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Commission Recap 4-14-2020: Feds approve Grant PUD's Shoreline Management Plan

Grant PUD commission meetings are being held via video conference until the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided. The meetings are recorded. Links and timestamps are below. Members of the public may also listen in to the live meeting by calling an access telephone number and punching in the conference number. See instructions under the day's meeting materials at grantpud.org.

Feds approve Grant PUD's Shoreline Management Plan

Commissioners approved modifications to Grant PUD's four existing Public Recreation Development Plans for neighboring communities along the Columbia River, while also approving a recently developed Public Recreation Development Plan for the Columbia Cliffs community just west of Crescent Bar.

Plans for Desert Aire, Crescent Bar, Sunland, and Vantage were originally developed in 2015, but recently revised to ensure consistency with Grant PUD's updated Shoreline Management Plan. The Shoreline Management Plan outlines Grant PUD's policies related to managing the lands encompassed by the Priest Rapids Project boundary.

Manager of Lands and Recreation Shannon Lowry told commissioners the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC's) recent approval of the updated Shoreline Management Plan is a "milestone that culminates two decades of efforts by staff and support from the Grant PUD Commission."

Commissioner Tom Flint added that the efforts sum up many years of hard work by the district and its employees. "It's really good to see it come to a conclusion," Flint said.

The approved Public Recreation Development Plans ensure adequate public access to the Priest Rapids Project is available in areas adjacent to local communities within the Project area, while also protecting the areas' natural and cultural resources. The plans also help to reduce compliance and financial risks for the utility by ensuring communities adjacent to Grant PUD property adhere to district policies, FERC license obligations, and other regulatory compliance requirements.

Lowry also updated the commissioners regarding the difficult decision last month to close Grant PUD's recreation areas and facilities. The closures are consistent with decisions by other state agencies and regional recreation providers to comply with the governor's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order.

Lowry said what's exactly ahead for the upcoming summer season is unknown and dependent on the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted that once the quarantine is lifted, Lands and Recreation staff may see either an influx of visitors to the recreation sites or possibly the opposite scenario where people are more tentative to visit right away.

Grant PUD continues to take online reservations for the Crescent Bar campground beyond May 4, although payments for the reservations will not be collected until it is known when the campground will re-open. No reservations are being taken for other Grant PUD campsites at this time. Smaller-scaled crews continue to periodically visit each recreation area, monitoring for vandalism and performing any necessary clean-up activities at each recreation area.

Lowry said when the timing is right, the decision to re-open the recreation areas will be consistent with similar actions of other state agencies and recreation providers.

See the full presentation here on pages 21-30 and listen to the discussion which begins at 1:38:20 on the first commission audio file.

Power Production projects slowed but not stalled by COVID-19 response

Dam operations are meeting performance targets year-to-date, even though much of the Power Production staff is working from home or on an on-call basis to protect employees, contractors and customers from the COVID-19 coronavirus, commissioners heard Tuesday.

Work on projects and maintenance has slowed to prioritize employee safety, especially those employees critical to keeping dams generating and systems operating, Ty Ehrman, managing director of Power Production, told commissioners. Talks are underway to be ready for a worse-case scenario when, if necessary, some operations staffers would have to remain on site to protect themselves from the virus and keep the dams generating.

The group spent 88.3% of its total $75.2 million budget in 2019 and has spent 4.4% of its $103.23 million total budget for 2020.

Power Production's biggest project is a new $33.4 million embankment on the Yakima County side of Priest Rapids Dam. The project, a federal mandate to improve the embankment's seismic resistance, has been delayed from a planned April 1 start date to sometime in June due mainly to delays in permitting, Ehrman said. Work to rehab turbine/generator units at the dams has slowed as part of the COVID-19 response.

Maintenance has refocused on critical work. Through June, the group will continue managing the effects of COVID-19 safety measures, focus on emergency preparedness and improve its ability to identify and reschedule critical work, Ehrman said.

See the full presentation here on pages 1-18 and listen to the discussion which begins at 00:54:00 on the first commission audio file.

Power failure at acclimation facility results in fish loss

A power failure April 11 and subsequent equipment failure at a remote fish-acclimation facility near Omak, in Okanogan County, resulted in the death of 5,000 of Grant PUD's approximately 20,000 juvenile steelhead on site, commissioners learned Tuesday.

A cause investigation was underway during the commission discussion. Grant PUD Fish and Wildlife Manager Tom Dresser provided more details after the meeting.

