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Monday, July 16, 2007

Bull Run salmon protection tab: $95 million

A week and a half ago, I wondered aloud what was going on over at the Portland Water Bureau with all the sudden talk in the press about saving the salmon around the city's Bull Run reservoir system. Already the city's been letting water out of the system to help the little anadromous creatures get around in the streams near their birthplaces, and recent news stories have alluded to unspecified "other measures" that the public was going to find out about over "the next few months."

That worried me. With as important a natural resource as Bull Run water under discussion, what was with the delay in getting the outlines of the plan out to the public? I fretted that the city was up to one of its classic backroom deals.

David Shaff, the administrator of the bureau, wrote in to assure me that my fears were groundless. Talks between the city and federal environmental regulators on the subject have been going on for years, he said, because the city's required to come up with a fish habitat conservation plan under federal law.

Among his comments were these:

Portland is blessed to have the Bull Run watershed under its stewardship. It is a very productive and high quality water source. How much of that water we should release for fish is part science and part negotiation with our regulators. The federal services that enforce the Endangered Species Act would probably like for the city to release more water than it has agreed to provide. However, over the last five years we believe we have identified flow levels that are adequate to provide habitat and spawning conditions for fish without causing conflicts with municipal demand. We now have a five-year track record in which there have been no fish v. human water conflicts on the Bull Run and the federal services have, so far, agreed that these flow release levels are adequate. If the [conservation plan] is adopted and enacted, the city will gain certainty through a contractual relationship that these flow releases will be adequate for the next 50 years.
Late last week, I received an e-mail from Shaff that got down a little further toward the real nitty-gritty of the conservation measures. The full draft of the city's conservation plan runs more than 650 pages at the moment, and there's no executive summary ready yet. Meanwhile, federal regulators are drafting an environmental impact statement, which should be finalized around the same time as the city's plan -- in a couple of months.

Shaff did send along an interesting little one-pager (doc file) about how much it's going to cost to save the salmon. The current estimate is around $95 million over 50 years. He points out that that's less than $2 million a year "on average," but the precise timing of the expenditures within that period is not specified, and if most of the costs are incurred up front, that average could be misleading.

About half of the $95 million would be spent in the Bull Run watershed itself -- as Shaff explains it, "flow release commitments, stream temperature management and habitat restoration projects (such as gravel or large woody debris placement) on the lower Bull Run River. For the last couple of years we have been operating the system as if the proposed measures were in place to ensure that we can comply with [a conservation plan] and still meet our human customers' demands. There are times when that is a real balancing act, but we are confident that we can meet the needs of fish and humans." Another 27 percent would go toward "habitat restoration projects planned for other high priority streams in the Sandy River Basin," and the last 23 percent would be spent on "monitoring, research and adaptive management," which Shaff describes as "work the city is required to do to document the effectiveness of its efforts and to make adjustments in its approach if necessary."

Apparently, there will be lots of opportunity for anyone who's interested to see all the details and speak their minds when the draft documents are formally released (and summarized for mere mortals) in September. I might even get my hands on a preview copy of the 650 pages of light reading before then. In the meantime, if you have a faucet in Portland, you may want to keep our aquatic vertebrate friends in mind.

Comments (10)

Hopefully there won't be anything in the executive summary that will catch the Klamath River Angler's attention. I'd hate for my brown lawn to be an empty gesture.

Not to worry Telecom, the water bill will wilt your lawn quite nicely, especially since water bills are allowed for all kinds of non-water enterprises.

I wonder how much that is per fish?

Isn't $95 mil close to enough to build a much needed third reservoir?


"The current estimate is around $95 million over 50 years."

Remember the tram! At least $200M once they get started.

It is true that the HCP is structured so that most of the investments in restoring habitat are scheduled to be done early on in the 50-year life of the plan. This is also true of the infrastructure investment that is required to manage temperature (installation of a multi-level intake at Bull Run Dam 2). These investments occur early on so that the benefits of the investments can accrue for fish and so that the bureau's efforts can be properly monitored and evaluated through time.

However, about a third of the costs associated with the HCP are to pay a portion of the future costs for groundwater since providing flow releases will mean that we will use the wells more frequently. These costs will be relatively constant over the course of the 50 years. Additionally many of the bureau's anticipated investments for the HCP can be capitalized and paid for over the course of decades. This allows the bureau to spread out and "smooth" much of the rate impacts of the HCP over longer periods of time.

The net result is that about $30 million of the estimated $95 million are costs incurred during the first ten years of the HCP (about $19 million in years 1 - 5 and $11 million in years 6-10). From year 11 on, the anticipated costs incurred against the remaining $65 million are relatively evenly spread out (about $1.6 million a year).

By the way, fish flows are a factor but they are not the main driver for how much groundwater the bureau needs to use in a particular year-- municipal demand and weather are still the biggest drivers. Managing for all these factors, we believe groundwater will constitute less than 10% of the water we will be supplying in 7 out of 8 years through 2025. In that remaining 1 out of 8 years, we anticipate serving a maximum of 25% groundwater to meet municipal demand and provide fish flows.

