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BPA funding new studies to prepare for climate change

Friday, July 11, 2014
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

Using new data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Bonneville Power Administration is funding two new studies to improve its understanding of the effects climate change could have on the Northwest.

Evidence of global and regional climate change is mounting. BPA says the recently released National Climate Assessment confirmed what BPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation found in 2011, at the conclusion of a joint study on climate change: Northwest temperatures are expected to rise 1 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2020s, and 2 to 5 degrees by the 2040s.

Summary of key findings:

  • Precipitation. Overall annual precipitation changes in the study were minimal. However, some of the models showed large seasonal changes, including more extreme wet and dry periods, some wetter falls and winters, and some drier summers.
  • Snowpack. More winter precipitation would fall as rain instead of snow, producing more runoff in the winter, earlier runoff in the spring and less water in the summer.
  • Annual water runoff. The runoff volume from January through April is projected to exceed normal flows at The Dalles Dam by 20 to 85 percent. The June through August runoff declines, varying between 65 and 95 percent of normal flows at The Dalles Dam. Normal flow, or the historical reference climate period, is the average of flows from 1970 to 1999. Higher flows from January through April would generate more hydropower and produce more spill at most dams. Hydropower production would then decline at the same time increased temperatures drive greater summer power use.
  • Flood risk management. Flood risk management procedures will need to anticipate that runoff may come weeks earlier, shifting the peak runoff from April through August to March through July. Earlier releases of water from reservoirs at the flood risk management projects may be needed to capture the early runoff. Impacts to the timing of federal hydro system operations could also affect other spring and summer objectives such as flows for fish and other ecosystem functions.
  • Energy consumption. Although population increase is a much larger driver for future energy demands in the region, higher temperatures in the summer will result in more energy use to cool homes and businesses. Warmer temperatures in the winter will reduce energy use for heating. BPA estimates that the demand for federal power in the 2020s due to climate change could increase 1 to 3 percent in July and decrease 3 to 4 percent in December.
  • Fish. The increase in streamflows from January through April would result in higher generation and increased spill at most dams. Reduced flows during July and August might impact the federal agencies’ ability to meet future Biological Opinion objectives, including flow management.

In fall 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a series of new Global Climate Models that reflect the latest climate change science. In response to this wealth of new data, BPA’s Technology Innovation group is co-funding two projects that will take advantage of these new climate models and help the region build on the efforts from the previous joint study.

While BPA is providing funding and staff support for these studies, the Corps and Reclamation are also contributing staff time and expertise for analysis and interpretation. The three agencies recently signed a memorandum of understanding committing them to the effort through 2017.

These new climate change hydrologic data sets are being produced principally by researchers from the University of Washington and Portland State University. These two new research studies differ both from each other and from the original joint study in 2011. However, they both build on the lessons learned from the late 2000s by using finer timescales (daily instead of monthly), improved downscaling methods, and using three different hydrologic models instead of just one. As a result, these research projects will produce many more possible scenarios.

The 2011 joint study yielded 19 separate streamflow scenarios, but these new efforts will produce dozens, perhaps more than 100. Finally, the UW study includes glacial changes – an important detail that was studied only indirectly in the previous effort.

Some of the differences between the research studies could benefit not just the region, but the global climate change research community. The complex ways in which both projects will use the newest Global Climate Models, downscale the data into more usable forms via streamflow forecasting models, and tune the hydrologic models themselves, will differ at each step in the modeling process.

The hope is that this aspect of the research will not only provide more certainty about the potential range of streamflows that climate change might bring to the Columbia River Basin, but also help researchers understand whether the uncertainties in model outputs are caused by climate change itself, or caused by the tools, models and methods that scientists are using.

Erik Pytlak, manager of BPA’s Weather and Streamflow Forecasting group, is also the BPA project manager for both climate change studies. He sums up the benefits of new climate change data, saying, “The reason you do studies like this is so you can make informed, prudent, scientifically-based decisions. You don’t want to correct for the wrong thing, or ‘correct’ in the wrong direction.”

The 2014 water year has provided a good example of the uncertainty that river operators must contend with and the benefits of good modeling, as well as the importance of understanding uncertainties. As the winter began, increasing drought signals in the basin prompted BPA and its partners to steel itself for a low water year, and they began to manage the river appropriately. Then, in early February, the weather and streamflow forecasting team started to see reliable signals of rapidly improving water conditions in the basin.