The power failure to the site was the result of trees falling on area powerlines. The backup generator was activated at the time of the main power failure. A problem with a transfer switch resulted in power remaining off to the site even after the main power was restored and the generator shut off. An inspection revealed that a loose connection to the solenoid caused the failure.

Power is necessary to keep pumps working, circulating water to keep it oxygenated in the tanks. The fish died when oxygen became depleted. Dresser said losses could have been worse.

"Anytime you lose fish, it has an impact on the overall program, especially to a program on Omak Creek where the goal is to develop a locally adapted broodstock population," Dresser stated. "It is extremely fortunate that the loss was not greater."

Most of the loss occurred among the larger juveniles that were ready to be released. Larger fish require more oxygen than smaller fish. The steelhead acclimated at the facility are released into Omak Creek, which empties into the Okanogan River, which flows into the Columbia River near Bridgeport/Brewster area.

The steelhead are "acclimated" or kept in tanks with a mix of Omak Creek water before release. They "imprint" on the creek and return there to spawn.

The facility is owned and operated by the Colville Confederated Tribes and is on tribal land, but Grant PUD and the Bureau of Indian Affairs provided the funds to build/install the infrastructure. The facility's two, 20-foot-diameter circular tanks each have capacity for 10,000 steelhead.

Grant PUD has a federal obligation to release 100,000 juvenile summer steelhead annually, Dresser said. The Colville facility acclimated 20,000 of that total. The remaining 80,000 are reared at the Wells Hatchery, owned and operated by Douglas County PUD.

The fish that we lost will not necessarily be replaced, but Grant PUD could still meet its 100,000 target for steelhead this year.

During broodstock collection additional adult steelhead are captured and spawned to manage for potential natural losses that typically occur in a hatchery during the incubation and early rearing life, including poor fertilization, disease and poor health. Grant PUD scales up this collection by 10% to anticipate for potential losses.

Commissioners also:

Approved a change to Grant PUD's 2020 strategic plan to better reflect ongoing work to improve Grant PUD's overall organizational performance through better job satisfaction and opportunities for employees.

Strategies include recruiting to obtain and retain best-in-class workforce, translate Grant PUD values into employee behaviors, foster a vibrant employee association, create a deliberate and continuous learning process, articulate and reinforce a desired leadership culture and deliver an industry-leading educational reimbursement program.

Wording changes affect the plan's "Objective 2" — Design and sustain an engaging and fulfilling Grant PUD culture.

"The language we've got here is really going to set the tone for the organizational culture, Tom Stredwick, senior manager of Organizational Development, told commissioners. "It's neat to be creating something that will outlast a lot of us."

See the full presentation here on pages 19-20 and listen to the discussion which begins at 1:17:10 on the commission audio file.

— Heard how the Grant PUD Risk Management Team is building on a risk analysis-and-mitigation program that has been developing over the last couple years. Paul Dietz, manager of Enterprise Risk, described the risk modeling he's done to track evolving risk levels from the pandemic. That data has been a driver of Grant PUD's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent policy updates, he, said will give him and his team better tools to more effectively manage risk.

"The ability to analyze the COVID risk to us and are customers is huge," Commission President Tom Flint said.

General Manager and CEO Kevin Nordt pointed to the risk team's work beyond COVID-19, which includes loss prevention, analysis that allowed Grant PUD to tap more of its reserve funding and work to lower fire danger at the dams, reducing an insurance premium.

"This really shows the value of this kind of enterprise risk program," Nordt said. "It goes toward producing long-term stable, predictable results."

See the full presentation here on pages 31-41 and listen to the discussion which begins at 36:00 on the second commission audio file.

- Heard about efforts to prepare for the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's upcoming audit of the utility, currently scheduled for August.

Manager of Compliance and Programs, Gene Austin discussed with the commission the impacts COVID-19 may have on the audit. Although he anticipates the audit, a portion of which relies on in-person visits, will still occur but could potentially involve increased use of telecommunications tools involved in some of its aspects.

Austin reviewed key elements the regulators will be reviewing during this year's audit. Grant PUD has approximately 1,200 regulations that NERC may review during the audit.

The compliance group is working with third-party consultant to review the utility's readiness for NERC's audit, which gauges if Grant PUD is complying with industry requirements for service reliability.

See the full presentation here on pages 42-52 and listen to the discussion which begins at 01:14:20 on the commission audio.