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Upper Columbia River Bioregion
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by Rachel Pascal Osborn, CELP
Columbia River
Watershed Articles
Whooshh System, known as the Salmon Cannon, Gets Popular Science Award—used on the Washougal River(1.14.14)
Tribes Propose Restoring Anadromous Salmon runs past Grand Coulee Dam

One of the most remarkable outcomes in discussions to modernize the Columbia River Treaty is whether to embrace the support anadromous salmon and other fish once again migrating the Columbiapast Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams and into Canada.

To further the discussion, last Fevruary Columbia Basin tribes and Canadian First Nations jointly released a proposal providing a path forward. In the near term, the proposal calls for "...a series of preliminary planning, research, and experimental pilot studies designed to inform subsequent reintroduction and passage strategies." In the long term, think next generation, imagine chinook, sockeye, steelhead and other species making their way through fish passage facilities, finding suitable habitat and flows, and restoring their place in the life cycle that existed for thousand of years.

Based on feedback, the proposal was updated and distributed in time for the October transboundary Columbia River Basin Conference.

Lake Roosevelt Forum Newsletter Fall 2014
Council Fish & Wildlife Program explores Reintroduction of Salmon & Steelhead above Chief Joseph & Grand Coulee Dams

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council has taken a very significant step toward the vision of reintroducing salmon and steehead above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams. October adoption of their 2014 Fish & Wildlife Program, which directs more than $250 million per year to mitigate the impacts of hydropower dams on fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin, calls for studies to investigate passage and reintroduction of these fish that previously traveled to and fro the Pacific before these two dams were built.

The Council envisions a phased approach that begins next year with studies to:
• evaluate what's been learned from other blocked passages as well as previous passage assessments for reintroduction into the Upper Columbia;
• investigate habitat and other needs necessary for survival;
• consider the costs and feasibility of possible upstream and downstream passage options.

This approach is similar to a proposal from Columbi Basin tribes and Canadian First Nations (see above article). When studies are completed by the end of 2016, the Council will consider how to best proceed. Said Tom Karaier, Washington Council Member, "The Council has adecided to pursue a science-based approach as we investigate the feasibility of reintroduction."

Lake Roosevelt Forum Newsletter, Fall 2014
Columbia Watershed
Lake Roosevelt Drawdown Bad for River and Taxpayers–Benefit to Fish is Fictional
On Thursday (9.25.08), the Center for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP) criticized the Washington Department of Ecology's decision to issue water rights to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation authorizing additional water withdrawals from the Columbia River for irrigation and other uses.

This is a bad decision for the Columbia River, bad for taxpayers, and bad energy policy. In its decision, both the State and the Bureau failed to look at the impacts of climate change and the impending rewrite of the U.S. Treaty with Canada over the Columbia River. The parties also failed to consider how drawdown will uncover massive pollution lying on the banks of Lake Roosevelt, caused by Teck Cominco's Trail, B.C. zinc-smelter, further exposing the public to toxic chemicals during peak recreational use.

Grand Coulee Dam on Columbia with Banks Lake in upper right.
The Lake Roosevelt drawdown is the latest salvo in a 50-year effort by the Bureau and Washington State to expand irrigation to the 1-million acre Columbia Basin Project, authorized by Congress during the Great Depression and best known for Grand Coulee Dam. Previous efforts to expand irrigation failed in 1946 when farmers in the eastern part of the CBP voted against receiving "Project" water. Instead, farmers drilled thousands of illegal "cascading" wells, and mined the Odessa Aquifer. In 1971 WSU economists predicted 30 years of water remained in the Odessa Aquifer and advised farmers to amortize their investments before the water ran out. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the Bureau halted plans to expand water to the Odessa after economists and a GAO investigation warned of the high costs to taxpayers and ratepayers.

The drawdown is also intended to provide water for municipalities, industries, supplement junior water rights, and augment instream flows in the Columbia River.