As the forecasters’ confidence grew and the snow began to pile up in the mountains, river operators shifted their management strategy to accommodate more water. More water is generally good for power production, but a hydroelectric system poised for a dry period that turns out to be a wetter one could result in prolonged oversupply problems, or in the extreme, serious flooding concerns. More accurate streamflow modeling gave managers more time to prepare and adjust to the changing conditions.

Climate change is a consideration in much of BPA’s work, as well as that of its partners. In addition to its potential effects on power production, irrigation and flood risk mitigation, climate change is directly relevant to the future of the Columbia River Treaty and to fish and wildlife protection. Consideration of climate change is also required for National Environmental Policy Act analyses of large capital projects, such as new transmission lines.

Later this decade, the three federal agencies will not only integrate the new climate change data into their ongoing modeling and planning efforts, but the study results also will be available for others in the region or farther afield to use.

BPA’s Technology Innovation group funds a wide range of promising projects with topics that span BPA’s business needs. In addition to the two climate-focused projects highlighted here, others in the Technology Innovation portfolio address climate change indirectly through their potential to reduce the need for additional power generation.

Columbia Basin Bulletin

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Groups, tribes issue stewardship declaration for Columbia

Friday, May 16, 2014
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

A conference held May 13 at Gonzaga University in Spokane resulted in a declaration from religious groups and tribes from north and south of the border calling on Canada and the United States for specific actions to “right historic wrongs and achieve stewardship in managing the Columbia River” during expected negotiations over the Columbia River Treaty.

Participants at the conference included Roman Catholic Bishop William Skylstad, Evangelical Lutheran Bishop Martin Wells, Okanagan Nation Alliance executive director Pauline Terbasket, Upper Columbia United Tribes executive director D.R. Michel, and other indigenous voices.

Religious, tribal and community leaders will be using the declaration to help promote a basin-wide dialogue seeking ethics-based reforms to the Columbia River Treaty.

The treaty is an international agreement between Canada and the United States for the cooperative development and operation of the water resources of the Columbia River Basin for the benefit of flood control and power. The treaty, approved in the 1960s, has no specified end date but contains provisions that will change its implementation in 2024.

Additionally, either Canada or the U.S. may unilaterally terminate most provisions of the treaty in 2024, with a minimum of 10 years’ advance notice, hence the focus on 2014 and 2024.

Tribal interests, and others, have insisted that ecological factors, such as the goal of providing fish passage to the upper Columbia, be included in any revised treaty. Dams built in central Washington and upstream in British Columbia now block salmon and steelhead from accessing historic spawning grounds.

On Tuesday, people gathered from around the Columbia Basin, heard first-hand accounts of terrible losses suffered by indigenous people by dam-building on the Columbia River.

The declaration notes that rights and management authorities of Columbia River basin tribes in the United States and the First Nations in Canada were ignored in the treaty ratified in 1964, according to a joint press release issued by the Faith and Environment Network, Upper Columbia United Tribes, ELCA Lutheran Synod, Columbia Institute for Water Policy, Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Save Our Wild Salmon.

The treaty governs the management of the Columbia River, which has its headwaters in British Columbia and pours down through Washington, and then heads west along the Oregon-Washington border to the Pacific Ocean. It sustains fish, irrigated agriculture and provides drinking water, navigation and power generation, among other uses.

Dams, including those built as a result of the treaty, have caused “epic damage” to the native river and indigenous people who depended on returning salmon, native fish, and wildlife, the press release says.

The trust and treaty obligations of the United States and Canada to ensure healthy, sustainable populations of salmon, sturgeon, lamprey, bull trout and other native fish and wildlife, their habitats and other cultural resources within the Columbia River Basin were not provided for in the 1964 Columbia River Treaty, the declaration says.

The U.S. tribes and First Nations were not even consulted during its negotiation, according to the press release from conference participants.

The press release says that, “In responding to the ethical breaches of the 1964 Treaty, the ‘Declaration on Ethics and Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty’ recognizes the Columbia River Pastoral Letter by the bishops of the international watershed as a template for decision-makers in both nations as they consider the moral dimensions of treaty decisions as they consider renegotiating the Treaty.”

The pastoral letter issued in 1999 by Catholic bishops blames the ill health of the watershed on “human ignorance, human carelessness, human indifference and human greed.”

