Blog

Wet Winter

posted May 17, 2017

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Sign along the Columbia River near Troutdale, Oregon. Photo: NOAA.

The record-setting wet winter and spring in the Pacific Northwest resulted from an unusual but not unprecedented series of weather events, including “rivers” of moisture in the atmosphere, a typically cool La Nina in the northern Pacific Ocean, and an unusually heavy snowpack in Siberia, weather experts told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council at its May meeting in Boise.

Beginning last October, the Northwest was slammed with storm after storm bringing record snowfalls in the mountains – particularly in northern California and in Idaho – and drought-ending rains that left nearly all storage reservoirs in the region full or nearly so. Oregon has its best water supply outlook since 2011. The Columbia River has flooded in some places downstream of Bonneville Dam. Rivers in southern and central Idaho have gone over flood stage several times, damaging homes and farms.

At the Boise meeting, weather experts from NOAA’s National Weather Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service provided context to the unusual winter. The Council is interested in the water supply and river runoff because water is the fuel for hydropower, which provides more than half of the region’s electricity. The weather also affects how much electricity is used.

Jay Breidenbach, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Boise, pointed out that just last summer during extreme dry conditions a wildfire raged in Idaho from July into September, but then in October everything changed. Pacific Ocean temperatures along the Equator shifted colder, signifying a cool La Nina event. This contributed to weather pattern changes in the north Pacific and caused what weather experts call atmospheric rivers of moisture to flow from southwest to northeast across the Pacific and slam into the West Coast more than 40 times from northern California north to British Columbia. These atmospheric rivers resulted in record and near-record precipitation, much of it snow in the mountains. Just six months after the Idaho wildfire, heavy snowfall crushed outbuildings on farms in December and January, causing millions of dollars in damages to the state’s onion industry, Breidenbach said.

The Pacific Northwest winter also was affected by snow and cold in Siberia, where the snowpack is greater than usual. This means the extent of cold surface temperatures is greater than normal, and the cold is picked up by the North Pacific jet stream, a high-altitude river of air, as it flows across Siberia on its way to Canada and the Pacific Northwest. If weather conditions are just right, this cold Siberian air express can cause snowfall all the way into the southern states.

Seasonal precipitation is well above normal in the Pacific Northwest.

High-elevation snow remains in the Northwest in late May, and this will play an important role in the summer water supply and river runoff, he said. This could be good news for summer-migrating salmon in the Columbia River, particularly sockeye. Breidenbach estimated some 30-50 inches of water equivalent remains in snow in some parts of the Columbia River Basin.

Troy Lindquist, senior hydrologist at the Boise office of the weather service, said the Columbia River is running a little more than twice its normal volume for this time of the year, measured at The Dalles. Flows should drop back to near normal for the remainder of May and through June. Still, he said, the river volume forecast through September is well over 100 percent of normal.

“We’re not done melting yet,” he said.

Flooded trail along the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington.

(see full story)

Efficiency Exchange Conference Highlights Energy Efficiency in a Changing Environment

posted May 8, 2017

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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 fifth annual Efficiency Exchange conference.

The region-wide event focuses on promoting innovation, discussing emerging trends and sharing new ideas on how utility energy efficiency programs can adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace. This year’s event will be at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland on May 9-10, 2017.

“BPA is proud to be a partner in this excellent event where cutting-edge ideas, technologies and research are shared for the benefit of the people of the Northwest,” said Richard Génecé, BPA vice president of Energy Efficiency. “Efficiency Exchange provides a vibrant forum for people, products and policies that make our region a national trendsetter in the efficient use of energy.”

This year’s conference kicks off with a keynote from Shane Snow, an award-winning journalist, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. Snow is co-founder of the content technology company Contently, which helps creative people and companies tell great stories together. Shane serves on the board of the Contently Foundation for Investigative Journalism, and is the author of Smartcuts: The Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking. Snow's writing has appeared in Fast Company, Wired, The New Yorker, and dozens more top publications.