Washington State claims a fish benefit that is fictional: the Department of Ecology's own analysis acknowledges that the amount of water released for fish will be imperceptible.

In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report on Columbia River water management, specifically recommending that water agencies avoid issuing new permanent water rights from the River in order to maintain flexibility to manage water flows for endangered salmon. Both Washington state and the Bureau are ignoring the NAS recommendations in making this water transfer proposal.

The Columbia Basin Project (CBP) is a USBR irrigation project that diverts water from the Columbia River at Lake Roosevelt and distributes it to about 650,000 acres of agricultural lands between Grand Coulee and the Tri-Cities. The CBP is the largest all-federal irrigation project in the United States. Massive subsidies are required to pump water to CBP irrigators, including taxpayer support for the cost of the project and Bonneville Power ratepayer subsidies for the energy required to pump water from Lake Roosevelt into Banks Lake, as well as foregone hydropower downstream.

The economic loss of this water project is evidenced in a 1987 GAO study that estimated the cost-benefit for the project to be 2 cents on the dollar.

In 2006 Washington State created the Columbia River Water Management Program to study new dams and other options to increase water supply, including taking more water from Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam. In addition to the drawdown proposal, the state is paying the Bureau of Reclamation to study bringing water to 140,000 acres in the Odessa Subarea. A November 2007 estimate of just the construction costs is $2-$6 billion. The annual costs of operating the project, especially the power costs, would raise the total considerably.

In June CELP released a report by economist Dr. Joel Hamilton, retired University of Idaho professor of economics, that debunks the economic benefits claimed by the Bureau and Washington State to justify the project. (Hamilton Economic Analysis)

CELP noted that here would be no shortage of water in eastern Washington if people paid what the water is worth -- even just the energy costs. CELP is considering challenging these water rights.

Background of
Columbia Basin Project
The reality of the Columbia Basin Project has wandered far from President F.D. Roosevelt's original vision: a model of federal government planning to help impoverished farmers.
Columbia Basin Project. In 1946 farmers on the eastern third of the CBP (the Odessa) rejected "Project" water, some taking up dry-land farming, others engaged in deep well irrigation that has mined eastern Washington aquifers.
Odessa farmers drilled thousands of illegal "cascading wells" and mined the aquifers. With only 30 years of water projected, in 1971 economists advised that farmers amortize their investments in groundwater irrigation and transition out of irrigation.
President Roosevelt's CBP has warped into a major producer of french fries for America and the world. Taxpayers and electrical ratepayers - not farmers - bear most of the costs to pump water out of the Columbia River at Grand Coulee Dam and irrigate CBP farms.

Because of huge cost and energy losses in the 1980s, the State of Washington and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation abandoned plans to expand "Project water" to the Odessa. A GAO investigation showed losses could be as bad as 98 cents out of every dollar.

To justify taking more water from the Columbia River for Odessa irrigation, Washington State and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation used inflated values from the Potato Commission Study claiming a loss of $630 million per year and thousands of jobs. The use of those numbers has been debunked by Dr. Joel Hamilton analysis.
Drawing down Lake Roosevelt for irrigators will expose reservoir sediments massively contaminated by Teck Cominco's lead smelter upstream in British Columbia. This will happen during peak recreational use in the summer months. The State has failed to study public health risks.
The Columbia ice fields are melting, as are the glaciers in Glacier National Park. Global warming will diminish and change the timing of flows in the Columbia River. Neither the State of Washington nor the Bureau of Reclamation have addressed climate change in decisions to take more water from the Columbia for irrigation.
The 1964 Treaty between the U.S. and Canada on managing the Columbia River expires in 2024. Many Canadians are unhappy with the Treaty and its impact on Canadian waters. Washington State has refused to acknowledge potential impacts on river flow that will come with treaty amendments - instead giving away new water rights that will lead to a future water crisis.
Rachel Paschal Osborn, Director of Center for Environmental Law & Policy, is the author of Background of Columbia Basin Project
State Approves Lake Roosevelt Drawdown
By Shannon Dinniny, Associated Press Writer
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 25, 2008
MOSES LAKE, Wash. -- Washington state officially authorized additional water releases from the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam on Thursday, a move that has been in the works for months and opens the door for the first new water rights along the Columbia River in years.

