Yakima Basin Fish & Wildlife Recovery Board News & Announcements
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Aug 6 - YBFWRB Board Meeting

Sept 15-17 - Salvelinus confluentus Curiosity Society Meeting

Calendar >>

7/20 Fish Could Run Into "Hot Water"

7/16 Irrigators could share cost for YBIP

7/15 Latest water supply figures pleasant surprise

7/14 Depleted water at Naches fish hatchery a problem

7/14 State could close some rivers to fishing due to drought

7/13 KID eases water restrictions

7/13 CID uses aquatic weed cutter

7/9 Agencies start water rescue operation for small fish bearing streams

JULY 2015

Our board meetings are always open to the public - please RSVP to Heather if you plan to attend.  The next meeting will be held at the Swauk-Teanaway Grange in Cle Elum on Thursday, August 6 from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. preceded by a tour of projects in the Teanaway led by WDFW and DNR.  If you would like to join the tour and lunch portion of the day, please RSVP by Monday, Aug 3 at noon.

Making Sense of the Lower Yakima

This week, Darcy and Alex joined Rachel Little of the Benton Conservation District to go look at the growth of water stargrass in the lower Yakima River. In 2001-2005, the dense growth of water stargrass in the lower Yakima caught people’s attention. This native, but previously not widespread, aquatic weed took off in the early 2000s- something many have described as an unintended effect of all the work done to improving water quality, which allowed more sunlight to reach the river bottom. 
Since 2006, we’ve been lucky to have relatively high and turbid river flows last through the spring and sometimes even into early summer- conditions that reduce the growth of stargrass. But this year, with low, clear river flows starting in April, it’s back in force! As you can see in the photos, it’s thick- with the entire river bed covered with growth in many areas, and some areas where emergent mats fill the whole water column across 2/3rds or more of the river. During our visit, numerous pelicans, cormorants and terns worked the edges of the mats, no doubt feeding on the plentiful carp, bass and sunfish we observed.

So what does this mean for salmon? Does it physically block passage for salmon? Probably not, though the heaviest areas, like below Horn Rapids Dam, passage may be limited to a few shallow and narrow chutes. Does it change temperatures? It’s hard to say. It certainly slows down flow and traps heat where mats are exposed, but it also forces the thalweg into narrower channels. It can definitely affect dissolved oxygen levels (DO), which are high during the day, but drop at night as photosynthesis ceases while the plants respire and use oxygen. pH can also cycle strongly due to photosynthesis of stargrass and the algae that grow upon the grass.

We tend to look at temperature alone as the limit for fish passage through the lower Yakima, but are there conditions when pH and dissolved oxygen levels remain problematic for salmon migrations even after temperatures drop to tolerable levels? Unfortunately we do not have enough continuous monitoring to say.

It is pretty clear that water stargrass growth reduces the suitability of spawning sites for fall Chinook. Rachel and the Benton Conservation District have hand-pulled star-grass from small areas that have been used by spawning fall chinook in the past, and found that fish discovered and used the cleared areas. Many have attributed the upstream movement of fall chinook spawning (which was once mostly below Prosser, but is now densest around Granger) to the growth of stargrass on spawning gravels.

The more we tangle with stargrass, the more questions come up: What can we do to manage it? Can pulling or mowing help? Can we count on the next good flood to scour the river bed and set back the next few years’ growth? Would water buffalo eat it? What happens to the stargrass when it’s done growing? Will it ever run out of the nutrient supply in river bed sediments? Does it decompose on site, possibly lowering dissolved oxygen level, or is the year’s growth-and all the nutrients it has pulled from the river bed- flushed out to the Columbia? How does early season growth affect smolt outmigrations? Right now the questions come faster than the answers.

In a hot year like this, when salmon migration up the Yakima all but stopped in early June and fish are stacked in the Columbia waiting for a chance to head home, a trip like ours highlights need for better long-term water quality data for the lower Yakima, and an improved understanding of how water quality, habitat conditions- and stargrass- can be managed to best support the restoration of summer-run chinook and sockeye.

For more info on water quality and stargrass, see the USGS’s 2004-7 Lower Yakima Eutrophication Study

Salmon Recovery Grant Evaluation Update

The local Salmon Recovery Funding Board (SRFB) grant evaluation process is in full swing. In January, the Board issued a Request for Proposals for salmon habitat improvement projects in the Yakima Basin. Seventeen pre-proposals were submitted by the March 13 deadline. After meeting with the pre-proposal review committee, sponsors chose to develop full applications for 14 very competitive projects. Local and state reviewers participated in site tours May 11 – 13 and sponsors gave presentations to the TAG and CC on June 4. This process helps the project applicant to develop the scientifically best projects based on feedback received during these steps. The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) met to review and ranking projects on July 7 and 8.  The TAG’s proposed ranking and the notes of their meeting were then provided to the Citizen’s Committee, which met on July 23 to rate the projects based on the Citizen’s Committee (CC) criteria. The resulting project will be reviewed and approved by our Board of Directors on August 6. We look forward to sharing our final ranked list with you in our August newsletter after we have advanced the Board’s recommended funding list to the State. 