The bishops, in a “pastoral reflection” titled “The Columbia River Watershed: Realities and Possibilities,” say the region faces two options: “economic stability and ecological integrity and sustainability if people take seriously their responsibilities for God’s earth or ecological disaster and economic depression if current practices remain unchanged.”

The reflection, released May 10, 1999, was developed through the international Columbia River Pastoral Letter Project, a church-based, watershed-wide ongoing process to resolve regional conflicts with civility, to establish sustainable ecological relationships, and to promote community economic benefits.

The new declaration sets forth eight principles for modernizing the Columbia River Treaty:

  • Respect the rights, dignity and traditions of the Columbia Basin tribes and First Nations by including them in the implementation and management of the Treaty.
  • Include healthy ecosystem function as an equal purpose of the Treaty.
  • Achieve balance among river uses for hydroelectric power production, coordinated flood risk management, and healthy waters and flows that provide for abundant and sustainable native fish and wildlife populations.
  • Develop flow and water management operations to help people, native species, and entire ecosystems withstand climate change.
  • Provide for ecosystem management while protecting other river uses, including tribal commercial and tribal ceremonial and subsistence activities.
  • Engage local communities in a meaningful manner that is transparent and inclusive during renegotiation and future management of the Treaty.
  • Address economic and environmental justice for the poor along with other aspects of economic development.
  • Restore anadromous and resident fish passage to all historical locations throughout the Columbia River basin, including Chief Joseph, Grand Coulee, Hugh Keenleyside, Brilliant, and Waneta dams.

The U.S. State Department is expected to announce the United States’ negotiating position on the Columbia River Treaty later in 2014.

Federal agencies have recommended that the United States and Canada “develop a modernized framework for the treaty that ensures a more resilient and healthy ecosystem-based function throughout the Columbia River Basin while maintaining an acceptable level of flood risk and assuring reliable and economic hydropower benefits.”

All four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, fishermen and environmentalists support that recommendation, according to the press release

In March, British Columbia released its draft recommendation that the treaty be renewed and that changes occur within the existing framework.

The British Columbia provincial government holds that ecosystem values are currently and should continue to be an important consideration, as well as adaptation to climate change, in treaty planning and implementation.

The federal government in Ottawa has not yet announced Canada’s position.

The conference was hosted by Gonzaga University’s Political Science Department, Native American Studies, and Environmental Studies, in Spokane on May 13.

Columbia Basin Bulletin

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Managing Snake Plain aquifer recharge complicated

Friday, January 24, 2014
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

Flood-irrigation practices in the early days of irrigation on the Eastern Snake River Plain boosted water levels in the aquifer, which lay beneath it. But as irrigation efficiencies improved, less water reached the aquifer, contributing to its decline.

One issue now is in trying to get more water to the aquifer by recharging it.

The state of Idaho and irrigation and canal companies have been attempting to “balance the budget” of water going in and water coming out, but it’s a complicated endeavor, said Mike McVay, technical hydrologist with Idaho Department of Water Resource.

Managed recharge of the aquifer does offer a way to balance the budget, but it depends on where you recharge, he said during the Idaho Irrigation Equipment Association’s January conference in Burley.

Water injected for recharge doesn’t stay in the aquifer and instead goes back to the Snake River fairly quickly, making balancing the budget a continuous effort, he said.

To assist in analysis of recharge, McVay has modeled the results of recharge efforts from 2007 to 2011.

During that time, irrigation and canal companies on the Eastern Snake River Plain participated in recharge efforts at several locations, sending 100,000 acre-feet per year into the aquifer.

But “the aquifer is not a very good bathtub, it leaks a lot,” he said. “Water tends to go back to the river.”

That’s not necessarily bad. It depends on water-management goals, with different benefits at different sites. In addition to raising aquifer-storage levels, those goals could be increasing flows in the river, springs and reservoirs, he said.

The goal is to keep water in the aquifer for people to use, but it’s a complicated issue. The state has to balance obligations for the Swan Falls Agreement — which balances water uses for agriculture and water needs for hydropower generation — and river and spring flows to keep water rights whole, he said.

McVay’s models help evaluate recharge efforts by analyzing where the water is going.

In the theoretical modeling, McVay kept pumping water into the model, much more than the recharge sites can take, to see where the water would go. In both the theoretical and actual modeling, the impact on the aquifer was small.