The state Department of Ecology also approved $46 million for water storage and conservation projects throughout Eastern Washington.

Both steps stem from a 2006 bill approved by the Legislature to find new water supplies for growing communities in the region, improve water supplies during times of drought, and increase stream flows to help salmon survive late in summer.

As part of that bill, the state proposed drawing down Lake Roosevelt, behind Grand Coulee Dam, by as much as 132,500 acre-feet. An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover 1 acre to a depth of 1 foot, or about 325,850 gallons.

One-third of that water will remain in the river for fish, and one-third will be used for new municipal and industrial water rights along the Columbia. The rest will provide surface irrigation for 10,000 acres of crops east of Moses Lake, where farmers have been relying on well water from the declining Odessa Aquifer, and to provide a more stable water supply for irrigators whose water rights are interrupted in drought years.

"For more than a decade, we've been at a stalemate," Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement. "Today we have broken that stalemate. We are writing a new chapter on how water will be managed in the West. We're making sure water is there when it's needed most - for people and fish."

The decision immediately drew criticism from at least one environmental group.

Rachael Paschal Osborne, director of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, said the state and federal governments failed to look at the impacts of climate change and an impending rewrite of a treaty with Canada over the Columbia River.

 

"They also failed to consider how drawing down Lake Roosevelt will uncover pollution from an upstream zinc smelter in British Columbia, she said.

"This is a bad decision for the Columbia River, bad for taxpayers, and bad energy policy," she said.

The 2006 Legislature approved $200 million for conservation and water delivery improvement and storage projects across Eastern Washington. Of that, the $46 million announced Thursday will pay for a variety of projects, from making existing water delivery systems more efficient to storing water both above and below ground and recharging declining aquifers.

Bill McDonald, Pacific Northwest regional director for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and state Ecology Director Jay Manning praised environmental groups, irrigators, municipalities and counties for creating a coalition that compromised and changed attitudes about water rights.

This 20-year war, where people's outlook was, 'I am going to win and the other side will lose,' everybody loses," Manning said. "That's what water has been about, at least in Washington, certainly in Eastern Washington."

The state reached agreement with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Spokane Tribe of Indians, whose reservations border the lake, on payment for tribal costs of the drawdown. The Colvilles will get about $3.75 million a year and the Spokanes $2.25 million a year to enhance fisheries, protect the environment, preserve cultural resources and other activities. The money is not considered payment for the water.

In addition, local governments around Lake Roosevelt will receive $2 million to cover effects from the releases.

State and federal authorities continue to study the potential for large, off-channel reservoirs to store water from the Columbia River, including the proposed Black Rock reservoir in the lower Yakima Valley and Crab Creek Reservoir in Grant County.

Salmon at Kettle Falls. The rising waters behind Grand Coulee Dam drowned Kettle Falls. Downstream, other runs of salmon face extinction. In 2004 the National Academies of Science (NAS) advised Washington State on managing the Columbia River. As evidenced by the Lake Roosevelt drawdown, Washington State officials have rejected the NAS recommendations.

The NAS recommendations include:

• Columbia River salmon today are at a critical point. … Further decreases in flows or increases in water temperature are likely to reduce survival rates. Trends such as human population growth in the region and prospective regional climate warming further increase risks regarding salmon survival.

• Decisions regarding the issue of additional water withdrawal permits are matters of public policy, but if additional permits are issued, they should include specific conditions that allow withdrawals to be discontinued during critical periods. Allowing for additional withdrawals during the critical periods of high demand, low flows, and comparatively high water temperatures identified in this report would increase risks of survivability to listed salmon stocks and would reduce management flexibility during these periods.