The second day of the conference will feature Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. The Alliance, a premier non-governmental organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., has worked for nearly four decades to advance energy efficiency worldwide to achieve a healthier economy, a cleaner environment, and greater energy security. Under Callahan’s leadership, the Alliance conducts policy, communications, research, education, and market transformation initiatives in the U.S. and abroad.

“The Northwest has a rich history of leading innovation in energy efficiency through region-wide collaboration,” said NEEA’s executive director, Susan E. Stratton. “Efficiency Exchange brings together thought leaders and program experts to surface ideas and new insights that help shape our energy future.”

In addition to the two keynotes, energy efficiency experts from around the Northwest will present on a range of topics, such as green load building, emerging technologies, and driving energy efficiency through digital engagement.

“Energy efficiency is the region’s second largest resource after hydropower, and it continues to be our largest least-cost new resource. These savings have also lowered ratepayers’ electricity bills by $4 billion a year,” said Henry Lorenzen, chair of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

“Events like the Efficiency Exchange play a critical role in helping to nurture its development and advance the next generation of energy efficiency. The Council strongly supports the conference and looks forward to working with our partners to build on the region’s success.”

Between sessions, attendees can visit the Conduit Lounge and register, post and share information on Conduit, an online community that facilitates collaboration and coordination among energy efficiency professionals in the Northwest.

View the full agenda of the conference at efficiencyexchangenw.com.

About the Bonneville Power Administration BPA is a not-for-profit federal agency that markets renewable hydropower from federal Columbia River dams, operates three-quarters of the high-voltage transmission lines in the Northwest and funds one of the largest wildlife protection and restoration programs in the world. BPA and its partners pursue cost-effective energy savings in all sectors of the economy, and together they have saved enough electricity through energy efficiency projects to power four large American cities. www.bpa.gov

About the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance is an alliance of more than 140 utilities and energy efficiency organizations working on behalf of more than 13 million energy consumers. NEEA is dedicated to accelerating both electric and gas energy efficiency, leveraging its regional partnerships to advance the adoption of energy-efficient products, services and practices.

Since 1997, NEEA and its partners have saved enough energy to power more than 900,000 homes each year. As the second-largest resource in the Northwest, energy efficiency can offset most of our new demand for energy, saving money and keeping the Northwest a healthy and vibrant place to live. www.neea.org

About the Northwest Power and Conservation Council The Northwest Power and Conservation Council is an agency of the four Northwest states of Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Washington. Under the Northwest Power Act of 1980, the Council develops a Northwest Power Plan to assure the region an adequate, efficient, economical, and reliable power supply while protecting, mitigating and enhancing fish and wildlife that have been affected by the construction and operation of hydropower dams in the Columbia River Basin. Through the power plan the Council sets strategies and establishes targets for energy efficiency in the region, and through the Regional Technical Forum (rtf.nwcouncil.org) the Council and other Forum partners work to verify that efficiency measures implemented by utilities produce real savings.

(see full story)

Can Electric Cars and Buses Help Power the Northwest’s Economy?

posted Apr 19, 2017

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Portland TriMet testing an electric bus

At the Council’s April meeting, Massoud Jourabchi, manager of economic analysis, and Steve Simmons, senior economic analyst, reported on the electrification of public transit and school buses. The presentation followed up on an earlier analysis on the impact of electric cars that showed significant economic and environmental benefits to Northwest consumers and utilities. That analysis found that between now and 2035, we could keep more than $12 billion dollars in the region by reducing the amount of money paid for gas, and an additional $4 billion in maintenance costs. The region would also lower carbon emissions by 42 million metric tons cumulatively.

The transportation system is a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions. In the Northwest, the transportation sector produces about 80 million metric tons of CO2 per year, 63 million metric tons from gasoline use. Consumers paid more than $220 billion in fuel costs to power their vehicles.

But as more electric car options have come on the market, their regional sales have increased. By the end of 2016, there were more than 34,000 all electric and plug-in hybrid cars on the road. They represented about 8 average megawatts of the region’s load and reduced CO2 emissions by 95,000 metric tons.

