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Estimate of productive salmon habitat in the Snake River Basin of Idaho, estimate by Pacific Northwest Regional Commission (1976)

  • Q. What about the dams that have no fish passage? Why is the focus on the four LSR dams?

  • A. Breaching four LSR dams would greatly improve the survival of juveniles through the federal hydrosystem migration corridor. Currently, only 1 of 8 fish passes the hydrosystem unscathed. (50% Direct Mortality and 75% Delayed Mortality)

    Idaho's Salmon River basin provides rich habitat for Chinook spawning and rearing. Idaho's Clearwater Basin favors steelhead habitat of which there is copious amounts -- Chinook habitat is more limited.

    Before hydropower development, the Snake River had 5,765 miles of accessible streams for Spring Chinook, 4,065 miles for Summer Chinook and 1,045 miles for Fall Chinook. Below Hells Canyon dam, the Snake River has 3,900 miles of accessible streams for Spring Chinook, 2,200 miles for Summer Chinook and 675 miles for Fall Chinook (from NW Power Council Salmon and Steelhead Losses in the Columbia River Basin, Table 15 - excerpt to the right).

    Idaho's Lemhi River Intensively Monitored Watershed has received large investments toward habitat rehabilitation over the past two decades.

    Accurate estimates of historical production are scarce, but as late as 1926 approximately 20 million eggs were collected from 5,000 female Chinook Salmon in the upper Lemhi River by the US Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, representing a total adult escapement of around 10,000 fish (Gebhards 1959). Average Chinook Salmon escapement in the period of 1954-1958 was 1,300 salmon, with a high of 2,558 salmon in 1957 (Gebhards 1959). The Interior Columbia Basin Technical Recovery Team (ICBTRT) classified the intrinsic steelhead population size in the Lemhi River basin as intermediate and the Chinook Salmon population size as very large, which the latter ranked highest among all of the upper Salmon River basin subpopulations (ICBTRT 2005).

    (bluefish notes: Chinook populations are now counted in the hundreds, approximately 800 in 2015, up from less than one hundred in 2012, and near 200 in 2010.)

    On the Upper Salmon, Sunbeam Dam was constructed in 1909-10 and breached in 1933 or 1934 to allow salmon to continue their run up the Salmon River. Runs continue but at greatly diminished sizes. The year 2018 saw forty Chinook spawners in Stanley Basin where a thousand times that amount spawned just 90 years earlier.

    Chinook were expirated from the Clearwater after Lewiston Dam was completed in 1927 because they could not negotiate the single north ladder. Steelhead were able to pass and continued to thrive. A second ladder was built in 1939 on the south shore that began to pass more steelhead with a promise for chinook. Spring chinook reintroduction began in 1947 and has continued since. After the Lewiston dam was removed in 1973 chinook responded with mixed results. Clearwater spring chinook were not ESA-listed because of their extirpation.

    The Comparative Survival Study (CSS) report also estimated Snake River wild spring/summer Chinook SARs at an MPG scale for the 2006–2016 smolt migration years. SARs were correlated (average r = 0.88) and appeared generally similar among the Snake River spring/summer Chinook MPGs, except that the SARs (LGR-GRA, jacks included) of the unlisted, reintroduced Clearwater River Chinook were somewhat lower (geometric mean 0.46%) than the range of SARs for the other MPGs (0.74% to 1.08%%; Tables B.3–B.14; Figure 4.3). SARs were highest in 2008 and very low in 2006, 2011 and 2014-2016 for all MPGs.
    This has implications for recovering Snake River spring/summer chinook after LSR dam removal. Salmon populations often rebound soon after dam removals, evidence of their resiliency if only given the chance to survive in conditions more closely resembling a natural river. See PSMFC 1998 Resolution below and Natural River Option of "Return to the River", Independent Scientific Group,(1996) to which the resolution refers.
    The Commission recognizes the imperilment and importance of Snake River salmon and steelhead, and the importance of the 1999 Decision Point [*] in setting a course for recovery. The Commission will work collectively to help ensure the 1999 Decision Point is not deferred and that the decision is made with the best available scientific, social, and economic information. Recovery actions must ensure a high probability of providing 2-6% smolt-to-adult survival for inriver migrants of wild Snake River salmon and steelhead stocks. The Commission recognizes that current information indicates the natural river option is currently the best biological choice for recovery. The Commission supports continued work to clarify the biological component of the 1999 Decision Point to ensure the best possible resolution by the end of 1999. The Commission recognizes that biology is only one component of a long-term recovery decision. Social and economic factors are also important and determine whether the decision will be politically sustainable. The Commission encourages decision makers to shift the focus of the debate to pivotal social and economic factors.

    -- Resolution adopted by Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, 51st annual meeting (10/13/98)

    *In 1999 the National Marine Fisheries Service is supposed to make a determination on long-term management of the Snake and Columbia Basins for salmon and steelhead recovery.

  • What about the dams that have no fish passage?

