Tag Archives: bureau of reclamation

Mobility-impaired Angler Trying To Save Access To Popular Lake Roosevelt Beach

A disabled Lake Roosevelt angler and local officials are concerned that access to a good fishing hole just above Grand Coulee Dam might be reduced, or even lost entirely.

That’s because the Bureau of Reclamation is mulling the future management of Geezer Beach, a top spot to plunk for chunky rainbow trout during the winter and early spring.

A FISHERMAN TENDS THEIR LINE AT GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

Hank Wiebe, a Northwest Sportsman reader who fishes there more days than not from January through June, is leading the charge to keep the area open to all.

He’s been working hard to get the word out, circulating a petition at area businesses, writing letters to the local paper and his federal lawmakers, and more.

“Due to my disabilities, this beach provides one of the few places I can access … fish,” Wiebe explained in comments sent to BOR last month during a “pre-scoping period” identifying issues to address ahead of an environmental assessment that is expected later this winter. “There is a strong group of fishermen, with varying degrees of limited mobility, who often fish alongside me.”

The Town of Grand Coulee resident describes himself as a heart attack survivor who has suffered an aortic aneurysm, and has COPD and other medical issues that combine to make walking very far “tough.”

“Not to mention a fall on the rocks would exacerbate all of the above issues, so being able to drive to this location is about my only choice for fishing from shore,” Wiebe says.

Over the years he and his family have sent us numerous pictures of themselves, including Wiebe’s granddaughter Remington, enjoying success at Geezer Beach during Lake Roosevelt’s annual winter drawdown, when anglers drive down the lakebed from a parking area and cast their lines out.

REMINGTON WIEBE SHOWS OFF A NICE RAINBOW CAUGHT OFF GEEZER BEACH IN WINTER 2015 WHILE FISHING WITH HER GRANDPA, HANK, WHO HOPES TO KEEP THE DRIVE-DOWN ACCESS SITE OPEN. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Indeed, it’s an opportunity that draws anglers from “as far away as Seattle,” Robert Poch, Coulee Dam’s mayor pro tem, wrote in his city’s official comments to BOR.

And those people “stay in our local motels, eat at our restaurants and patron our stores. The Town of Coulee Dam already struggles to maintain with the limited revenue sources it receives today.”

While the municipality fancies itself as the “green oasis at the foot of Grand Coulee Dam,” Poch worries that fewer visitors will lead to reduced sales and hotel tax revenues.

His letter stated that the city council “expressed very strong feelings against” BOR’s proposed changes.

The Star, a weekly newspaper, covered the story in a series of front-page pieces last month, and it reported that the federal agency is responding to the Colville Tribes’ issues with vehicles driving on the beach.

A PAIR OF RIGS PARKED AT GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

“This is a concern for both protection of cultural resources, and protection of water quality,” a tribal official stated in an email quoted for a Dec. 26 Star story, adding that driving on the lakebed is otherwise prohibited on Roosevelt but not enforced at Geezer Beach, which sets a bad example and creates an enforcement headache.

In its press release announcing a call for public comment, BOR said that entering the drawdown area in a vehicle represents a public safety risk “because these vehicles can become stuck, roll into the reservoir, or become abandoned.”

REMINGTON WIEBE TAKES A NAP AT GEEZER BEACH FOLLOWING A SUPER-EARLY WAKE UP TO GO FISHING THERE IN 2015 WITH HER GRANDFATHER. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

That’s not something Coulee Dam officials have seen, however.

“For more than 40 years, we cannot recall ever hearing of an incident where a vehicle has been stuck, driven or rolled into the reservoir or been an accident at Geezer Beach. The access roads, which have been in existence since the 1960’s, are well established and have been packed down, providing a firm surface for vehicles to travel on,” Mayor Poch wrote.

Photographs Wiebe took of different parts of the beach on Jan. 8 showed it to be remarkably clean of the type of trash one usually finds, unfortunately, at fishing accesses.

“All my fishing buddies and I strive to keep this area litter free,” he notes.

