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Commission recap 6-08-2021: Equipment Upgrades to Benefit Grant PUD’s Fish Counting Efforts

Seasonal field work is well underway for Grant PUD's Fish and Wildlife Department and with the help of the appropriate safety protocols, more project area work is taking place this year compared to last year due to the impacts of the pandemic.

Fish and Wildlife Manger, Tom Dresser highlighted the department's efforts on a comprehensive review analysis of Grant PUD's hatchery monitoring and evaluation program. The review is a 10-year requirement that is based on existing data and information and will determine if the objectives of the hatchery program are being met. A draft of the report is anticipated to be shared with external stakeholders in July with a final report delivered to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by the end of the year.

Dresser told commissioners the outcomes of the report will inform the utility's future hatchery program obligations per its license agreement. Based on the initial analysis, he is not anticipating any major changes to the program's existing fish production goals.

The fish video counting system in the fishways at Wanapum and Priest Rapids Dams have recently received upgrades in time for the 2021 fish counting season. Improvements include new cameras and software that replaced older equipment that was becoming obsolete and less reliable. The upgrades provide a more dependable system that will help the fish counters more accurately track the movement of fish past the dams.

Dresser said the group is also looking into the possible implementation of artificial intelligence-based technology to supplement existing fish counting efforts. Similar technologies are being used by other dam operators to help with their fish counting requirements. Dresser said the first step is to see if incorporating any existing AI capabilities would improve overall accuracy or the efficiency of Grant PUD's current system.

Other activities highlighted during Tuesday's departmental report included:

  • Developing a preventative maintenance plan for the Grant PUD-owned fish facilities, which include the Priest Rapids, Nason Creek and Carlton facilities. The plan is anticipated to be finalized later this year.
  • Determining next steps for the Carlton Acclimation Facility with regards to installation of a new domestic and production well. Potential costs have escalated from construction estimates completed prior to the pandemic.
  • Working on with other dam operators in the Mid-Columbia on developing formal operating protocols for the implementation of the Hanford Reach Fall Chinook Protection Agreement.
  • Efforts to reduce avian predators throughout the Columbia River Basin

Hear the discussion beginning at 34:55 on the commission audio. See the full report on pages 21-32 of the presentation materials.

Commissioners also:

— Heard from Manager of Cultural Resources Brett Lenz that the staff at the Wanapum Heritage Center has been working to refresh displays and ensure the center is ready to safely reopen to the public, once it's able to open. No opening date has yet been set. The center, 6 miles south of the Mattawa roundabout on State Route 243, has been closed since early 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wanapum are compiling video and information for a "virtual museum" that will tell their story online, Lenz said. They're also continuing to work with tribal elders to support their ongoing effort to record their native language and teach it to future generations.

Cultural Resources is in the process of hiring a seasonal employee to bolster its Wanapum River patrol operation to protect archeologically important sites around the shoreline. Lenz said looting – theft of Native American artifacts – and erosion are the biggest threats to these areas. He credited the Grant PUD river patrol and the majority of visitors to the shoreline for sharing information to help keep these sites safe. Hear the discussion at 1:27:20 on the commission audio. See the full report on pages 21-32 of the presentation materials.

— Learned that Grant PUD appears on track, through March, of meeting most of its Strategic Plan metrics – key financial and performance targets – for the year. Hear the discussion at 1:55:00 on the commission audio. See the full report on pages 33-49 of the presentation materials.

— Unanimously authorized staff to refinance a $50 million issuance of 3-year bonds set to mature in July. The transaction will give the utility access to this already low-cost credit for an additional 3 years at an interest rate that could potentially be even lower. For more information, see pages 8-33 in the Commission Packet.

— Unanimously authorized the general manager/CEO on behalf of Grant PUD to increase a contract with IMCO General Construction Inc by no more than $4,258,940 for a new contract total of $39,584,485. The extra funds are needed to purchase rock from a commercial quarry to build a secondary dam along the right (Yakima County side), earthen embankment of Priest Rapids Dam for better seismic strength. The project is a federal requirement. The original plan called for the rock to be removed from a nearby quarry on the U.S. Army's Yakima Training Center, but that option became unfeasible due to lengthy permitting times. For more information, see pages 35-44 in the Commission Packet.