the film
Commentaries and editorials

Don't Blame 'The Blob.' Even with Good
Ocean Conditions, Salmon Face Hostile Rivers.

by Tom Stuart
Idaho Statesman, September 23, 2017

Recent media reports claim the primary cause of a 40-year low in 2017 Idaho salmon and steelhead returns is "the blob," a mass of hot water in the Pacific.

Salmon managers have a responsibility to avoid taking this notion too far. While ocean conditions are an important factor in salmon life-cycle survival, don't forget that salmon and steelhead spend half their lives in lakes and rivers, where salmon policy and action have been negligent, insufficient and illegal for decades. Weather experts also say the ocean will not improve significantly anytime soon. Consequently, the need for stronger freshwater policy and action is immediate and compelling.

Whether the ocean is good or bad, Snake/Columbia dams are still whacking Idaho fish both to and from the Pacific. Juveniles outbound suffer enormous losses. Despite the federal claim of a "97 percent dam passage survival rate" (the heart of a misleading public relations campaign), the cumulative survival of Snake River juveniles after passing eight downriver dams and reservoirs is about 50 percent. Many of the surviving 50 percent are stressed or injured, with death imminent. The fish that survive at sea return as adults to face overheated slackwater that weakens and kills even more of them.

Ocean conditions have nothing to do with these problems. When the "blob" goes away, terrible conditions in the Columbia and Snake rivers still will exist.

Waiting for better ocean conditions, two problems must be solved: 1) The federal Snake/Columbia hydrosystem must be reconfigured to improve life-cycle survival of Idaho salmon; and 2) The reconfiguration must allow more effective strategies to deal with chronically hot water in the Snake and Columbia rivers.

The effects of Snake/Columbia dams and reservoirs is being intensified by a warming climate. Water temperatures in Lower Snake reservoirs climb above 68 degrees every summer, for weeks on end -- adding 4-6 degrees overall to the temperature profile. Water temperatures above 68 degrees begin to harm and kill salmon and steelhead, and the warmer water flowing from Snake reservoirs pushes lethal impacts into the lower Columbia. In 2015, 99 percent of adult Snake River sockeye died in hot water before reaching Central Idaho. This year, despite the strong, cool spring runoff, temperatures have been well above 68 degrees for weeks.

Federal agencies have a long, tortured history of focusing attention, policy, action and recovery dollars on everything except adequately reducing lethal hydrosystem impacts. We cannot reasonably assume that better ocean conditions will eventually solve other critical problems, which leave Idaho salmon too vulnerable to ocean cycles.

If we merely hope that an eventual improvement in ocean conditions will cover for inadequate hydrosystem management and overheated reservoirs, or if we point to "the blob" when Idaho salmon cannot survive dams and reservoirs well enough, ratepayer and taxpayer dollars will continue to be wasted. And we will likely lose wild Idaho salmon.

Poor returns in 2015, and again in 2017, point to more Idaho losses. It is time for political leadership to end this damaging cycle.

Related Pages:
Warm Waters Off West Coast has Lingering Effects for Salmon by Phuong Le, Idaho Statesman, 9/17/17
Remove 4 Dams, Leave These Fish Alone, and They May be Able to Replenish Themselves by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 9/10/17
Everything We're Doing to Replace Vanishing Salmon Might be Killing Them Off Faster by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 9/7/17
A Changing Electrical Grid May Make Snake River Dams Expendable by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 8/6/17
With Shipping Down on Snake River, Farmers Worry About Dams' Future by Rocky Barker, Bellingham Herald, 8/7/17
Northwest Salmon, the Stuff of Legends, Still Struggle to Survive by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 7/8/17
Nature Again Turns Against Returning Fish that Already Face Long Odds by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 5/20/17
Is Snake River Shipping Worth Enough to Keep Dams that Harm Salmon? by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 8/6/17
Fate of Pacific Northwest Orcas Tied to Having Enough Columbia River Salmon by Barker & Peterson, Idaho Statesman, 7/9/17

Video Links:
How the Dams Changed Lewiston, by Ali Rizvi and Sohail Al-Jamea McClatchy, Idaho Statemsan.
Dustin Aherin of Lewiston tells how the dams changed the community he grew up in and how the unfulfilled dream of economic bounty from shipping to the Pacific Ocean has hindered the northern Idaho community's development.

The hydropower posse promotes the dams' importance, by Ali Rizvi and Sohail Al-Jamea McClatchy, Idaho Statemsan.
Will Hart, who represents 130 Idahoans who get their power from the federal dams in Oregon and Washington, explains how important they are to the municipal utilities and rural co-ops that buy their power from the Bonneville Power Administration.

Saving Salmon: Why These Remarkable Fish Matter to the Northwest, by Ali Rizvi and Sohail Al-Jamea McClatchy, Idaho Statemsan.
For hundreds of thousands of years, wild ocean salmon have been coming to the Pacific Northwest. Now, their existence is under threat, along with the communities they support.

Opinions Gathered at Boise Meeting on Dam Salmon Issues, by Staff at the Idaho Statemsan.

A Boise steelhead angler's view on dams, by Staff at the Idaho Statemsan.

Tom Stuart is a longtime board member of Idaho Rivers United and the current chairman of the national Save Our Wild Salmon coalition.
Don't Blame 'The Blob.' Even with Good Ocean Conditions, Salmon Face Hostile Rivers.
Idaho Statesman, September 23, 2017

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