Important articles published by national and regional news outlets related to wild salmon restoration in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
Columbia Basin Bulletin
November 17, 2017
Randy Hardy, an energy consultant and former head of the Bonneville Power Administration (1991-97), told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council Wednesday that California is engaged in a “fascinating social experiment” in its encouragement of renewable energy, particularly solar power, with serious implications for BPA that could worsen.
The Golden State has fueled solar power by policy and tax incentives that have created a situation where homeowners and other energy consumers would be “crazy” not to invest in solar power, Hardy said at the Council’s November meeting in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Renewables currently provide about 30 percent of power needs in California, but that state has set a target for renewables to provide 50 percent of energy needs by 2020. Combined with low-cost natural gas and transmission-limited wind power, the overall effect is to drive electricity costs below $30 per kilowatt hour. The continuously growing solar market may keep prices below $30 for the next 10-15 years. (BPA’s wholesale power rate for 2016-17 is $33.75 per megawatt hour.)
“They are already at capacity for solar and that’s only going to get worse,” said Hardy, explaining how California has an ever-growing mid-day power surplus, and power load periods that occur in the evening and night hours.
“It’s already had tremendous implications for Bonneville,” partly because it has washed away the spring hydropower surplus, said Hardy, who heads up Hardy Energy Consulting Co.
Hardy warned there is even potential for California solar energy prices to go zero or below zero, and because of the tax benefits, it may even make sense for solar power to producers to keep generating power despite below-zero prices. “You still get the tax credit to keep producing,” he explained. Hardy predicts there will be increasing curtailments on power production, and not only during the summer months. He explained how curtailments basically work: solar power producers will be compelled to “trip the breaker and the solar plant shuts down.”
But the tax incentives will still be in place and it will still be economical to keep building solar power infrastructure, continuing to exacerbate the surplus problem. Hardy said California officials so far are “very reluctant to admit there are any problems associated with this … that adds to the dynamic of trying to address this,” and he believes that reluctance is partly due to labor interests associated with the solar power industry.
BPA is faced with some tough choices, Hardy said, but there are some upsides in the outlook. Hydropower and natural gas are modern, flexible energy resources. Hydro can meet demands in California during periods that solar can’t provide it.
Increasingly, “transmission, transmission, transmission” will be a leading driver for moving renewable energy, he said, noting that up-start independent solar power producers are already finding they cannot transmit the energy they produce. Hardy surmises that large-scale electricity storage is still about 10 years away. BPA has transmission capacity, but Hardy said there may be bottlenecks in the system where they didn’t exist before.
“The industry is in the midst of enormous technological changes and it is fascinating to watch,” said Hardy, noting that Seattle has, by every account, more commercial construction going on than any other city in the country. Despite the apparent increase in power demands that new development would bring, Seattle’s power load is actually going down due to modern light bulbs and electrical systems that are being put to use city-wide.
Hardy ultimately suggested that marketing its flexible, on-demand energy, transmission capacity and moving to longer term contracts — five to seven years — at above cost prices could be part of a more solid financial outlook.
Jim Yost, an Idaho council member, wondered if removal of upper Snake River dams — a move that has been advocated by many — may become unavoidable in a low-cost energy environment.
Hardy said that may be worth considering eventually, but for now the dams provide 15 percent of the power system’s valuable transmission capacity while providing just 5 percent of the power the system generates. He reiterated that transmission capacity is becoming very valuable.
Bill Booth, an Idaho council member who resides in Coeur d’ Alene, said BPA potentially faces a “financial crisis,” even bankruptcy, if the surplus low-cost power situation persists.
Hardy noted during his talk that “continued low-power prices for Bonneville will leak into other areas like fish and wildlife,” along with other financial pressures and necessary operational changes to get hydropower to markets at the right high-demand times.
Southern Resident orcas in the Salish Sea are facing population decline at the hands of a severe drop in salmon numbers. Noise pollution from ship traffic, the pollution of the ecosystem and bioaccumulation of toxins in Southern Resident orcas are other massive stressors on the population.
Bioaccumulation occurs when toxics enter the food chain and predators begin to consume contaminated prey. As orcas consume more and more contaminated salmon, they also consume the toxics in the fish, accumulating dangerously high levels of pollution in their fat reserves. Like all marine mammals, orcas rely on the energy in their fat for when prey is scarce. This is an all-too common occurrence for Southern Residents. Chinook salmon, their primary prey, have collapsed across the west coast, leaving fewer fish for the whales.
Without abundant salmon runs, the orcas metabolize the stored fat and energy in their blubber. Doing so also floods their bodies with toxic chemicals, which can make them sick. Milk produced for calves is also made from these toxic fat stores, which may be a driving factor behind the high calf mortality and low reproductive rates in the population. Pollution enters the Salish Sea from several sources, but some of the most concerning are old, derelict vessels and wood pilings in the water and polluted stormwater runoff. This pollution makes conserving and restoring Southern Resident orcas extremely difficult.
Old ships and vessels abandoned in the water leak out oil, lubricant and other harmful substances used to construct the vessel or in the cargo onboard. Creosote treated wood pilings, which used to support old docks and mooring facilities, also taint the Salish Sea. Coal tar creosote, a substance containing up to 10,000 chemicals, was commonly used to protect wooden support structures from decaying in the water. By far the largest source of pollution in the Salish Sea is polluted stormwater runoff.
Luckily there are clean ups already underway in the Salish Sea. The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has two programs that are actively removing both derelict vessels and creosote pilings. The DNR’s derelict vessel removal program began in 2002, and it has removed over 700 vessels that were polluting the Salish Sea. The DNR’s creosote removal program has, to date, removed roughly have of the creosote pilings in Puget Sound.
Derelict Vessel Removal
While the program has greatly reduced pollution from these old vessels, more can be done. Vessel removal can be expensive, and the DNR’s program is unable to remove all the identified derelict vessels in a given funding cycle. The state could also do more to prevent vessels from becoming derelict in the first place, which not only prevents pollution from contaminating the Salish Sea and orcas, but it also is significantly less expensive than removing vessels from the water. Additional funding from the legislature could improve and expand on the DNR’s programs, allowing the department to do more in a given year. Furthermore, coordination and collaboration with other government agencies can greatly improve the efficiency of removal and prevention efforts. Through updated record keeping, increased education efforts and improved collaboration, local governments, state departments and federal agencies could efficiently and effectively leverage their resources and expertise to have an even greater impact on removing these polluting vessels and preventing others from sinking to the bottom of the Salish Sea.
The DNR also manages the state’s creosote removal program. Unfortunately, due to decreases in funding, the remaining pilings have not been removed. Like the derelict vessel removal program, an influx of funding from the state could finish the job and remove all of the creosote pilings from Puget Sound. This would reduce one of the most toxic sources of pollution from the Salish Sea.
Stormwater Runoff Reduction
Stormwater runoff remains one of the most difficult challenges to address because it is the largest source of pollution affecting the Salish Sea, and it comes from everywhere and everyone. While this may make the problem seem daunting, there are several simple, concrete ways that local governments and individuals can reduce the amount of stormwater pouring into the Salish Sea. One of the best tools we have at our disposal is raingardens; bowl-shaped gardens that collect stormwater and naturally absorb and filter the water.
Studies have shown that when stormwater is treated through biofiltration systems, like raingardens, the filtered water is clean enough for salmon. By installing raingardens, homeowners and local governments can address one of the biggest threats facing the Salish Sea while also beautifying homes and neighborhoods. Large raingardens installed in public places are becoming more common in communities around Western Washington. Currently, the stormwater treatment facility at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma is the largest biofiltration system in the world, treating much of the stormwater runoff from West End neighborhood before it pours into Commencement Bay.
