BPA Administrator Praises Energy Efficiency, Says Cost Review Will Keep Agency Competitive

posted Nov 20, 2015

BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer

Elliot Mainzer, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, the region’s largest electricity wholesaler and the agency that directs millions of dollars annually to improve energy efficiency in the Northwest and boost fish and wildlife survival in the Columbia River Basin, had a clear message for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council at its November meeting:

It’s time to take a hard look at Bonneville’s fish, wildlife, and energy budgets to make sure the agency continues to fund initiatives that “give us real impact” and look for ways to potentially “trim tabs” on those that do not. To that end, Bonneville recently began a public process, called BPA Focus 2028, to explore how energy industry changes will affect Bonneville and the strategic choices the agency may face in the future to remain financially strong and competitive.

Mainzer sees the Council as an important partner in that process. Under federal law, the Bonneville administrator is required to make decisions about future energy supplies and mitigating the impacts of hydropower dams on fish and wildlife that are consistent with the Council’s Northwest Power Plan and Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. He said he is pleased with the Council’s work on the Seventh Power Plan, the region’s energy efficiency accomplishments, and progress in improving fish survival at the federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, which provide the bulk of the electricity Bonneville sells.

But he also said the Focus 2028 conversation, which will include and affect electric utilities and fish and wildlife agencies, tribes, and others throughout the Northwest, will be difficult, but one that must occur.

“The central focus of the 2028 Dialogue is the thesis that in order for Bonneville to meet its multiple statutory and public-purpose objectives we have to have a financially strong and cost-competitive organization,” he said. “Without that, we really can’t do the things we need to do and that people expect us to do.”

He said he sees the possibility of cost savings in Bonneville’s energy efficiency and fish and wildlife budgets. Regarding fish and wildlife, he said the Focus 2028 process provides the opportunity to “take a look, particularly, at some of the research, monitoring and evaluation dollars and ask ourselves if we can free up some working capital to be able to better accommodate some of the emerging priorities, and also to make sure that the dollars we are spending are being spent as efficiently as we possibly can.” Bonneville’s own budget will be scrutinized, too, he said: “We are looking at our own internal operations, our budgeting processes, our finances, the way we carry reserves, and all of these things.”

“I want to reaffirm the importance of our partnership during these really challenging times,” he said. “There is so much industry change going on right now, and we are working to position ourselves for long-term success. That’s really my theme for my time as administrator.”

The Battle Against Northern Pike Intensifies In Lake Roosevelt

posted Nov 18, 2015

A 15-pound Northern pike caught in the Columbia River near Kettle Falls, May 2015. Photo: Spokesman-Review

The campaign to halt the proliferation of Northern pike in Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam, is intensifying, state and tribal fish biologists reported to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in November.

First detected in the northern end of the 150-mile-long reservoir in 2009 and still confined to that area, the aggressive predator species appears to be breeding and the population, still small, steadily growing. Pike are voracious and can grow to more than 30 pounds and a meter in length.

Brent Nichols, fisheries manager of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, told the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee at a meeting in Portland that five days of research fishing in June using set nets confirmed the growing numbers. Of 138 fish caught in the nets, 21 were northern pike, and these fish represented two distinct age classes with fish weighing between a pound and eight pounds. Analysis of their stomach contents showed that about 60 percent of their diet was trout and whitefish.

That is bad news for the Spokane and Colville tribes, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), which raise trout and kokanee for the substantial recreational fishery in the lake.

“What they prefer to eat is what we don’t want them to eat,” Nichols said.

While pike have the potential to disrupt fisheries and impact native fish species in Lake Roosevelt, a more dire consequence is the impact pike could have on salmon and steelhead downriver, including more than a dozen threatened and endangered species. Predation by pike also could set back electricity ratepayer-funded efforts to restore fish runs and enhance fisheries throughout the Columbia River Basin if the Lake Roosevelt population grows and fish pass over Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams.

The pike population in Lake Roosevelt today is about where the pike population was in the Pend Oreille River, a Columbia tributary, about a decade ago. That population boomed, and the Kalispel Tribe and WDFW have been working aggressively, and so far successfully, to reduce their numbers.

“We probably waited too long in the Pend Oreille,” Chris Donley, WDFW’s eastern region fish program manager, told the committee. “Now is the time to get a handle on this in Lake Roosevelt.”

WDFW and Spokane Tribe plan to accelerate their work in Lake Roosevelt in 2016 to include, for example, radio telemetry studies to track the movements of large pike and implement a reward program for anglers to remove pike from the lake.

“Lake Roosevelt is beginning to show signs of real problems,” Fish and Wildlife Committee Chair Bill Bradbury said. “This could turn into a disaster for the Northwest. Or, we could get a handle on this now.”

Scientist: Begin Preparing Now For Climate Change Impacts Along The Lower Columbia River

posted Oct 16, 2015

The Columbia has been warming steadily for more than 70 years. Chart: Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership

As the climate warms and polar ice continues to melt, sea levels will rise and estuary shorelines, including those along the lower Columbia River, will be inundated. Whether that’s a little or a lot is a matter of speculation, of course, but right now is a good time to start thinking about what the lower river will look like in, say, 50 to 100 years and how people, fish, wildlife, and communities will adapt.

The Council is taking up that issue in its 2014 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, which includes as one of its “emerging program priorities” a directive to account for the potential impacts of climate change on projects that implement the program. The estuary is an obvious place where the effects of rising sea levels will be evident, and that also is an area where the program is implemented in projects that protect and improve shoreline habitat for migrating juvenile salmon and steelhead. Over time, the very places that are being improved today for fish could be underwater, perhaps permanently, before the end of the century.

What then? What should be done now to be ready for the future?

At its October meeting, the Council heard from Catherine Corbett, chief scientist at the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership (LCEP) about the issue. Corbett and LCEP have been thinking a lot about the lower Columbia and climate change.

Corbett said research by LCEP and others points to some clear conclusions and recommendations, including:

  • We need to look beyond the current shorelines when we think about restoring and improving wetland habitats, migrating these areas farther inland because someday our current inland areas are likely to be a lot closer to the main channel of the river.
  • The river is likely to continue a warming trend that has been ongoing for decades, as snowpack decreases, runoff comes out of the mountains earlier in the year, and flow volumes continue to decline in the summer months – as was evident this year in July and August when the superheated (for fish) Columbia was blamed for the deaths of a quarter million sockeye and about 20 percent of the harvestable-age sturgeon in the river. Cold water refugia – the mouths of cold-water streams flowing into the river – will become increasingly important for migrating fish, and likely refugia are being evaluated now in the Columbia River Gorge.
  • We need to identify those areas that are likely to be flooded – agricultural land, urban areas, shoreline and inland habitats -- and determine where new or improved dikes will be needed and where areas can be left open for the benefit of fish and wildlife, and habitat restored or created.

Corbett’s presentation to the Council and a Council staff memo can be viewed here.

White Sturgeon Populations Are Stable But Face Threats In The Columbia

posted Oct 16, 2015

Photo: Tony Grover, Northwest Power and Conservation Council

While white sturgeon populations in the Columbia River downstream of Bonneville Dam are stable, they're also targeted by the growing sea lion population and their spawning can be affected by dam operations upstream.

In a presentation at the Council's October meeting, Tucker Jones of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the total population is probably around several hundred thousand fish, and the number of harvestable-size fish is on the increase. Until 2015, predation on sturgeon by sea lions was increasing annually, but this year there was a reduction. Even so, sea lions are believed to kill more than 10,000 sturgeon annually downstream of Bonneville Dam.

Hydropower dam operations also affect sturgeon. Adult fish can swim into turbines when they're not being used and trapped and killed when they start up. Slower turbine start-up helps reduce that problem, essentially chasing the fish back into the river. Dam operations can also affect spawning. When females release their eggs into the river, some adhere along the shore and are exposed when river levels drop from reservoir operations upriver. “Power peaking and load following fluctuations of a couple feet or more cause repeated wetting and drying of the eggs, and that can affect their survival,” Jones said.

The white sturgeon population between Bonneville and The Dalles dams is also healthy–at least 150,000 fish–but there are fewer mature, spawning-age adult fish than downriver. “Fish don’t grow well there,” Jones said. Sturgeon populations above The Dalles and John Day dams are relatively healthy, but spawning success is low and there are few juvenile fish, he said.

White sturgeon are legally harvested between Bonneville and McNary dams–about two-thirds allocated to tribal fishers–but illegal harvest is a problem, as sturgeon eggs–caviar–are valuable. In response to Council member questions, Jones said illegal harvest is a law enforcement issue and the number of illegally harvested sturgeon is not known. “We still see adult populations increasing, and we take mortality into consideration,” he said. “Some of the mortality we see is from poaching, some is from vessel strikes, some is from dams. We don’t know where it’s all coming from but we know it’s occurring.”

Low flows and high water temperatures in the Columbia were also responsible for sturgeon mortality this year. Jones said 169 dead sturgeon were counted, most of them in the reservoir between The Dalles and John Day dams, but the total number of dead fish was probably higher since dead fish were found along shorelines as well.

More information about Columbia River sturgeon is on the Council’s white sturgeon dashboard.

Jennifer Light Will Lead Regional Technical Forum

posted Oct 14, 2015

Jennifer Light

Jennifer Light, the Council’s Regional Technical Forum manager, has been elected chair of the 26-member energy efficiency advisory committee.

The Regional Technical Forum was established by the Council in 1999 to develop standards to verify and evaluate energy efficiency savings. Voting members of the forum are appointed by the Council and include individuals experienced in energy efficiency program planning, implementation and evaluation.

Ms. Light replaces Council Power Planning Director Tom Eckman as RTF chair. As a staff member in the Council's Power Planning Division, Ms. Light helps manage the RTF as it develops energy efficiency measures throughout the Northwest. She holds a bachelor's degree in geology from Macalester College and a master's in public administration in environmental science and policy from Columbia University. Prior to joining the Council she was senior program manager for emerging technology at the Consortium for Energy Efficiency in Boston, MA.


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Forest Fires and Fish Habitat

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This Plan Is Your Plan

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Lunch and Learn With the Council

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Scenario Analysis Begins

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Scenario Analysis Is Coming!

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Why We Have a Regional Power Plan

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Estimating Energy Efficiency

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Seventh Power Plan 101

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BPA Energy Efficiency Funding

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The Seventh Power Plan

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Designing for Efficiency

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The Flexibility Challenge

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Using Batteries to Store Energy

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Ensuring Efficiency

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Making Wind Work

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