“We expect demand for electricity to power electric vehicles to grow significantly,” said Simmons.

Transportation is getting more efficient as stock turns over, both because of the growing adoption of super-efficient EVs and because efficiency standards for conventional gas-fueled vehicles have increased.

So what are the potential economic and emissions impacts of adding electric public transit and school buses to our transportation sector? By 2035,

  • Urban transit bus fuel costs would be lower by $1.8 billion and emissions would be lower by 7 million metric tons. Also, operating cost savings would be more than $1 billion. 
  • School bus fuel costs would be lower by $400 million and operating costs by another $400 million. Emissions would be lower by 1 million metric tons.

“Electrification of our transportation system would keep a lot of money inside the region’s economy, and at the same time lower pollution and carbon emissions in our cities,” noted Jourabchi.

If the region invests roughly 10 percent of what it spends on fuel costs, it could recover its investment many times over. These savings amounts use constant 2012 dollars; consumer savings are greater if measured in current dollars.

The Council will be monitoring these trends to use the latest data in developing its next regional energy plan.

(see full story)

Protecting Cold Water Refuges

posted Apr 18, 2017

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Side channels along the Willamette River. Images courtesy of Stan Gregory.

Scientific research increasingly is demonstrating the importance of cold-water habitat in a warming world for fish that need cold water to survive. In a presentation at the April Council meeting, Council staff discussed the work fisheries scientists and managers are doing to improve their understanding of where these cold-water refuges exist in the Columbia River Basin, how they are maintained by natural processes, how they are used by fish, and how they can be protected in the future.

There is no question that rivers are warming in the Northwest. Temperature data collected over the last 40 years has been compiled in the NorWeST database, maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. For the sites that had records of at least 10 years or longer, virtually all of these sites are showing a warming trend. Climate change models predict general increases in stream temperature as well as future shifts in the timing of streamflow. These changes could exacerbate the already challenging seasonal conditions for fish.

The sources and sizes of cold-water habitat vary across the landscape. Some cold-water refuges are kept cool by tributaries flowing into the main river. This is the case generally for the lower Columbia River from its confluence with the Snake River downstream to the ocean. Farther upstream in the Columbia system, groundwater feeds tributary rivers and streams, providing cooler water inputs. Maintaining and enhancing these refuges is critical to the conservation and long-term viability of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin. For example, in the mainstem Columbia, migrating steelhead will use cold water refuges for as long as several weeks. Chinook salmon, on the other hand, use refuges for shorter periods of time. A study of cold-water refuges in the Willamette River showed that salmonids were 10 times more abundant in cold-water alcoves than in water-water alcoves.

The alcove pictured above is along the Willamette River.

Numerous efforts are under way to understand the distribution, processes, and functions of cold-water habitats, and to identify measures to protect and restore them. However, there are still some data gaps. For example, additional information is being collected for tributaries along the mainstem Columbia River downstream of Bonneville Dam, to assess their potential to provide cold water refuges and to determine restoration actions. In other Columbia tributaries, site-specific data are needed to better understand the natural process that create cold-water habitats and how they can be maintained in the future. This information can help identify and prioritize restoration projects. Advances in tools such as remote sensing, aerial photography, and thermal infrared imaging are helping fill data gaps.

All of this is important to the Council, whose Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program supports continuing efforts to identify and protect cold water refuges in a warming climate.

“Where should our program focus?” Council Fish and Wildlife Committee Chair Jennifer Anders asked after the presentation. “We’re not going to change the climate, but there are things we can do. Should we focus high up in the system where there are cold water refuges now, or lower in the system where problems are more likely to develop?”

Washington Council member Guy Norman said the answer is clear to him: “In terms of policy, I have a tributary bias. It’s pragmatic. Fish spend a lot of time in tributaries. If they don’t survive in the tributaries, they won’t survive in the migratory channel.”