Friday, October 27, 2017
The U.S. State Department last week announced that Jill Smail will be the new Columbia River Treaty negotiator for the department, replacing Brian Doherty.
“I am delighted to announce the arrival of our new Columbia River Treaty negotiator Jill Smail, replacing CRT negotiator Brian Doherty,” said Cindy Kierscht, the state department’s Director, Office of Canadian Affairs, in an e-mail last week to parties involved in the CRT.
Smail “comes to us from the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs where she previously served as the Senior Water advisor. She has extensive experience in negotiating transboundary water issues in the Middle East and has represented the U.S. Government on water issues in various bilateral and multilateral fora. We are delighted to have her to join our team in the Office of Canadian Affairs to work on this important issue.
“We expect she will first conduct internal consultations, but will soon be reaching out to all relevant stakeholders in Washington, DC and in the region to hear your interests and concerns. We also hope to get Jill out to the region to coincide with the Collaborative Modeling Working Group that we understand will be held in early November.
“We look forward to working with you all closely in the weeks ahead as we work to modernize the CRT treaty,” Kierscht said.
Smail joined the Office of Canadian Affairs as the Columbia River Treaty Negotiator this month. From 2009-September 2017, she served as the Senior Advisor in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs for Environment, Science, Technology, and Health, with a focus on Middle East water negotiations and programs. She worked with Middle East negotiating teams on water issues related to a final status agreement and managed programs to facilitate greater cooperation among the parties in watershed management, research, desalination, infrastructure development, and agriculture.
Smail’s previous assignments at the U.S. Department of State include serving on a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan and negotiating small arms and light weapons destruction projects in post-conflict regions in Southeast Europe, Africa, and Asia. She joined the U.S. Department of State in 2001.
Smail is a native of Groesbeck, Texas. She received a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and a Master of Science in Government and Public Service from Texas A&M University. She also earned a Master of Science in National Resource Strategy from the National Defense University.
The CRT, a trans-boundary water management agreement, was signed in 1961 and ratified in 1964.
The treaty has no specified expiration date. Either Canada or the United States can unilaterally terminate the Columbia River Treaty any time after Sept. 16, 2024, provided written notice is filed at least 10 years in advance.
This suggests a “notice date” of Sept 16, 2014, but notice could have been done earlier and can be done later.
Both British Columbia and the United States are considering options to determine whether or not to give notice. Regardless, Assured Annual Flood Control expires automatically in 2024 and converts in 2024 to a Called Upon operation of Canadian storage space as may be needed by the United States for flood risk management
The treaty optimizes flood management and power generation, requiring coordinated operations of reservoirs and water flows for the Columbia River and Kootenay River on both sides of the border.
As a direct result of the treaty, four storage dams were built: Mica, Arrow and Duncan dams in British Columbia, Canada; and Libby Dam in Montana. The Columbia’s headwaters are in British Columbia. The river flows south into Washington, then west along the Oregon-Washington border to the Pacific. Tributaries from British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming feed the Columbia-Snake river system.
These four projects more than doubled the storage capacity of the Columbia River system, increased control of the river flow, thereby decreasing the risk of major flooding events downstream, and provided opportunities for releasing water at times needed for power generation and other downstream benefits such as fisheries and water supply.
By Tammy Malgesini, June 9, 2017
Although just a baby when the waters of Celilo Falls went silent just more than 60 years ago, Fred Hill passes on stories to keep the memory alive.
“I never got the privilege to see Celilo Falls,” he told a crowd during “Stories & Songs,” a May 31 Pepsi Primetime @ the Museum presentation at Tamástslikt Cultural Institute.
“The falls died, according to the stories and things that I’ve heard, on March 10, 1957,” added Thomas Morning Owl, who also is too young to have firsthand memories.
The presentation coincided with the museum’s current exhibit, “Celilo: Progress Versus Protest.” The display, which remains through July 14, tells the story of the demise of the falls as a result of construction of The Dalles Dam.