LOOKING TOWARD GRAND COULEE DAM FROM A PORTION OF GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

This is not to say that locations significant to the Colville Tribes haven’t been impacted by settlement, development, dam building and other activities or shouldn’t be protected, but in that Dec. 26 story, Greg Behrens told The Star that during a three-decade-long career working at Grand Coulee he did geological and geographic studies of the area, and that Geezer Beach was “reworked and completely modified through the construction of the Dam’s history” while being used for staging.

“If the concern for the allowed vehicle access is based on ‘cultural resource preservation’ then the prior construction activities have made this a non-issue. This includes the nearshore environment well below the accessible areas today,” Behrens told reporter Jacob Wagner.

There have been state-tribal tensions this decade over fishing at Geezer Beach and management of Lake Roosevelt.

PLUNKING POWER BAIT IS A GOOD WAY TO LOAD UP A STRINGER WITH LOWER LAKE ROOSEVELT TROUT. THIS NICE BUNCH WAS CAUGHT DURING A LATE JANUARY 2014 OUTING BY TIM AND JO WIEBE. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Closing off access to Geezer entirely was one of three alternatives that BOR was gathering public comment on last month for the upcoming environmental assessment, or EA.

Another focuses on restricting parking to designated areas just off an access road from Coulee Dam and that sit at roughly the 1300-foot elevation mark. That would still allow angling but make it much more difficult for mobility-impaired anglers like Wiebe to reach the water when Roosevelt dips to as low as 1,220 feet in midspring.

The third is for maintaining the status quo.

ANGLERS FISH FROM GEEZER BEACH EARLY LAST MONTH. WATER LEVELS VARY FROM 1280 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL DOWN TO 1220 FEET AS LAKE ROOSEVELT IS DRAWN DOWN IN WINTER AND EARLY SPRING TO CONTAIN SNOWPACK RUNOFF FROM THE UPPER COLUMBIA RIVER WATERSHED AND GENERATE ELECTRICITY. (JACOB WAGNER, THE STAR)

“With the information gathered from the input we received, Reclamation will now write a draft EA and it will be available for public comment,” says Lynne Brougher, a BOR spokeswoman at the agency’s Grand Coulee office. “At this time, we anticipate that the draft EA will be available for comment in February and a final decision will be made this spring.”

Lake Roosevelt is so huge that it is part of two different Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regions, and the managers of both — Steve Pozzanghera and Jim Brown in Spokane and Ephrata, respectively — say they will be watching for the EA to come out so the agency can submit comments.

“We would hope they wouldn’t do an outright closure,” says Brown of BOR’s alternatives. “Their problem statement makes that seem a bit extreme, on its face. If it is about vehicles, that is seemingly an excessive step, when nothing in the scoping description goes beyond the stated problem being with vehicles.”

“We should be advocating for continued public access — the issue will be foot traffic versus vehicle entry,” adds Pozzanghera.

For Hank Wiebe, the latter is preferred.

“There’s many of us fishermen who have medical issues and need areas like this to enjoy/teach grandkids all about fishing,” he says.

Spill Test Set To Begin On Columbia, Snake; Could Validate Benefits For Outmigrating Smolts

Federal, state and tribal officials have agreed to a three-year trial to see if increasing spill down the Columbia and Snake Rivers can “significantly boost” outmigrating salmon and steelhead smolt numbers.

WATER SURGES THROUGH BONNEVILLE DAM IN THIS JUNE 2014 CORPS OF ENGINEERS PHOTO. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

It’s already believed to, but the deal will allow for more flexible spring operations at eight dams to test the idea beginning next year through 2021, according to a report in the Lewiston Tribune.

“Collaboration is key to this new approach to Columbia River system management. Working together, the region’s states, tribes, and federal agencies have developed an approach that demonstrates environmental stewardship and affordable sustainable energy are not mutually exclusive,” reads a joint statement from “key supporters” of the agreement.

