Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) are comprised of three pods; J, K & L. Their combined 2019 population is at a 35 year low of approximately 75 individuals. They were originally listed as Endangered by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2005. J pod generally stays within Puget Sound & the Salish Sea while K & L pods will migrate along coastal waters.
Unlike other whales, the SRKW feed only on salmon, primarily Chinook salmon which are listed as a threatened species in Puget Sound as of March 1999. Chinook salmon are the largest and most fatty, nutrient-rich salmon species and are essential to the whales’ survival. Each whale needs between 150 and 300 lbs. of salmon per day to survive. There aren’t enough Chinook and other salmon now to feed the whales.
The Salmon Power program will let energy customers participate in Chinook salmon and Orca whale recovery simply by checking a box on their energy bill!
Puget Sound Chinook salmon populations have not met state and federal agency recovery goals and current populations are deemed insufficient to provide for the whales’ long-term survival. There needs to be both an immediate increase in Chinook production and a long-term strategy to maintain healthy populations of both Chinook and whales. The Governor’s Orca Task Force has developed recommendations primarily to increase Chinook salmon. A recovery budget proposal is presented at $1.07 Billion for 2019-21.
The figure below illustrates the spawner abundance shortfall in Chinook recovery goals set by the National Marine Fisheries Service for each Puget Sound river system. Notice the decline and shortfall for the Puyallup River (lower right side of graphic).
The Puyallup River is host to the Electron Hydropower Project. The Project is located at river mile 41.7, about 7 miles downstream and west of Mt. Rainier National Park. The Project began operation in 1904 as a run-of-river diversion supplying water to a 26 MW powerplant via a ten-mile long wooden flume. The Project produces enough energy for more than 20,000 homes. The original 1904 diversion obstructed upstream fish passage and did not prevent fish from entering the flume and becoming entrained in the Project.
In 2001 a fish ladder was installed at the diversion allowing upstream migrating salmon access to approximately 26 miles of river habitat above the intake for the first time in nearly 100 years. Downstream migrating salmon could still enter the flume at the intake however. Shortly thereafter a continuous trap & haul facility was installed at the end of the flume in the forebay. Salmon were then transported back to the river by tank truck and released downstream of the powerhouse.
In November 2014, Electron Hydro, LLC (EH) purchased the Project from Puget Sound Energy (PSE). EH proposed an aggressive program to develop an intake screen to prevent fish (and sediment) from entering the flume and returning both to the river immediately downstream of the diversion unharmed. The first phase of construction of this project was initiated Summer 2018 and is anticipated to be completed Fall 2022. When completed, the screening project will be the most beneficial improvement for Chinook salmon on the Puyallup River according to the local Salmon Habitat Protection and Restoration Strategy for Puyallup and Chambers Watersheds, June 2018.
There are numerous additional possibilities to increase Chinook populations in Puget Sound and along the west coast. The Puyallup River is especially well suited and currently regarded as one of the highest priority watersheds for salmon recovery.
EH and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians (PTI) Fisheries Department have been collaborating to identify additional specific Chinook salmon enhancement projects that are the most feasible and productive in the near term with the resources available.
To date, EH has provided maintenance of existing PTI rearing ponds on the upper Puyallup River and agreed to design and build a new rearing pond in 2019 for PTI on Ohop Creek, a Puyallup tributary. EH has also initiated an intent to work with PTI on a plan to rehabilitate the two existing PTI rearing ponds upstream of the Electron diversion, with all appropriate measures, for rearing Chinook. The rehabilitated ponds would be able to provide Chinook salmon rearing capacity by Spring 2020.
The PTI and EH enhancement efforts are consistent with the Governor’s March 2018 Executive Order directing state agencies to take immediate action to help the struggling Orca population and establish the SRKW recovery task force. (Subsequently, the Task Force developed recommendations that resulted in a nearly $1.07 billion comprehensive Chinook and Orca recovery program, yet to be funded. Again, the number 1 recommendation being to increase Chinook abundance.)
Hydropower projects are often well situated to participate in salmon enhancement programs. Although hydropower projects usually have license and regulatory requirements to minimize adverse impacts on salmon, they also have opportunities to go beyond mitigation and provide a net increase in Chinook population enhancement. The Electron project is one example of a hydropower project that can substantially enhance Chinook and Orca recovery with adequate public and agency support.
EH owns 10 miles of Puyallup River frontage, possesses multiple water rights, can manage river flows, has personnel, heavy equipment and 24-hr staff availability. EH employs a full spectrum of professional and operational staff with extensive knowledge and supportive capacity for water projects. EH staff designs, obtains permits, builds, and operates project facilities in a very cost-effective manner. A new voluntary Chinook salmon enhancement facility is now in the design/feasibility stage on EH property.
Hydropower and salmon share common waters. Developing these renewable resources together will result in the greatest public benefit. Hydropower projects are uniquely able to assist in enhancing Chinook salmon and Orca whales as well.
Electron Hydro LLC (EH) proposes that suitable electric utilities who sell and distribute energy develop a new consumer power purchase elective option known as “Salmon Power”. This consumer power purchase option would be like Puget Sound Energy’s existing “Green Power”, “Solar Choice” and “Green Direct” programs that allow a consumer or institution to pay directly for each specific energy generation type, source location or for a specific project.
A Salmon Power customer, at their option, could check a box with a value of; $1.00, $5.00, $10.00, or $other on their monthly utility bill and pay the amount in addition to their base electricity use charge. This money would go to support or reimburse Chinook enhancement projects developed by hydropower companies like Electron.
The EH proposal would identify and develop specific Chinook enhancement projects on a rolling basis. The first salmon project would be constructed entirely with company capital, collecting reimbursement from the Salmon Power program. From there, the next following project would be initiated. For instance, a utility purchasing Electron energy (presently Puget Sound Energy) would pay EH the base Power Purchase Agreement energy price plus the Salmon Power premium collected from the retail customer program participants each month to reimburse the construction and/or operation of each salmon enhancement project. Other utilities could participate in the Salmon Power program for the recovery of Chinook and Orca as an active community partner as well. Each new generator or utility would propose their own projects.
All eligible projects would provide a basic project description, sponsor/builder, production goals and results upon completion and operation. Projects could be selected from WRIA Salmon Habitat Restoration Plans and other existing sources. Projects would report results on websites.
The program would be entirely voluntary. Eligible projects would be built first then reimbursed. Customers could choose to purchase additional Salmon Power funding for multiple projects if desired. The program would provide an easy low cost opportunity for citizens to participate in Chinook salmon and Orca whale recovery. EH notes that Washington State collects voluntary donations for State Parks with vehicle registration renewals and fish and wildlife program donations from personalized license plate purchases. Citizens support popular resources!
In the private sector, Puget Sound Energy with 1.1 million electrical customers estimates that more than 55,000 customers participate in their various “Green Energy” programs. Puget Sound Energy has indicated a willingness to participate in such a Salmon Power program. Current public sentiment suggests strong support for Chinook salmon and Orca whale recovery efforts.
The program could be easily introduced with little or no regulatory objection and replicated in multiple power utility service areas in Washington as well as along the West Coast where hydropower is prevalent. After all, Chinook and Orcas are found as far south as Monterey Bay!
The Salmon Power program will give consumers an option to participate in Chinook salmon and Orca whale recovery while enjoying clean renewable energy made locally in the great northwest!
Center for Whale Research. https://www.whaleresearch.com/
SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALE PRIORITY CHINOOK STOCKS REPORT NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife June 22, 2018