If it isn’t continuously recharged, the water will leak into the river, no matter how much is put in. That’s because the aquifer is like a big bowl with a hole in the bottom, he said.

In addition, the theoretical modeling doesn’t take into account other factors, such as weather or physical limitations, he said.

It is a tool that shows how the aquifer behaves. But the bottom line is the aquifer leaks and sooner or later, water is going to go back to the river, he said.

The take-home message is the aquifer has to continually be recharged or it will all leak out, he said.

Carol Ryan Dumas, Capital Press

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Study: Climate change and Columbia Basin streamflow

Friday, January 17, 2014
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

University of Washington environmental engineers are launching a new study to try to understand how climate change will affect streamflow patterns in the Columbia River Basin.

The team will look at the impact of glaciers on the river system, the range of possible streamflow changes and how much water will flow in the river at hundreds of locations in future years.

“Getting a new set of streamflow predictions factoring in climate change will help guide long-term decision-making for the Columbia River Basin,” said Dennis Lettenmaier, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering. He is leading the project with Bart Nijssen, UW researcher in civil and environmental engineering, and Philip Mote of Oregon State University.

The Columbia River’s headwaters are in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, and the waterway winds about 1,200 miles through Washington and along the border of Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean.

Hydroelectric dams provide cheap electricity to roughly three quarters of the Pacific Northwest’s population and help with flood control throughout the basin, particularly in the Portland metro area. It’s also an important waterway for migrating salmon, steelhead and sturgeon, and for navigation, irrigation and agriculture.

Changes in streamflow due to climate change could affect hydropower and flood control operations on the Columbia as well as fisheries management and future policy decisions, including a possible treaty renegotiation between the U.S. and Canada.

The UW researchers will use the most recent projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change along with climate and hydrology models to come up with a dataset of streamflow predictions for Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, which jointly commissioned this study.

BPA’s Technology Innovation Office, Oregon State University and the UW are funding the study, which leverages glacier model developments from a NASA-funded interdisciplinary science project.

“Hopefully, this study will be able to better bracket the uncertainty that exists methodologically between all these climate and hydrology models. If we want to be able to plan ahead on a 20- to 50-year timescale, we need to know what range of uncertainty to expect,” Nijssen said.

The impact that declining glaciers could have on the basin hasn’t fully been studied by U.S. scientists until now, though Canadian researchers recently started to look at their role. Glaciers are receding across the region and, as temperatures warm, they will continue to melt and erode.

In 2005, glaciers covered about 420 square miles in the upper reaches of the Canadian Columbia Basin, or roughly 5 percent of that area. Twenty years before glaciers covered 490 square miles.

Melting glaciers put more water into the river system and boost its flow, but only for a period.

This short-term boost could actually benefit the river – especially during low-flow periods in the drier summer months – but only in the short term.

As the glaciers eventually disappear, perhaps as early as 2100, this added water will also disappear and further reduce already low summer flows, researchers say.

But the river’s yearly flows depend mostly on melting snowpack. Cooler spring and early summer temperatures can preserve mountain snowpack until the drier months, when water from melting snow is important to keep river flows high enough for migrating fish. As climate warms, though, the timing of when that crucial snow melts and discharges into the river also is likely to change.

“The hydrology of the Columbia River basin is really driven by winter snow accumulation and melting in the spring and summer months. When it warms up, you change that balance,” Lettenmaier said. The UW’s data could have policy implications for the Columbia River. Since 1964, a treaty between the U.S. and Canada has governed the river for hydropower production and flood control.

But starting in 2014, each country can notify the other of an intent to terminate or modify this treaty. Changes to the treaty could be implemented as early as 2024.

“We want to have the best scientific information possible to help federal agencies and other regional stakeholders in long-range decision-making,” said Erik Pytlak, manager of the weather and streamflow forecasting for the Bonneville Power Administration.

“With or without a treaty, climate change is coming. It will be beneficial for all of our partners and customers in the region to have an updated understanding of what climate change is doing to the region.”

The UW’s streamflow predictions will be publically available after the study is finished in three years. Similar studies are underway at Portland State University, also funded by Bonneville, and by climate scientists in Canada.

Columbia Basin Bulletin

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USGS: Studying impacts to rivers affected by dams

Friday, January 17, 2014
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

In a case study of dams on the upper Missouri River, USGS researchers have demonstrated that an upstream dam is still a major control of river dynamics where the backwater effects of a downstream reservoir begin.

