he Bonneville Power Administration Fish and Wildlife Program funds hundreds of projects each year to mitigate for the impacts of the development and operation of the federal hydropower system on fish and wildlife. The agency has an Estuary Team of biologists, environmental planners and policy analysts thatpartner with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to implement the Columbia Estuary Ecosystem Restoration Program.The team also works with regional restoration experts from tribal, federal, state and local organizations to carry out habitat restoration projects in the Columbia River estuary and Willamette River Basin. BPA funds these projects that primarily benefit young salmon and steelhead migrating to the ocean.
'Our biggest priority is reconnecting historical floodplain habitats to provide direct and indirect rearing benefits for juvenile salmonids before they reach the ocean,' said Jason Karnezis, Estuary Team lead. 'We have time-lapse photography showing that by modifying or removing man-made blockages to historic habitat, the floodplain is reconnected and that land becomes immediately available for fish. You can't see the nutrients starting to move, but it's happening and that's really important for young fish before they exit to the ocean-it's like knowing that my kids are going to take their vitamins.'
This dedicated team has a keen interest in aquatic ecosystems and finding ways to improve them for salmonids. They've worked together a long time, valuing and practicing collaborative problem-solving while navigating the challenges common to these types of habitat restoration projects. They've learned that resolution between BPA and its partners is always within reach. They acknowledge and appreciate that their partners at the Columbia Land Trust, Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce, Estuary Partnership, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and Washington Department of Wildlife have all contributed significantly to the conservation, understanding and restoration of estuary habitats.
How does your team support BPA's mission and strategy?
The Estuary Team, with the National Marine Fisheries Service, creates policy, structure and guidance to meet obligations spelled out in the Endangered Species Act and Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Statement. The estuary program routinely incorporates lessons learned from on-the-ground research, monitoring and implementation actions to continually integrate science and practical solutions to reconnect historic floodplains and wetlands to the Columbia River's tidal flows.
How is your organization supporting BPA's efforts to reduce costs
We routinely coordinate with our restoration partners to update and forecast expenses for a given fiscal year and identify opportunities where sharing costs can result in more effective projects. The Steigerwald Floodplain Reconnection Projectnear Camas, Washington, slated for completion in 2022, is a good example.
What is this team's biggest priority?
Our biggest priority is opening up historical floodplains in the estuary. In the past, large portions of the estuary floodplain were leveed or otherwise restricted from full tidal connection to allow for agriculture and industry. Research shows that fish benefit from the nutrient flow that occurs when estuary habitat is tidally connected, even if the fish are not directly accessing the reconnected sites. Those nutrients make the river healthier and are critical to juvenile fish diets in their growth and migration from fresh water to the ocean.
What are this team's biggest challenges and how do you tackle them
Current COVID-19 conditions have demanded new approaches to scoping, reviewing and evaluating project opportunities. In the past, we would be in the field with our practitioners and scientists, evaluating both past and proposed projects.
'While there is no substitute for physically being at a project site, we have maintained good communication with our partner organizations that are in the field scoping, designing, constructing and monitoring projects on the ground,' said Karnezis. 'We can also get on project sites virtually, as can the independent expert regional technical group responsible for evaluating the projects. Once we are able to meet in the field, face to face, we would like to continue working with some of the tools we developed for working remotely, to help with communicating progress and addressing project challenges.'
Learn about some of the successful estuary projects by BPA and its partners: