Chinook run increases, and so do sea lions

posted May 3, 2016


Sea lions, particularly the California species, have increased in the Columbia River immediately below Bonneville Dam in recent weeks, and so far they are killing more salmon than in recent years.

According to the latest report by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which coordinates observations of sea lion activity at the dam, the average daily number of California sea lions seen at the dam increased from four in March to 22 in April. The maximum was 39 on April 22. Adding Steller sea lions to the mix, the maximum was 82, also on April 22. Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife biologists brand the most problematic sea lions, and so far this year observers have documented 79 uniquely branded individual animals – 77 had been seen at the dam in previous years.

As the number of sea lions rose, so did the number of spring Chinook salmon arriving at the dam as they migrate to spawning grounds and hatcheries upriver. As of April 29, the date of the most recent report on sea lions by the Corps, 28,029 spring Chinook salmon and 3,659 steelhead had been counted passing the dam. By May 2, the total had grown to 58,602 adult Chinook (59,664 including jacks) and 5,367 steelhead.

At the same time, observed catches of Chinook by sea lions more than doubled in the two weeks before April 29, exceeding the 10-year average, the Corps reported. The estimate through April 29 was 4,970. The 10-year average is a little over 2,000; the number by this time last year was 4,420.

Non-lethal, boat-based hazing of sea lions by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission began in early March and is continuing three days a week. Dam-based hazing by the US Department of Agriculture also began in early March and is continuing seven days a week. According to the Corps report, hazing has short-term effectiveness but the hazed sea lions quickly return.

Meanwhile, sea lions have taken fewer sturgeon than usual through the end of April – just 28, with most being between two feet and four feet in length but one exceeding seven feet.

California and Steller sea lion combined maximum daily count (interpolated for weekends) at Bonneville Dam through April 29, 2016 compared to the 10-ten year average.

Figure:  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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Northwest Efficiency Exchange 2016 in Coeur d'Alene

posted Apr 28, 2016

Lake Coeur d'Alene

The premier conference for energy efficiency professionals in the region and beyond was held this week in Coeur d'Alene, and we were able to talk to a few people about their work to get an idea of what the future holds for energy efficiency.

Kicking off the event were our own distinguished efficiency experts, retiring Power Division Director Tom Eckman, Conservation Resources Manager Charlie Grist, Senior Energy Efficiency Analyst Tina Jayaweera, and Senior Energy Efficiency Analyst Kevin Smit. Here's their presentation (video and slides) on energy efficiency from a historical perspective and where we see it headed in the Seventh Power Plan, which found that almost half of residential efficiency will come from new measures.

The areas with the most potential are in lighting, heating and cooling systems, and internet-based control systems that manage those home and building HVAC systems. Keshmira McVey, energy efficiency program manager at the Bonneville Power Administration, talks about their potential:

One of the exciting developments in energy efficiency is the growing collaboration among all the various players in the field, both in the private sector and in government. Jodi Bellacicco, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is program manager for a pilot project that aims to connect clean energy small businesses with National Lab expertise, facilities, and equipment to help them overcome commercialization barriers. It's a joint project led by Department of Energy Labs: Berkeley Lab, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories.

Simple, non-tech changes like window coverings can also have a significant impact, as Katherine Cort of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory explains. Honeycomb designed shades, for example, could lower energy use 10 to 18 percent.

We also heard about the potential of plug-in electric vehicles to enhance the power system from John Morris, Morris Energy Consulting. PEVs could help reduce emissions while improving the efficiency and stability of the power system.

The conference, which continues to grow each year, illustrates why the Northwest has become a hub for energy efficiency development: When you have the opportunity to share the knowledge of so many people, progress is possible. 






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In the (Efficient) Spotlight

posted Apr 25, 2016


The Bonneville Power Administration and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, in partnership with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and utilities throughout the Northwest, are hosting the fourth annual Efficiency Exchange conference this week in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. See the joint agency press release.

The regionwide event focuses on promoting technical innovation and new ideas in utility energy efficiency programs. This year’s conference kicks off with a general session on energy efficiency in the Seventh Power Plan, which the Council adopted in February. The plan concludes that energy efficiency is the key to meeting our region’s future demand for electricity.

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Hot River, Dead Salmon, Lessons Learned

posted Apr 15, 2016

A sockeye with fungus from heat stress sought cold water in Drano Lake, a Columbia tributary near Bonneville Dam last July.

The summer of 2015 was disastrous for sockeye salmon migrating through the Columbia River. On their way home to the Okanagan and Wenatchee rivers in Washington, and the Snake River in Idaho, the fish had to pass through a lethally hot Columbia.

Beginning in late June and continuing through July, unusually low runoff from a below-average snow pack, combined with a lingering drought and hot weather, boosted the water temperature in the Columbia to intolerable levels for salmon. More than a quarter million sockeye died between Bonneville and McNary dams.

State fish and wildlife agencies and Indian tribes scrambled to find ways to cool the river, but for many fish, including endangered Snake River sockeye, it was too late. Fish that migrated on the edges of the heat wave, in early June and late July, fared better than the bulk of the run, but the result still was devastating. No Snake River sockeye that crossed Bonneville Dam after July 16 survived to Idaho, just 2 percent of the Okanagan sockeye counted at Bonneville made it home, but Wenatchee fish fared better perhaps because that river was a little cooler than other tributaries.

Last week, NOAA Fisheries, which directs river and dam operations under the Endangered Species Act, reported to the Council on the lessons learned from the summer of 2015, lessons that will prove useful in the future if predicted climate warming occurs and river conditions more frequently become dangerous for cold-water fish like salmon.

“All the Columbia tributaries were running brutally hot,” NOAA’s Ritchie Graves, chief of the Columbia hydropower branch, told the Council. Some tributaries in Idaho and Washington reached nearly 80 degrees; the Columbia reached 73 degrees, and the Okanagan hit 83. Anything over about 68 degrees stresses fish, and prolonged temperatures over 70 are lethal.

“Instances like this could occur more frequently in the future, and we need to prepare,” Graves said.

Probably the most important lesson from last year’s emergency is that decision-makers need to react faster to help the fish, he said.

“Last year we probably talked too much,” he said. ”It took days or weeks to talk through some of these things. People had the best interests of the fish at heart, but it all took too long.”

Russ Kiefer of Idaho Fish and Game, who joined Graves at the Council meeting, agreed. “Some of the operating changes took longer because we weren’t dealing with a lot of facts, we were depending on a lot of beliefs. The management community needs to be ready to act more decisively in an emergency like this,” he said.

Other lessons learned included:

  • Adult fish ladder counts may be biased during high-temperature periods, as fish fall back through turbines or the ladders or stray in search of colder water downstream of the dam
  • Fish ladder temperature monitoring and reporting could be improved
  • Cold water releases from large storage reservoirs like those behind Grand Coulee and Dworshak dams reduced downstream river temperatures slightly, but the effect dissipated rapidly
  • Truck transportation of adult sockeye from Lower Granite Dam appeared to be an effective “hedge” strategy for Snake River sockeye, one Graves called “a wise decision last year.”


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The Mystery of Swan Lake

posted Apr 13, 2016


Fish “detectives” are using biochemistry to try to unravel an intriguing mystery: How did walleye get into Swan Lake?

While “detective” is not an official job title at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the department is using high-tech instruments to investigate the origins of two walleye caught last October in the pristine, Northwestern Montana lake, which has 13 unique populations of bull trout, a threatened species, in its drainage basin.

Just two walleye might not sound like a threat, but the fish breed prolifically, feed voraciously and, if a population takes hold in the lake, the threat to bull trout would be very real. Sawn Lake is highly regarded for the quality of its water and habitat, particularly for bull trout. The department’s concern is shared by the fishing community. Following discovery of the fish, seven fishing and conservation organizations contributed a total of $5,000 and another contributed $10,000, adding to a reward of up to $15,000 offered by the state – total $30,000 -- for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons who introduced the predators, which are not native to the lake.

The problem is not only with walleye. Other warm-water species including crappie, perch, and lake trout also have been illegally introduced into Montana lakes.

The threat to Swan Lake is particularly troublesome, though, as the lake has been identified as a refuge for cold-water species like bull trout if the predictions of climate models prove correct and the amount of habitat for cold-water species like bull trout declines over time.

“It’s a smart place to invest in habitat and fish conservation,” Matt Boyer, fisheries mitigation coordinator for Fish, Wildlife & Parks, told the Council at its April meeting in Missoula. 

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is not after the reward, but its laboratory sleuthing could help identify where the fish came from, and that could help fishery managers as well as law enforcement address the problem. At the Missoula meeting, Boyer and Sam Bourret, Hungry Horse mitigation fish biologist for the department, described the use of microchemistry to study the ear bones, called otoliths, of the two captured walleye.

A microscopic view of otoliths with their tree-ring like growth rings

Like tree rings, concentric circles of bony growth in otoliths reveal how quickly, and for how long, a fish grew. Otoliths also contain a chemical marker that reveals the unique characteristics of the water where a fish is born and grows. The Swan Lake walleye otoliths clearly indicated the fish were born in another body of water and were in Swan Lake for only a couple of months before they were caught.

But what other water body?

Bourret compared known water chemistry profiles of several nearby lakes with the Swan Lake walleye otoliths and did not find a match. For now, then, the mystery remains. But as water chemistry profiles are compiled and made available for other Montana lakes – not all of the state’s lakes have established water chemistry profiles -- the Swan Lake mystery – and others like it – may be resolved, Bourret said.

Click here to read the Council staff memo:

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A boost for northern pike removal

posted Apr 13, 2016

They're back, and they're hungry

posted Mar 23, 2016

Warm ocean, small salmon: Why?

posted Mar 7, 2016

Seventh Power Plan Homestretch

posted Dec 15, 2015

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