The parties include the Nez Perce Tribe, Oregon, Washington, BPA, Army Corps and Bureau of Reclamation. The states of Idaho and Montana are also on board with it.

The trial will include the four Lower Snake dams in Washington and the four on the shared Columbia between Washington and Oregon.

Both states will need to “harmonize” how they measure total dissolved gas measured below the spillways, with Washington’s Department of Ecology needing to up its allowance by early April and consider boosting it to 125 percent for tests in 2020.

A 2017 report by the Fish Passage Center says that “increasing spill for fish passage within the safe limits of 125% total dissolved gas has a high probability of improving smolt to adult return rates.”

The more fish, the more for fishermen of all fleets to catch and orcas to eat as well as escaping to spawn in the wild.

“It’s incremental progress at time when Columbia River spring Chinook are projected to return at very low numbers,” said spill advocate Liz Hamilton at the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who added that it was “hardly the bold action we were seeking in (Governor Jay Inslee’s) Orca task force prey work group.”

She said NSIA will be watching closely, especially as dissolved gas levels are ramped up to the 125 percent benchmark.

“It can’t happen soon enough,” she said.

But concerns have been raised that spilling water will reduce electrical generation capacity in the hydropower system, and according to outdoor reporter Eric Barker’s piece in the Tribune, this week’s agreement was panned by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who also introduced a bill in the House this year against it.

In early 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon, who has been overseeing a long-running case over Columbia salmon and dam management, had ordered spill to occur.

 

Water Flowing Again Into A Top Public Basin Duck Hunting Area

A popular and productive public-land Columbia Basin duck hunting area is filling up with water for the first time in several years, good news as the best part of the waterfowl season arrives.

WATER FLOWS INTO PONDS AT THE WINCHESTER REGULATED ACCESS AREA EARLIER THIS WEEK. (BRIAN HECK, DUCKS UNLIMITED)

The recently completed project at WDFW’s Winchester Regulated Access Area unclogged an inlet from the nearby wasteway west of Potholes Reservoir and water is now flowing into the ponds there.

(CHAD EIDSON, WDFW)

“This will be the first time in three or four years that we’ll have a good amount of water,” says the agency’s Sean Dougherty in Ephrata.

The area opened in the early 2000s and provided good hunting but gradually the channel that fed water into the ponds silted up, and during 2016’s opener it was completely dry.

(BRIAN HECK, DUCKS UNLIMITED)

Dougherty says that funds were secured last year, including from state duck stamp moneys, to fix the problem.

After coordinating with the Bureau of Reclamation and the local irrigation district and with help from Ducks Unlimited, which provided “technical support and project management,” he says, water has begun flowing in again.

The area primarily attracts mallards as well as other puddlers as the migration and season goes on, but some geese fly in as well, and access is first come, first served.

“It’s really competitive to get a spot,” says Dougherty. “I would encourage you to be there at 4 a.m.”

That’s when vehicles can begin parking here, and the first five parties of up to four hunters each head out to set up their decoy spreads.

FLOODING IN CELL, OR POND, A. (CHAD EIDSON, WDFW)

The area is only open Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, with the other days off limits to rest the birds.

It’s also next to a game reserve, which helps keep ducks in the area too.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS CURRENT PARKING AND BLIND LOCATIONS FOR THE WINCHESTER REGULATED ACCESS AREA. (WDFW)

Dougherty doesn’t want to make any promises about how many greenheads you might down if you set up here, but says it’s one of the best public hunts, with an average of three ducks a gun in the past.

And with more water here this fall, the ponds might also remain as open water longer, though with their shallow depths, ambitious hunters can still bust through the ice later on.

DUCKS SIT ON A POND AT THE WINCHESTER REGULATED ACCESS AREA. (CHAD EIDSON, WDFW)

Editor’s note: This blog initially contained an outdated WDFW map of access to the Winchester Regulated Access Area. It has subsequently been updated with a new one from regional lands manager Rich Finger. Also, blinds are not assigned and the area is free roam.