“We predicted many years ago that the dams would kill the salmon. We were a voice in the wilderness. We were told by the government and everyone else to keep our mouths shut — we need the electricity,” reads a caption attributed to Richard T. Pressey, a biologist who worked for both federal and state fish agencies.
On the morning of March 10, 1957, the massive floodgates on the newly constructed dam were closed. Within hours Celilo Falls, located approximately 13 miles upstream, disappeared beneath the rising water.
John Caldbick said the falls extended across the entire river. At approximately 40 feet high, he described the Columbia River as tumbling into a series of chutes, rapids, eddies and narrows through the basalt rock.
Throughout the early part of the 20th century, American Indians used dip nets, gaff hooks and spears to catch fish at Celilo Falls. Later, the elaborate construction of fishing scaffolds — or platforms — were popular from the mid-1930s on. After a number of deaths as fishermen were swept into the churning water, the Bureau of Indian Affairs required the use of harnesses that secured fisherman to the platforms or the shore.
Dorothy Cyr, who attended the “Stories & Songs” presentation, said her father-in-law, Wilfred Yallup, described the sound of the pre-dam falls.
“He said it was like a freight train,” she said. “It was really loud.”
Hill and Morning Owl said many stories have been passed down about the day the falls went silent. A lot of people, including some elders, Morning Owl said, didn’t think it would really happen.
“When the falls died, the sound died,” Morning Owl said. “You could just hear the wind and the sound of people crying. They wailed.”
For thousands of years, Celilo Falls was a gathering place for the Plateau peoples — a place where they fished, traded goods and shared common bonds. In addition to seven species of salmonids, the museum display indicates Celilo was known for its lamprey, mussels, sturgeon and other fish.
Hill said his aunt Flora always shared stories about Celilo Falls.
“She talked about getting smoked fish or dry fish,” he said. “That was a big staple.”
Because of the falls, Celilo was one of the largest trading centers in North America. People traveled by horses, boxcars and later hitchhiked or drove to fish, exchange goods or fellowship with others.
“We didn’t need a newsletter. The elders would tell everyone what was going on,” Hill said. “Everything was storytelling ... there was a lot of visiting.”
Morning Owl has been active in the modern day version of Celilo — now the home of a small Indian village and the Celilo Longhouse. The falls have been replaced by a slack-water lake.
People still fish and gather for ceremonies. Cyr stops there every chance she gets, bringing youths from the reservation to see the area.
“I make them take a rock. I tell them to take a piece of Celilo with you,” she said. “There’s a lot of our history there.”
Contact Community Editor Tammy Malgesini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4539
March 24, 2017
Jaime Pinkham, a member of the Nez Perce Tribe with more than three decades of experience in American Indian governance, policy, and natural resource management, is returning to the Columbia Basin to serve as the executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
Leaders of CRITFC’s member tribes — the Warm Springs, Umatilla, Yakama, and Nez Perce tribes — selected Pinkham to become the tenth executive director in the Commission’s 40-year history. He will take the reins at CRITFC on April 24.
“As a treaty fisher and hunter, I am humbled to work with the member tribes and CRITFC,” said Pinkham. “CRITFC plays an important role working at the intersection of each tribe’s individual autonomy and their unified voice. Healthy and harvestable salmon runs are fundamental to the sovereign identities and cultures of the four member tribes.”
Pinkham brings substantial Columbia Basin fisheries and natural resources experience coupled with strong tribal governance policy credentials. Pinkham has been serving as the vice president of the Bush Foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota for the past eight years where he led the Native Nations program that works with tribes across North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota as they redesigned their governing systems. His work led to the creation of the Native Governance Center, a Native-led non-profit delivering technical support to tribes in government redesign.