In light of this finding, the conventional understanding of how a dam can influence a river may have to be adjusted to account for the fact that effects of river dams can interact with one another.

“We have known for a long time that dams have dramatic effects on river form and function,” said Jerad Bales, acting USGS Associate Director for Water. “In the past, however, the effects of dams generally have been studied individually, with relatively little attention paid to how the effects could interact along a river corridor.”

One of the greatest modifications of rivers by humans has been the construction of dams that provide valuable services such as irrigation, hydroelectric power, navigation, flood protection, and recreational opportunities. Hundreds of thousands of dams have been built worldwide, beginning for the most part in the 20th century.

The downstream effects of river dams have been well documented by previous researchers. In the presence of a dam, it can often take hundreds of kilometers for a river to adjust to its natural state. The upstream impacts of dams have also been widely considered, particularly sedimentation of reservoirs. These effects may extend upstream for many kilometers.

“In addition to documenting dramatic changes to a section of the Missouri River during the 2011 floods,” Bales continued, “the unique contribution of this important study is development of a conceptual model that establishes a framework for future studies of the many rivers affected by dams in series.”

Working with historical aerial photography, streamgage data, and cross sectional surveys in a careful analysis of the Garrison (N.D.) and Oahe (S.D.) dams on the Missouri River, the USGS researchers propose a conceptual model of how interacting dams might affect a river’s physical characteristics (geomorphology). This model applies to dams on large rivers and divides the river into various zones of predictable behavior.

The researchers also conducted a geographic analysis of dams along 66 major rivers (as listed in a standard professional reference) in the contiguous United States to determine how often dams occur in a series.

Of the rivers analyzed, 404 dams were located on the main stem of 56 of the rivers. Fifty of these rivers had more than one dam on the river creating a total of 373 possible interacting dam sequences.

The results from this work indicate that more than 80 percent of large rivers may have interactions between their dams. Given this widespread occurrence, the USGS investigators suggest that dam interaction is prevalent and should be the focus of additional research.

Columbia Basin Bulletin

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Flood insurance comes with new rising rates and rules

Friday, January 3, 2014
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

Skagit County farmer Todd Frankenfield recently found himself on the unpleasant end of dramatic changes in federal flood insurance. “It’s another government deal just rammed down our throats,” he said.

Landowners across the country face higher premiums as the National Flood Insurance Program phases out subsidized coverage. The program was established in 1968 to reduce losses and help landowners rebuild after flooding. As it expanded over the years, the claims paid were either below or in line with premiums paid.

However, in the past decade, the U.S. has seen increasingly turbulent weather patterns and natural disasters. The hurricane season of 2005, the U.S. was slammed by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, resulting in $17.7 billion in claims paid out, far in excess of annual premiums.

According to the Government Accounting Office, as of November 2012 the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the insurance program, owed the U.S. Treasury approximately $20 billion and has not repaid any principal since 2010.

In 2012, Congress passed the Biggert-Water Flood Insurance Reform Act, ordering FEMA to make the flood insurance program actuarially sound — taking in enough premiums to cover expected claims.

David Miller, associate administrator of federal insurance and mitigation at FEMA, said the agency laid out plans for premium rate adjustments, requiring lenders and their regulators to demand flood coverage in proportion to the likelihood of flooding on properties they finance.

As a result, many policy-holders will see their rates increase 25 percent a year until their premiums reflect the full risk rate. Frankenfield and his wife, Julie, who raise miniature donkeys on a former dairy farm she inherited, have seen the results of those new requirements first-hand. They acquired a low-interest home equity line of credit loan, using their house as collateral with the understanding they would need to insure the home against flood damage, he said.

What he did not expect was that he would need a separate flood insurance policy on each building on the property, including several old barns, some of them with dirt floors. His total flood insurance coverage amounts to $120,000, which is $20,000 more than his maximum line of credit.

“They’re making us over insure everything,” he said. “It isn’t fair if you’ve got a $10,000 or $40,000 loan to need a million dollars of insurance.”

A mortgage lender confirmed that any loan made, modified or renewed that is secured by property in a flood zone must have flood insurance at replacement cost value. “Not just (for) a loan on the home,” Ed Hedlund of Washington Federal said. “Everything has to be insured.”

Though fewer than 2 percent of Washington Federal’s loans in eight Western states are in flood zones, he said, increased premiums may mean problems for landowners.

“Our regulator is the enforcer on this,” he said. “We have no choice, though people do get mad at us.”

Especially problematic is the requirement that when property changes hands, the new owner will bear the burden of what Frankenfield called “inflated costs.” He feared the changes would affect property values after learning about a nearby farm up for sale.

“The sale was going through, but the people backed out because of the flood insurance,” he said. “They came back with an offer $100,000 lower. I believe that this is just another nail in the farmer’s coffin.”

Steve Brown, Capital Press

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Land trust acquires Willamette conservation easements

Friday, December 30, 2011
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

Greenbelt Land Trust has announced the acquisition of conservation easements on more than 300 acres of Willamette River frontage property in western Oregon’s Benton County that will benefit chinook salmon, cutthroat trout, Oregon chub, Pacific lamprey, western pond turtles and red-legged frogs.

The project will permanently protect important habitat for fish and wildlife identified in the Oregon Conservation Strategy. The purchases were made through a partnership with the existing landowners, the land trust, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and funding from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the Bonneville Power Administration and the Meyer Memorial Trust.

Conservation easements allow for some traditional uses of the land, such as farming by the landowner, but permanently protect wildlife habitat. They also allow conversion of farmland to restoration and conservation purposes. The easements are effective in the Willamette Valley where 96 percent of the land is privately owned.

The 319-acre parcel includes Harkens Lake, a significant historic side-channel of the Willamette River that is critical habitat for native fish populations.

“This project is an integral part of creating opportunities for broad-scale floodplain habitat restoration on the Willamette River,” according to Ken Bierly, deputy director of Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.

The conservation of Harkens Lake is made possible through a partnership with landowners Gary, Jenny and Steve Horning and Mark and Sherie Adams, a collaboration that will continue as the partners prepare to restore the property’s floodplain forests and riparian areas to their historic conditions. Restoration of these forests decreases erosion and flood damage from seasonal inundation throughout the 100-year floodplain.

“Our family has worked and lived on the Willamette River for five generations, which is why we take such pride in showing we can work around the river sustainably. We know the health of our crops depends on the health of the river system. Our goal for restoration is to utilize important floodplain areas to improve water quality and protect the valuable farm land that our family farm depends on,” Gary Horning said.

“This important work can only be accomplished through partnerships with private landowners, non-profits, foundations and state and federal agencies,” said Michael Pope, GLT executive director.

“We’re facing a monumental task in fish recovery and riparian restoration in the Willamette Valley, and we must all work together. We are extremely pleased to be able to complete this transaction, and grateful to all our partners who work with us to protect and restore environmentally sensitive lands.”

Funding from this project was dedicated through:

Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board through its Willamette Special Investment Partnership. The goal is to identify and implement high-priority land conservation, fish passage and habitat flow restoration projects that contribute to the enhancement of resident and migratory fish populations in the mainstem and tributaries of the Willamette River.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Willamette Wildlife Mitigation Program which was created to manage the funds dedicated to the state of Oregon by BPA for wildlife habitat mitigation in the Willamette Valley. The agreement requires a substantial investment in wildlife and fish habitat restoration over the next 15 years.

Bonneville funding helps fulfill an agreement that Oregon made in 2010 to protect nearly 20,000 acres of Willamette Basin wildlife habitat. The agreement dedicates stable funding from electric ratepayers for 15 years to safeguard Willamette habitat for native species, supporting state efforts to protect the Willamette Basin and fulfilling BPA’s responsibility under the Northwest Power Act to offset the impacts of federal flood control and hydropower dams.

Columbia Basin Bulletin

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Researchers study White Salmon and dam breaching

Friday, November 11, 2011
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

A flood, loosed late October, when southwest Washington’s Condit Dam was breached has literally coated the lower White Salmon River in layers of various thickness of fine, dark sediment.

But researchers predict that the river’s own dynamics make it a prime candidate to clean itself and restore the coarser, gravelly river bed needed for native fish to spawn and rear.

“If you look at the White Salmon now…. It’s hammered,” researcher Andrew Wilcox said. “If you go there now there’s a lot of mud.”

The University of Montana assistant professor is leading a research project aimed at assessing how the river “responds” to the breaching of the dam and a return to a free flowing state.

“It’s a beautiful natural experiment,” Wilcox said of the chance to monitor how the river moves large pulses of sediment that have the potential to snuff out aquatic life.

