Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Pateros City Council denies WDFW permission to launch fish monitoring barge

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PATEROS – The city council has denied permission for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to use city facilities to launch and stage a fish monitoring PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) barge into the Columbia and Methow rivers. The council issued the denial during its regular monthly meeting on April 15, until WDFW resolves permitting issues with Douglas PUD over the usage and placement of the barge.

Douglas County PUD General Manager Gary Ivory addressed the council to explain the PUD’s position and the concerns the utility has over where the barge would be anchored and the effects that would have.

The Quad City Herald has previously reported on the WDFW’s PIT barge project, the latest story in July 2022 when WDFW officials addressed the council. At that time, fish biologists Andrew Murdock from the WDFW Wenatchee office, Chad Jackson from Ephrata, and Region 2 Director Brock Hoenes from Ephrata explained a cutting-edge spring chinook salmon and steelhead tagging project in the Twisp, Chewuch, and Upper Methow rivers to collect data on survival factors of the popular sport fish.

The Bureau of Reclamation has teamed up with WDFW to fund the PIT project.

The reason behind the study was chronically low egg-to-smolt survival rates of about 1.3 percent in the Methow River compared to a 3.1 percent rate in the Wenatchee River. WDFW hopes tagging and monitoring fish passage can help identify the causes of the low numbers.

Smolt traps in both the lower Chewuch and lower Upper Methow rivers will capture juvenile fish that will be fitted with the transponder tags. A special PIT detection raft anchored near the mouth of the Methow would record data on every tagged fish that migrated past the platform.

The problem lies with the location of the PIT barge.

WDFW wants to place it near the takeout spot on SR153 along the west shore of the Methow River upstream from the mouth. The PUD objects to the placement for stream silt management, boater safety, and liability reasons.

Since the barge is an over-water structure and would anchor in a PUD reservoir, WDFW requested PUD approval to deploy the barge. WDFW also needs council approval to use the city launch facilities. 

Ivory said the proposed location of the barge is problematic for several reasons.

“We have what are called ‘groins’ that are four big fingers that stick out into the river over there,” said Ivory. “That’s an operational creature of the Wells project.”

Ivory explained that as water flows down the Methow River, the silts deposit along the south bank near the mouth, and the area becomes heavily silted. 

“Years ago, our engineers designed rock fingers that stick out into the river,” said Ivory. “The fingers are usually submerged, but in the springtime, when we get a lot of water running down the river, we lower the (Pateros) reservoir to a very low level, and those finders push the water farther out into the river and scour all that sediment and brings it out into the (Columbia) river.”

Ivory said the fingers interfere with having the WDFW barge in that area.

“This is natural river erosion,” said Ivory. “We like to keep that cleared out.”

Ivory said the PUD representatives have met with WDFW’s director and offered other solutions to collect the PIT data in different ways but with no success.

Legal ramifications pose another problem.

“Our biggest concern is liability,” said Ivory, “If we were to (issue a) permit for that and somebody gets killed or injured on that barge, our attorneys have told us we are the deep pockets…and they would come after us.”

Ivory related two incidents with the WDFW barge anchored in the Wenatchee River.

“That barge has broken loose twice and ended up in Rock Island Dam,” Ivory said.

Ivory noted that WDFW might decide to deploy the barge anyway, but the agency has been advised that it cannot use PUD-controlled locations to stage it.

“This data is not important in the scheme and scope of the data that is being collected on the fish,” said Ivory and added comments about the PUD’s own Habitat Conservation Plan.

“The Wells project has the best passage on the Columbia River,” said Ivory. “We are responsible for 96 percent of the fish that enter our reservoir until they pass through our project and get downstream.”

The PUD also must replace the remaining four percent of fish lost to predation and other causes. 

“We have a Methow hatchery and Carlton hatchery and a pretty large hatchery at Wells,” Ivory said.

Mayor Kelly Hook asked if the PUD collects the same data that WDFW is trying to collect with its PIT barges.

“We do at both Wells and Rocky Reach,” Ivory said. 

Responding to a question from council member Frank Herbert regarding which agencies have what authority on the rivers, Ivory said the PUD, WDFW, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are still addressing a number of unanswered legal questions.

Mike Maltais: 360-333-8483 or michael@ward.media

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