Prior to that, Pinkham spent two decades in the Pacific Northwest advocating for tribal sovereignty, self-determination, and treaty rights. He worked for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission as Watershed Department Manager from 2005 to 2008, supporting the Commission in regional coordination and Congressional affairs. After graduating with a forestry degree from Oregon State University he worked for state and federal agencies before moving home to Nez Perce Country in 1990. During his time there, he held a variety of positions including being elected twice to the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee and led its natural resource programs engaging in salmon restoration, water rights negotiations, wolf recovery, and land acquisition
“Jaime Pinkham’s decades of work on tribal sovereignty and natural resources stood out amid a strong field of candidates,” said CRITFC Chair Leland Bill. “We look forward to working with Jaime as we face a number of current issues that impact salmon and tribal treaty fishing rights including climate change, an altered federal government landscape, and the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty.”
Pinkham succeeds Paul Lumley, who served for eight years in the position before leaving to lead the Native American Youth and Family Association in Portland, Oregon last October. Rob Lothrop, interim executive director since Lumley’s departure, will continue in that capacity until Pinkham’s arrival.
By Farron Cousins
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Very quietly over the holidays, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a long-overdue draft report on the economic impacts of environmental regulations and safeguards for the fiscal year 2015, which covers October 2014 to September 2015.
The OMB looked at the cost of environmental regulations and compared to them to the economic benefits, both those seen during the 12 month period and the estimated long-term benefits. Their results showed very clearly that these safeguards are providing an exponentially greater economic benefit than they are costing.
According to The Hill, the OMB report looked at a total of 21 regulations, mainly from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including the Clean Power Plan. For those 21 regulations, the costs were estimated to be between $5.5 billion and $6.9 billion. While those are hefty price tags, it only represents half of the equation.
The economic benefits from these same 21 regulations are estimated by the OMB to fall anywhere between $25.5 billion and $47.8 billion. To put that another way, for every dollar spent on environmental safeguards, the economy will experience a benefit of no less than $5, which means that these investments will yield returns of over 500 percent.
These economic benefits come in several forms, the most obvious being the money being spent directly to create jobs for those tasked with enforcing the rules. But the biggest economic boost comes from longer life spans and better overall health that people experience from breathing cleaner air and living in areas with reduced water pollution.
The big question raised by The Hill is why these figures were released during a time when the news cycle is essentially dead because the American public pays little attention over the holidays. Considering the practice of attacking regulations has become a cornerstone of the incoming Trump administration and latest GOP Congress, this OMB report explicitly details in plain terms why these regulations are a huge economic boost for the United States.
One possible answer The Hill proposed is that these numbers, on both ends, are mainly estimates. While this could be a contributing factor, it is important to take into account that the majority of federal budgeting and business forecasting is based on estimates like these, so it would be difficult to discredit the numbers without doing the same for other corporate models.
Another possible reason for burying this story could simply be due to the fact that the office is nearly a year late in their assessment, and news about their findings could easily be overshadowed by talk of “government dysfunction” in not being able to get a report out on time. At a time when government agencies are under attack, this seems like a fairly plausible explanation.
The incoming Trump administration has already raised eyebrows with past demands for the names and salary information of current government officials working on issues like climate change and gender equality, so it would stand to reason that officials at the OMB didn’t want to find themselves on the wrong end of a “political” witch hunt.
Whatever the reason for burying this story in the holiday news cycle, the numbers presented in the OMB report offer powerful ammunition for those who are concerned about the environment and public health, and they should be the foundation of a new framework for discussing climate change.
As I’ve discussed in the past, putting issues like climate change into simpler terms of “dollars and cents” could be far more effective than getting scientific, as it helps average citizens understand how the issue of climate change effects them directly (though the majority of people in this country are already seeing the direct effects of climate change, many times people aren't making the connections or incidences are written off as quirks of “weather”).
Pocketbook issues are frequently a political winner, and this new OMB report puts climate change in that category. While people may still deny what science tells us, it's more difficult for them to deny the reality of their own bank accounts, and that may be the only way to wake people up to the ripple effect that climate change will have in every aspect of our lives.