    Surprisingly, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has no oversight over federal dams, including Dworshak Dam on the North Fork Clearwater River and Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams on the Lower Snake River (aka. the four LSR dams). FERC’s mission is to "assist consumers in obtaining reliable, efficient and sustainable energy services at a reasonable cost through appropriate regulatory and market means."

    FERC holds licensing authority of Idaho Power's Hells Canyon Complex of three dams that block Fall Chinook from their natal streams in Southern Idaho.

    The existing license (No. 1971) expired in July 2005. In preparation of the expiration, Idaho Power filed the final license application for the Hells Canyon Complex on July 21, 2003. In December 2009, the company withdrew and resubmitted the Section 401 Water Quality Certification Application to the states of Oregon and Idaho, which must be obtained before a new license can be issued by FERC. Idaho Power will operate on an annual license under the terms and conditions of the prior license until a new license is issued by FERC.

    Current events are strangely awkward. Environmental Affairs Director Brett Dumas writes about Idaho Power's recent legal challenges with Oregon in the Idaho Statesman, "Idaho Power is trying to navigate the tricky waters of relicensing for Hells Canyon dams"

    The company’s three dams in Hells Canyon straddle the Idaho-Oregon border, subjecting us to regulation from both states. Salmon and steelhead below Hells Canyon Dam are on the federal endangered species list. Oregon asserts authority to require passage of non-listed, hatchery-raised salmon and steelhead upstream past the dams. However, this would also allow these fish to enter Idaho waters. Idaho law prohibits reintroduction of fish.

    Here is a list of 60 Columbia Basin dams that were built before Bonneville Dam (taken from
    1892 Wannawish Dam
    1892 Lake Chelan Dam
    1901 Swan Falls Dam
    1904 Barber Dam
    1904 Prosser Dam
    1905 Milner Dam
    1907 Shoshone Falls Dam
    1907 Upper Bonnington Falls Dam
    1907 Sunnyside Dam
    1908 Boise River Diversion Dam
    1908 Mormon Dam (McKinney Creek)
    1908 Bull Run Dam (Sandy)
    1909 Minidoka Dam
    1909 Tumwater Canyon Dam
    1910 Lower Salmon Falls Dam
    1910 Magic Dam
    1910 Bumping Lake Dam
    1911 Jackson Lake Dam
    1911 Blackfoot Dam
    1911 Salmon Falls Dam
    1911 Walterville Dam
    1911 Condit Dam
    1912 Portneuf Dam
    1912 Little Camas Dam (Little Camas Creek)
    1912 Crane Creek Dam (Crane Creek)
    1912 Kachess Dam
    1913 Ashton Dam
    1913 Marmot Dam (Sandy)
    1915 Arrowrock Dam
    1915 Thompson Falls Dam
    1915 Clear Lake Dam(North Fork Tieton)
    1916 Oakley Dam
    1917 Keechelus Dam
    1919 Warm Springs Dam
    1920 Cedar Creek Dam (Cedar Creek)
    1923 Antelope Reservoir Dam (Antelope Creek (Jordan Creek))
    1923 Henrys Lake Dam
    1923 Fish Creek Dam (Fish Creek)
    1923 McKay Dam
    1924 Goose Lake Dam (Goose Creek)
    1924 Black Canyon Diversion Dam
    1925 Lower Bonnington Falls Dam
    1925 Tieton Dam
    1926 Little Payette Lake Dam (Lake Fork)
    1927 American Falls Dam
    1927 Lewiston Dam
    1928 South Slocan Dam
    1929 Lost Valley Dam (Lost Creek(West Fork Weiser River))
    1929 Easton Diversion Dam
    1929 Leaburg Dam
    1930 Harper Diversion Dam
    1931 Wallowa Lake Dam
    1931 Deadwood Dam(Deadwood River)
    1931 Merwin Dam
    1932 Owyhee Dam
    1932 Thief Valley Dam
    1932 Corra Linn Dam
    1933 Cle Elum Dam
    1935 Twin Falls Dam
    1935 Agency Valley Dam(North Fork Malheur River)

    Q. Why is the focus on the four LSR dams?

    Because breaching ot the LSR dams is necessary to bring about the recovery of Idaho's wild Salmon and Steelhead.
    With that recovery comes millions more Chinook to the mouth of the Columbia River, which means more prey for starving Salish Sea Orca.

    Breaching is reversible, extinction and ecosystem collapse is not.

    The concept of sustainability has been increasingly brought into focus as we have become convinced that all systems on earth are interrelated and that many of today’s problems were the solutions of yesterday. Sustainability is, however, a very old concept. Most American Indian cultures understood the importance of sustainability and sustainable development, living in harmony with all things.

    Many people are familiar with the Seventh Generation philosophy commonly credited to the Iroquois Confederacy but practiced by many Native nations. The Seventh Generation philosophy mandated that tribal decision makers consider the effects of their actions and decisions for descendents seven generations into the future. There was a clear understanding that everything we do has consequences for something and someone else, reminding us that we are all ultimately connected to creation.

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