 

(see full story)

To Help Fish, You Need to Know Where They Are

posted Apr 17, 2017

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Joel Sartore/National Geographic and Wade Fredenberg/USFWS

At the Council’s April meeting, research fisheries biologists Michael Young and Dan Isaak from the USDA Forest Service shared first-year results from an environmental DNA inventory of bull trout, the target of the most extensive effort to date to map an aquatic species throughout its entire geographic range in the United States. Bull trout is one of the important resident fish species in the Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.

Fish and other organisms shed their DNA into the water, environmental DNA, which can be used to track them. Scientists at the Forest Service’s National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation pioneered this method of detecting aquatic species, which is less expensive, faster, and more accurate than conventional methods such as counting through netting and electro-fishing.

One person, with each sample taking less than 15 minutes to collect, can do environmental DNA sampling. And, because even a single DNA molecule on a filter can be detected with high reliability, it’s remarkably accurate. Even with a single species residing in a 100-meter stretch of river, eDNA sampling has an 85 percent chance of detection. If there are two species present, the chance of detection increases to 100 percent.

The long-term goal is to produce an aquatic eDNA atlas--an open-access database depicting eDNA sampling results throughout Western North America and an eDNA-based biodiversity catalog. For the bull trout eDNA work, researchers are using crowd-sourced eDNA sampling to cost-effectively obtain samples across the bull trout’s entire U.S. range.

Biologists from dozens of agencies and Native American tribes contributed time and matching funds to collect approximately 3,000 samples to date, a total expected to exceed 10,000 at the project’s conclusion in 2018. The results will be invaluable to researchers trying to understand patterns of habitat occupancy by bull trout. Bull trout is an ideal candidate for eDNA sampling as it is geographically widespread, yet rare; has been difficult to detect historically; and it's a threatened species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Already, the results of the bull trout project are useful, showing the fish in some unexpected areas. And, surprisingly, not in some areas where they were thought to exist.

While the detection and mapping of bull trout is the first, extensive use of eDNA sampling, it will not be the last. The goal of the National Genomics Center is to map more than 30 species of fish, ducks, and mammals, and make that information available to everyone in an eDNA atlas. Bull Trout are the flagship species for this effort and those data are available now, but many more will be included in this valuable project.

(see full story)

Fish Head Bounty

posted Mar 24, 2017

Fish Forecast: 'Not Very Good'

posted Mar 15, 2017

Fish Tools

posted Mar 13, 2017

Sea Lion Fish Feast

posted Mar 1, 2017

Lamprey Rescue

posted Feb 16, 2017

Unveiling the Estuary

posted Feb 15, 2017

Mussel Strategy

posted Jan 23, 2017

A Plan for Scientific Research

posted Jan 19, 2017

Flat Loads

posted Dec 20, 2016

Mussel Alert

posted Dec 16, 2016

Repeat Spawners

posted Dec 16, 2016

Moving Fish Over High Dams

posted Nov 16, 2016

Megawatt? A Powerful Question.

posted Oct 20, 2016

Fuel Of The Future?

posted Oct 18, 2016

Powering the Internet of Things

posted Oct 17, 2016

Storable Power

posted Oct 17, 2016

The Blob Is Back

posted Oct 11, 2016

Old Door, New Opening

posted Oct 6, 2016

Fun With Sturgeon

posted Sep 20, 2016

Cool Relief

posted Sep 15, 2016

Upper Columbia Salmon Habitat

posted Sep 14, 2016

No Gain

posted Sep 14, 2016

The Invasion Strengthens

posted Sep 13, 2016

Cold Water Refuge

posted Aug 11, 2016

Building on a Legacy Resource

posted Aug 5, 2016

Salmon Smorgasbord

posted Jul 14, 2016

Tapping Into Geothermal Energy

posted Jun 21, 2016

Fish And Warm Water Don't Mix

posted Jun 20, 2016

Going, going, almost gone

posted Jun 7, 2016

Early Warning System

posted May 27, 2016

In the (Efficient) Spotlight

posted Apr 25, 2016

The Mystery of Swan Lake

posted Apr 13, 2016

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