Assessment of Potential Effects of Operation of Reclamation Facilities on Pacific Lamprey in Major Tributaries of the Columbia River Basin

Project ID: 35
Principal Investigator: Susan Camp
Research Topic: Fish Passage and Entrainment
Funded Fiscal Years: 2009, 2010 and 2011
Keywords: None

Research Question

Columbia River basin populations of Pacific lamprey (Entisphenus tridentatus) have declined steeply from historic levels in recent years, and there is widespread concern among Federal and State management agencies and Columbia River basin tribes about their continued existence. Lamprey are of great importance to Columbia River tribes because of their subsistence, medicinal, cultural, and ecological values. Reclamation plans to implement two action items in a 2008 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with Lower Columbia River tribes, which includes identifying all Reclamation projects in the Columbia Basin that may affect lamprey, focusing initially on the Umatilla and Yakima Projects and related facilities, and then jointly developing a lamprey implementation plan for Reclamation projects.

This Science and Technology (S&T) project will allow Reclamation to identify water storage and diversion projects that may affect Pacific lamprey and develop management actions or recommend structural modifications that would reduce the potential negative effects of Reclamation operations and facilities on adult and juvenile lamprey. There is action agency support for proactively addressing the lamprey issue in the Columbia River basin. Several Columbia River basin tribes are working actively to restore lamprey. Successful completion of this proposal would contribute substantially to decreasing potential lamprey mortality at Reclamation facilities.

Although the initial study area for this proposal is major tributaries of the Columbia River basin, any information generated regarding criteria for screening or passage improvements would be applicable to Reclamation projects wherever lamprey occur in proximity to Reclamation projects. This proposal would improve the reliability of Reclamation water deliveries by producing effective solutions that Reclamation water managers can use to prevent water conflicts with the environmental demands on water supplies.

Need and Benefit

Reclamation operates and maintains numerous and diverse water storage and diversion projects throughout the Western United States and has contractual obligations to deliver water and power. Continued operation of Reclamation's projects is vital to the economic well-being of a large area of the Western United States, especially rural agricultural areas for providing water and maintaining the reliability of the western electrical power grid. Another component of Reclamation's mission is to understand and evaluate the impacts of its project operations and the resulting implications to the nearby environment, especially as it relates to threatened or endangered species.

Many of Reclamation's irrigation diversions are situated on streams and rivers that are used by, or have the potential to be used by, spawning and rearing lamprey. Many irrigation diversions are screened to a set of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries criteria that protect downstream migrating juvenile salmon; however, screening criteria for juvenile salmon are thought to not provide adequate protection for downstream-migrating juvenile lamprey. Existing salmon ladders on main stem Columbia River dams are constructed according to flow and other NOAA Fisheries criteria for adult salmon and are much less suitable for the relatively weak-swimming adult lamprey. Some new low-flow adult lamprey passage devices have been developed and tested at Bonneville Dam. These have not been studied--much less installed--at smaller Reclamation facilities.

The steep decline in lamprey abundance in Columbia Basin rivers and streams poses not only cultural and subsistence issues for Columbia River basin tribes, but also results in substantial ecological consequences. The benefits to the ecosystem of robust lamprey populations are often overlooked and ignored by fisheries professionals, as well as the general public. For example, robust historic populations of upstream-migrating adult lamprey were thought to provide a more easily accessible supply of food for marine mammals such as the California sea lion and, thus, reduce or buffer potential predation on upstream-migrating adult salmon since lamprey are slower swimmers (and, thus, easier for the sea lions to capture), and the lamprey have a substantially higher oil content and contain more energy per unit weight. In addition, since lamprey grow to adulthood in the ocean and return to freshwater tributaries to spawn, they are an additional source of marine-derived nutrients when they return as adults to spawn and die in Columbia River basin rivers and streams. They also provided sustenance for Columbia River basin tribes.

This S&T proposal is intended to:

* Complement an existing Technical Service Center S&T Proposal: 3732 to provide additional and more detailed information for lamprey passage and survival in the Columbia River basin, consistent with actions in the 2008 MOA

* Test in a laboratory a recently developed behavioral fish guidance device, as well as some existing types of guidance devices

Information obtained from these tests is expected to contribute to the development of screening and guidance criteria specifically for lamprey, since none exist now.

Contributing Partners

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Research Products

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Last Updated: 6/22/20