The blasting of a tunnel through the base of Condit allowed the release of sediment that had been collecting since the dam was completed in 1913. It was estimated that between 1.6 million to 2.2 million cubic yards of sediment would be discharged into the White Salmon River immediately following tunnel’s opening.

Wilcox and one of his graduate students will monitor the lower White Salmon over the next two years to see how well it refreshes itself. The study focuses on sediment transport, or the lack thereof, as well as channel evolution, and habitat response.

The researchers will try to use the data gathered there as well as elsewhere to develop a better understanding of how ecosystems respond to such events. Information could be used in planning such events in the future. The study is being funded by the National Science Foundation.

Wilcox has been involved in similar research following the breaching of Marmot Dam on the Sandy River in northwest Oregon in 2007 and the Milltown Dam in western Montana in 2008.

“Reservoirs tend to trap sediment that is fine,” Wilcox said. When the sediment is released it tends to settle into the cobbled river bottoms that salmon and steelhead prefer for spawning, and changes the depth of pools where fish seek shelter. The study aims to monitor when, where and how that sediment is deposited, and how soon the river might mend itself. “How long do the changes last?” is a key question, he said.

“It is a system that is steep and confined and has a high transport capacity,” Wilcox said of the White Salmon. The slack water in the lowest part of the river “has less capacity to clear.”

The best thing to do is hope for a wet winter.

“It’s supposed to be a La Niña year,” Wilcox said. If the snowpack builds and strong flows develop in the spring, much of the sediment and at least some of the logs dislodged from the reservoir bottom should be swept downriver.

“I’m not going to say the system will be recovered by next summer” but the spring freshet should send it well on its way, Wilcox said.

The lower White Salmon River remains off limits as it has been since before the Oct. 26 breach, which quickly drained 1.8-mile-long Northwestern Lake. The dam is located 3.3 miles upstream from the river’s confluence with the Columbia River.

The river and its banks remains an unsafe place both above the dam in the reservoir reach and below the dam, according to PacifiCorp, which owns the dam. PacifiCorp, local law enforcement and experienced river experts are unanimous in urging the curious to stay away.

“Everyone saw the force of the river,” said Tom Hickey, PacifiCorp’s project manager. “Now downstream wherever the river narrows, there are logjams. In the former reservoir above the dam, the river is cutting through the sediment creating unstable slopes and moving debris such as buried logs as expected.

“Transported sediment is also building up in downstream areas. Working with our contractors, we have plans in place to deal with these obstructions, and they all require that everyone stay out of harm’s way and a safe distance from the river,” Hickey said.

The company’s options for clearing debris include using cranes and yarders or in some instances explosives to remove barriers. The entire area from the Northwestern Lake Road Bridge to the mouth of the White Salmon River continues to be an active construction zone and a dangerous place to be.

“We are still a long way from anyone attempting to boat the White Salmon River within the project area or downstream,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest stewardship director of American Whitewater. “Those of us who know the river well urge everyone to stay safe and out of this river area until next fall when PacifiCorp has had a chance to complete the channel restoration work and address the severe hazards affecting navigability.”

PacifiCorp will continue to post updates on closures and restrictions in the Condit area as work proceeds. Go to for updates. Signs will remain posted in the immediate areas to remind the public about the closures.

Columbia Basin Bulletin

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Meteorologists: Below normal temps; above average precip

Friday, November 4, 2011
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

Each used a different combination of tools, climate indices and calculations, but all five meteorologists offering forecasts during a conference Oct. 29 in Portland agreed that La Niña could well influence what sort of winter the Northwest and other parts of the globe will experience.

Four of the five predicted that the winter of 2011-2012 will be wetter than normal, though none predicted a repeat of 2010-11 when stronger La Niña signals prevailed. Snowpacks across the Pacific Northwest reached near record levels when a cool, wet late winter and spring settled on the region.

The forecast presenters were among more than 350 people gathered last Saturday for the 19th Annual Winter Forecast Conference sponsored by the Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society. The session was held at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

La Niña conditions are occurring and expected to gradually strengthen and continue this winter, according to regularly updated forecasts from National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center. Those La Niña conditions, which include cooler than normal sea surface temperatures across must of the equatorial Pacific, seem to increase the likelihood that the Northwest will be colder and wetter than normal.