State Budget Update

The Washington State legislature’s negotiations over the 2015-17 budget turned into a cliff-hanger, with a government shut-down looming. But all got done in the final hour, and we’ve since had a chance to sort through what it means for the funding programs we work with.

The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan benefited from strong support from the Governor and both houses of the legislature, and received the full $30 million request originally submitted by the Department of Ecology. We’re excited to work as part of the YBIP Habitat Subcommittee to finalize the selection of projects for the $5 million that is designated for aquatic habitat projects, and to see construction work begin on upstream fish passage facilities at Cle Elum.

However, DNR received only a portion of their request for funds to manage the Teanaway, leaving them with limited resources for fire management and law enforcement and no dedicated funding to implement other parts of the recently completed Teanaway Community Forest Management Plan.

Congratulations are due to Yakima County’s Floodplain Management Program, which proposed work on the Naches River that receiving $1.3 million as the top ranked project in Ecology’s Floodplain by Design program. The program received $35.5 million and will fund 7 projects. The Yakima project is the only one east of Cascades; two Kittitas County projects fell just below the final funding line.

The Salmon Recovery Funding Board Programs met a mixed fate. There was no cut to operating funds for the RCO (which had expected a 5% cut). However, with $40 million requested by the Governor and in the original House budget, there was hope we would see significant growth in state capital funding for the SRFB grant program for the first time in many years. In the end we saw a roughly status-quo funding level of $16.5 million approved. This is enough to sustain a normal grant round this year, but we may see a reduction in 2016, depending on how much funding is available from returned funds and the FY 2017 federal Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund award. 
The WWRP program, which funds wildlife and recreation projects statewide was funded at $55 million.

State-wide we saw new funding for several regional programs, with a new $11 million program for salmon habitat and forest restoration work the Pacific Coast, and $50 million for flood relief in the Chehalis Basin. Puget Sound received $37 million for the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration program- still significant funding but well less than the $70 million received last biennium. 

Senator Honeyford’s water resources funding bill did not move forward, but a task force has been convened to develop proposals for consideration next biennium. We’re also already being asked to provide information on fish passage projects as part of developing funding proposals for next year’s supplemental state budget!

Request for Input on Fish Passage

The state Fish Barrier Removal Board is requesting input from Salmon Recovery Boards like us as it develops a statewide fish barrier strategy in anadromous streams (see the attached for their full request).  The Fish Barrier Removal Board, which is administered by WDFW will use the information to develop a prioritized list of projects that can be submitted to the legislature for funding consideration. The program focuses on a coordinated approach to fixing state, local government, tribal and private barriers.
At this time they have asked us to identify:
1. A focal watershed in each regional area, where a coordinated approach to fish barrier removal can open high quality habitat and have a large benefit for salmon and steelhead recovery if barriers were removed. The Fish Passage Board intends to develop a process to analyze and fund specific projects in identified focal watersheds. In discussions to date, there seems to be broad support for identifying the Wilson Creek watershed (including all its tributaries) as the focal watershed for the Yakima Basin. Your feedback on whether this is the best candidate, and which other areas could be considered instead is requested!

2. Specific high priority barrier removal projects adjacent to other funded or recently completed (within 5 years) fish passage projects. The emphasis here is on maximizing the benefit from existing barrier removal projects (especially WSDOT projects) by focusing new effort on adjacent barriers. These projects do not need to be in the focal watershed. At this point we are compiling an initial list of projects to consider, and all suggestions are welcome. We will work with WDFW to understand their criteria and identify a short-list of projects for consideration. We will need specific information on projects to be included on the short list, including location, photos, etc (see list of criteria and information requirements in the attached). PLEASE LET US KNOW OF SPECIFIC PROJECTS WE SHOULD CONSIDER, AND BE READY TO WORK WITH US TO COMPILE REQUIRED INFORMATION BY August 14. 

We recognize that the timeline on this request is short, but we are excited to have the opportunity to provide substantive input into the development of a new statewide program. WDFW will use this input to develop a funding request for consideration by the state legislature in next year’s supplemental budget process, and it be great to see some good work in the Yakima Basin highlighted on that list! More Info
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