NSIA Lauds Judge’s Decision On Increased Dam Spill: ‘Vital’ For Fish, Industry

THE FOLLOWING IS A JOINT PRESS RELEASE FROM THE NORTHWEST SPORTFISHING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION, SIERRA CLUB, SAVE OUR WILD SALMON COALITION AND EARTHJUSTICE

Today, United States District Court Judge Michael Simon (Portland, OR) approved a plan for increased spill at eight federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

This plan for Spring 2018 dam operations was jointly submitted to the Court last month by plaintiffs and defendants in the long-running legal case to protect wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin. It was developed in response to the Court’s April 2017 Order requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide more voluntary spill (water released through the spillways) to protect salmon and steelhead at risk of extinction.

WITH WATER SPILLING OVER THE SNAKE RIVER’S LITTLE GOOSE DAM, A SPOKANE ANGLER SHOWS OFF A NICE SPRING CHINOOK FROM A FEW SEASONS BACK. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

Todd True, lead attorney for the plaintiffs: “There is no real scientific dispute that voluntary spill to the level required by the Court will avoid harm to juvenile salmon. In addition, this spill order has been carefully crafted to avoid any unintended negative consequences to navigation and other resources. In fact, it is very likely that spill at higher levels would afford additional salmon survival improvements.”

Plaintiffs include conservation organizations, fishing associations, the Nez Perce Tribe and the State of Oregon. Defendants include the Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and NOAA Fisheries.

Voluntary spill was first required during the spring and summer months at the eight federal dams in 2006 under the order of Judge James Redden after he had invalidated a plan from the federal agencies in 2004. The new spill plan approved by the Court today requires as much spill as is allowed under current state water quality rules for total dissolved gas (or “TDG”) unless there are compelling reasons to reduce it. Higher levels of spill help juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean in the spring and summer move past the dams more quickly and safely, and results in higher adult returns in the years that follow.

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association: “Increasing the proportion of spill is vital for the protection of salmon and steelhead, and for fishing businesses and communities across the Northwest. This order for additional spill will divert baby salmon away from powerhouses, increasing the survival of juvenile fish migrating past dams to the ocean, enhancing the numbers of adult fish returning in the years that follow.”

Rhett Lawrence, conservation director for the Sierra Club in Oregon: “Increased spill levels in 2018 will provide a much-needed boost for our struggling salmon and steelhead populations. Conservation and fishing groups are grateful for our partnership with Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe – working together for the Northwest’s iconic fish and holding the federal agencies accountable to the law and the people of the region.”

Joseph Bogaard, executive director of Save Our wild Salmon: “This order for additional spill in 2018 is a near-term life-line for our region’s endangered wild salmon and steelhead until we have a legally valid, science-based plan in place. This order gives our fish and the communities that rely on them some breathing room in 2018 while our region comes together on a long-term plan that improves the health of these rivers and recovers our struggling fish populations.”

Last fall, Washington State also clarified how it applies its water quality standards relating to total dissolved gas in the lower portions of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. This clarification by the state will allow incrementally higher levels of spill to occur in the spring and summer, leading to higher juvenile and adult returns than would have occurred previously.

In May 2016, Judge Simon ruled the federal agencies’ 2014 Columbia Basin Salmon plan is inadequate and illegal. This is the fifth consecutive federal plan (Biological Opinion or “BiOp”) deemed illegal by three different judges across two decades. Over this period, despite the federal agencies spending more than $10B on a series of ineffective, illegal plans to protect salmon and steelhead from a deadly federal hydro-system, not a single at-risk population has recovered.

While the federal agencies jointly submitted this proposed plan with the plaintiffs to increase spill, they also filed an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last fall challenging the court’s decision to further expand spill. The appeal is on an expedited schedule and is expected to be resolved before the official beginning of the juvenile out-migration in early April of 2018.

You can read the signed order requiring more spill from the Court here:
http://www.wildsalmon.org/images/factsheets-and-reports/2018.District.Ct.spill.order.pdf