This winter CIG suggests that there are significantly increased odds of above average precipitation; odds favoring near normal or cooler than normal temperatures and that there are significantly increased odds of an above average snowpack, according to Dave Elson, lead forecaster for the Weather Service’s Portland office.

“La Niña, that’s really what drives this forecast,” Elson said. The agency says the region can “expect an active weather pattern this winter.”

Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission hydrologist/meteorologist Kyle Dittmer used a host of tools, including indices such as the El Nino/Southern Oscillation and the Multi-variate ENSO Index, and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, Sea-surface temperature departure forecasts, and comparisons of past years’ La Niña outcomes (analog years), including water year volume forecasts. And he even factors in sunspot cycles (though they are currently in a relatively neutral mode), which he says can influence global weather patterns.

He predicts the Columbia-Snake river basin will be “slightly below normal temperature-wise for the season” and should see above average precipitation. Dittmer said the region can expect some variability, which might include heavy rain events west of the Cascades, flooding, arctic blasts and high wind events. And rainy Portland should expect a few snow events from December to early March, he said.

His water supply forecast for January-July 2012 as measured at the lower Columbia’s The Dalles Dam is 117 million acre feet, or 109 percent of the recent 30-year average. In October 2010 Dittmer predicted that 2011 runoff would be 129 MAF, 120 percent of normal, and that early season forecast was in the ballpark. The observed, unregulated runoff was 141.7 MAF from January through July.

Former Oregon State Climatologist George Taylor, as well as Pete Parsons and Jim Little, likened the pattern being experienced now to one that began in the winter of 2007-2008 played out in 2008-2009. That pattern saw La Niña conditions building in the 2007-2008, lapsing to neutral conditions during the late spring-summer, then rebuilding the following winter.

“That’s about as good of a match as you can get,” Parson said of the strategy of identifying start-of-year conditions from the past that might apply to the current year’s forecast. The winter of 2008-2009 started out strong with an early season dump of snow even into lower level sites such as Portland but ended up being a relatively average precipitation year overall. Parsons and Little do forecasts for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Taylor said he expected November to be relatively benign with a transition in December into cooler, wetter conditions. He forecast December-February to be “very active” with above-average mountain snowfall for the winter; significant precipitation totals with possibility of flooding in the west, cooler than average temperatures and a good chance of low elevation snow, especially in January.

Parsons’ forecast followed the same track with above average temperatures early and weather turning stormy in December and January, followed by a cold February.

“Cold periods will have a better chance of being accompanied by snow this winter. Most mountain snowpacks should be above normal by late January-February,” Parsons’ forecast said.

Columbia Basin Bulletin

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La Niña is back with colder, wetter conditions for NW

Friday, September 16, 2011
Posted by: Oregon Water Coalition

La Niña, which contributed to extreme weather around the globe during the first half of 2011, has re-emerged in the tropical Pacific Ocean and is forecast to gradually strengthen and continue into winter.

Forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center have upgraded the La Niña Watch to a La Niña Advisory.

NOAA will issue its official winter outlook in mid-October, but La Niña winters often see drier than normal conditions across the southern tier of the United States and wetter than normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest and Ohio Valley.

“This means drought is likely to continue in the drought-stricken states of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center. “La Niña also often brings colder winters to the Pacific Northwest and the northern Plains, and warmer temperatures to the southern states.”

Climate forecasts from NOAA’s National Weather Service are intended to give communities advance notice of what to expect in the coming months so they can prepare for potential impacts. Seasonal hurricane forecasters factored the potential return of La Niña into NOAA’s updated 2011 Atlantic hurricane season outlook, issued in August, which called for an active hurricane season. With the development of tropical storm Nate last week, the number of tropical cyclones entered the predicted range of 14-19 named storms.

The strong 2010-11 La Niña contributed to record winter snowfall, spring flooding and drought across the United States, as well as other extreme weather events throughout the world, such as heavy rain in Australia and an extremely dry equatorial eastern Africa.

Average sea surface temperature anomalies indicate the re-emergence of La Niña in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

La Niña is a naturally occurring climate phenomenon located over the tropical Pacific Ocean and results from interactions between the ocean surface and the atmosphere. During La Niña, cooler-than-average Pacific Ocean temperatures influence global weather patterns. La Niña typically occurs every three-to-five years, and back-to-back episodes occur about 50 percent of the time. Current conditions reflect a re-development of the June 2010 / May 2011 La Niña episode.

Columbia Basin Bulletin

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