that the Council and the Bonneville Power Administration want to conduct of other hatcheries funded through the Council’s fish and wildlife program. The goal is to better understand the scope of the operations and maintenance commitment for each facility to keep them functioning in the future.

The detailed audit of the Spokane hatchery and its equipment and operations was funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and cost about $55,000. Bonneville, which will fund future hatchery assessments, estimates they will cost less.

Tim Peone, Spokane Tribal Hatchery manager, told the Council at its July meeting, that he was pleased with the BIA’s assessment of the hatchery.

“In a nutshell, it was very clean,” he said. “BIA reviewed the integrity of the facility itself, and in depth.” He said the assessment will help the tribe prepare to negotiate a new funding agreement with Bonneville “to ensure the longevity of the facility.”

He said the tribe is investigating efficiencies including another water source, the cost of utilities, and methods to reuse some of the water used at the hatchery.

Since last October, when the Council adopted the 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program, Council staff have been working with a committee of hatchery experts, the Council’s Independent Economic Analysis Board, Bonneville staff, and the Fish Screening Oversight Committee to develop a long-term operations and maintenance strategic plan to ensure the longevity of program investments like hatcheries. That work is continuing and is part of a larger effort to find cost savings in the fish and wildlife budget to help pay for new initiatives and emerging priorities identified in the program.

Northern Pike Invade Upper Columbia River

posted Jul 16, 2015

This map by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife shows the known distribution of northern pike in the state. The northern-most red line represents the Pend Oreille River and the Columbia River to the mouth of the Kettle River. The southern-most red line represents the Spokane River. The northern and southern red circles represent Newman Lake and Liberty Lake, respectively, in Spokane County.

Northern pike, a voracious predator considered an invasive species in two of the four Northwest states, have been found in the Kettle River, a northeastern Washington tributary of the Columbia River, a sign that they are continuing their downstream migration from lakes and rivers in Idaho and Montana. What’s worse, the pike found in and near the Kettle River were several different ages, indicating the species is breeding and proliferating.

That is bad news for the Columbia because if pike keep spreading downriver they could wind up below Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams where they could prey on threatened and endangered species of salmon and steelhead.

Council staff reported in July that between June 29 and July 3, 21 adult pike were captured at five locations around the mouth of the Kettle River, near Colville, Washington. Northern pike are classified as game fish in Montana and Idaho, and as prohibited species in Washington and Oregon, where they also are listed as aquatic invasive species. All four states prohibit live transport of northern pike.

There is no limit on the number of pike that can be taken in Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Oregon has no harvest regulation for pike because they have not been found there yet. Fish and wildlife managers reported to the Council in June about the increasing pike population and the dangers posed to other fish species. 

The Council is working with the state fish and wildlife agencies to develop consistent policies regarding pike. Preserving Fish and Wildlife Program effectiveness by aggressively addressing non-native and invasive species is one of the priorities in the Council’s 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program.

Amy Windrope, of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Council at its July meeting that the agency favors eradicating pike in state waters. “It’s a priority for us,” she said.

Touring Baker Dam

posted Jul 8, 2015

Forest Fires and Fish Habitat

posted May 19, 2015

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