U.S. opinion upholds salmon survival at 1,893-MW Priest Rapids

NOAA Fisheries has issued a final biological opinion on the 1,893-MW Priest Rapids hydroelectric project that calls for the Washington project’s two developments eventually to achieve a minimum of 91 percent fish passage survival for adult and juvenile salmonids.

The federal fish agency’s Feb. 1 “biop” said relicensing Priest Rapids, on the Columbia River, is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of Upper Columbia spring-run chinook salmon and Upper Columbia steelhead. However, it found the proposed action would adversely affect essential fish habitat for chinook and coho salmon, and recommended conservation measures be adopted.

Licensee Grant County Public Utility District said its relicense application (No. 2114) to operate the project’s 1,038-MW Wanapum Dam and 855-MW Priest Rapids Dam power plants for another 50 years includes nearly $800 million in proposed mitigation and enhancement measures for natural and cultural resources affected by the project. (HNN 2/5/08)

NOAA Fisheries noted Grant County already has begun to implement measures from a 2004 opinion on interim operations of the project. Those measures include juvenile passage survival evaluations, Wanapum Dam future unit bypass, Priest Rapids Dam juvenile bypass evaluation, spill management, advanced turbine replacement, and predator control measures.

Mandatory terms and conditions in the biop include performance standards requiring Grant County to make steady progress toward achieving a minimum 91 percent combined adult and juvenile salmonid survival performance standard at each development. Current survival rates are near that for chinook salmon. Rates for steelhead are still being evaluated, but appear to be near the goal, NOAA Fisheries said.

The PUD also must replace all ten turbines at 1,038-MW Wanapum Dam with advanced “fish friendly” turbines, and evaluate passage of fish through the powerhouse with the new turbines in place. Three of the old turbines have been replaced with advanced turbines, and a fourth is to be replaced by October. Grant County expects to replace all ten turbines by 2013.

Additionally, the licensee must develop a fish bypass facility for the Priest Rapids development in consultation with NOAA Fisheries. Spill over the dam is to remain the primary passage option at Priest Rapids Dam until a fish passage facility is built and demonstrates it will provide at least equal survival to the spill program.

Grant County PUD anticipates FERC will issue a relicense order later this year, now that NOAA Fisheries has completed its biop. In 2006, FERC staff released a final environmental impact statement that concluded relicensing would provide a significant and dependable source of electrical energy for the Pacific Northwest. (HNN 11/23/06) Priest Rapids has operated under a temporary annual license since November 2005.

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