David, what water service population estimates are you using for 2025 and 2050?

Mr. Shaff - How about the idea of that third reservoir? I've heard that bandied about for years, and personally, that sounds like a much more attractive idea then pulling more water from the wells. Has there been any further discussion on this?


I asked staff to respond to the last two questions. The answers are long, but fairly comprehensive. I appreciate the forum to provide information about what we are doing.

David Shaff

1. Regarding the bureau's projections for service area population over the next half century.

The information below assumes the following:
• The Portland wholesale service areas will remain the same.
• Future additional wholesale demand will grow based on the current ratio of consumption of PWB water by each wholesale customer. This simply means that we are anticipating serving some, but not all of the future growth of our wholesale customers (unless they currently receive 100% PWB water). The current wholesale water sales agreement doesn't require us to serve any of the future growth of the wholesale customers.
• The numbers below assume ongoing proportionate use of PWB water from our wholesale customers-- the numbers are not simply the sum of our wholesale and retail service area populations.
There are two sets of numbers below. The first (top) set is based on the old Metro population forecast which forecast out to 2025. This is the forecast the bureau has used in developing the groundwater use and cost estimates for the HCP. Metro doesn't provide actual population forecasts beyond about 25 years, so the 2050 and 2060 numbers are simply estimates derived by applying a straight-line yearly growth projection to the 2025 number using the rate in the third column that was anticipated by Metro. The year 2060 is included since that is closer to the final year of the HCP (2058).

The second set of numbers is derived from the latest Metro population forecasts that go out to 2030. They are slightly higher but are fairly close to the previous population forecast. Again, the 2050 and 2060 numbers are simply estimates based on the average growth rate provided by Metro. You can see that Metro anticipates somewhat higher growth in PWB's service area than it did five years ago.

Year Pop Growth/Yr
HCP Pop based on Gen 2 (OLD) 2025
2050 935,904
1,057,579 0.52%
2060 1,106,249

HCP Pop based on Gen 2.3 (GIS) 2030
2050 995,728
1,125,168 0.65%
2060 1,189,888

2. Dam 3.
The simplest answer to why the bureau is not actively planning for the construction of a third dam and reservoir in the Bull Run Watershed is that based on current and anticipated water demands through 2030, we cannot make a case that we actually need such a huge increment of additional storage. This is particularly the case when the very high costs and extremely difficult regulatory permitting issues are considered. Another key cost and political consideration is that a third dam and reservoir could not be constructed without a filtration plant being installed downstream to protect water quality during construction The bureau has adequate capacity to meet its current demands and anticipated demands (including fish flows) for the next 20 plus years. If the bureau does find itself needing to meet additional supply over the next two to three decades, it is likely that those needs will be incremental which would allow the bureau to more cost effectively meet these needs through incremental expansions in system supply either by adding some storage to Dam 2, expanding groundwater either at Columbia South shore or any of the other existing groundwater locations and through more effective conservation measures.

There was active discussion of constructing a third dam in the late 1990's and early 2000's when the Water Bureau anticipated that it would need to meet all of the future water demands for the region. Subsequent to those discussions, some of the bureau's key wholesale customers have either developed or are in the process of developing their own separate supplies and the bureau has negotiated a new wholesale water sales agreement that limits the city's obligations to provide water to support the growth of its wholesale customers.

There are always wildcards that could bring back serious discussion of a third reservoir including significant changes to the hydrology of Bull Run due to climate change; however, we don't anticipate significant changes in the hydrology based on our current set of climate change studies. Less likely, but still possible would be extreme growth in wholesale demand requiring a significant expansion in supply. That is less likely only because the current sales agreement protects the City from being obligated to supply the wholesale customers any more water than it currently does. Any increase in wholesale demand could only occur if the City chose to meet those demands in which case the city would have the opportunity to ensure it has adequate supplies or to plan for supply expansion before taking on additional demands.

Sorry about the graph above. This should be better:

HCP Pop based on Gen 2 (OLD)

Year Population Growth/Yr
2025 935,904 0.52%
2050 1,057,579
2060 1,106,249

HCP Pop based on Gen 2.3 (GIS)

Year Population Growth/Yr
2030   995,728 0.65%
2050  1,125,168
2060  1,189,888

Mr Shaff:

It is so refreshing to see someone from a notable rank in the government readily opening the doors to public inquiry and shining such a direct and unflinching light on the city's thinking process.

After so many years of Mr. Bush's and the Dark-one's obfuscating machinations and backroom deceptions in what was supposed to be a "transparent" government, I was getting the feeling that all government agencies had become the mouth pieces of private interests and private sector style governance. Cynically, I expect all information to be greased for spin. You seem an exception.

I still think salmon are better on a plate than in a river.


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