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With Cooler Weather, Snake River Sockeye Showing
Decent Numbers Reaching Lower Granite, Sawtooths

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, August 12, 2016

NOAA Fisheries in June 2015 released a recovery plan for Snake River sockeye
that said recoveryof the fish could take 50 to 100 years and cost over $101 million.

Graphic: Adult sockeye salmon returns to Lower Granite Dam and to Redfish Lake weir on the upper Salmon River, Idaho, 1991-2013. Trapping and hauling listed sockeye will not be necessary this year due to cooler air and water temperatures in the lower Snake River, according to a briefing of Snake River conditions and operations at this week's Northwest Power and Conservation Council meeting.

In 2015, biologists trapped sockeye at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River and hauled them by truck into Idaho as the fish stalled on their migration to Redfish Lake by a blistering thermal barrier at the dam.

Although weather this year started out hot, it has since tempered and "cooled in July to something close to average," Michael Garrity of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife told Council members Tuesday in Polson, Montana.

"Water temperature is warm this year, but it's not like last year," he said, pointing to tailwater at Lower Granite Dam that is consistently lower than the 68 degree Fahrenheit temperature target called for in the 2014 Biological Opinion for Columbia River salmonids and overseen weekly by the Technical Management Team, an interagency panel that guides hydro operations throughout the basin.

(Daily tailwater temperatures at Lower Granite provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

That's much better conditions than in 2015 for the once nearly extinct Snake River sockeye salmon, listed as endangered in November 1991 under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Last year high temperatures consistently exceeded the 68 degree Fahrenheit thermal limit at the dam's fish ladder forming a thermal block beyond which fish would not pass.

NOAA Fisheries in June 2015 released a recovery plan for Snake River sockeye that said recovery of the fish could take 50 to 100 years and cost over $101 million. (See CBB, June 12, 2015, "NOAA Fisheries Releases Snake River Sockeye Salmon Recovery Plan: 25 Years Of Actions At $101 Million")

The plan calls for an average of 1,000 naturally spawned sockeye returning to Redfish Lake each year, with similar targets for other lakes in Idaho's Sawtooth Valley.

Of the 342,270 sockeye salmon that have passed Bonneville Dam in 2016 (as of Wednesday), about 1,300 were destined for the Stanley Basin. The total run of sockeye, which includes fish that head up into the Okanagan River in northern Washington, is far fewer than last year when 510,204 passed Bonneville by the same day, but more than the 10-year average of 284,986.

The story for the fish is different this year: water temperatures are much cooler and the run timing for Snake River sockeye is earlier than then the 10-year average, Garrity said.

The result is better survival than seen in 2015 even though the total run is much smaller.

As of Wednesday, some 799 sockeye -- about 72 percent of the expected run -- had passed Lower Granite Dam, the upper of the four Snake River dams and still in Washington State, while just 401 had passed at this time last year. The 10-year average is 972.

Some 101 Snake River sockeye returned to Idaho last year and just 44 swam all the way to Redfish Lake on their own.

To reach 101, it took a combined effort of trapping at both Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River in Washington state (51 fish) and at the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery on the Salmon River in Idaho's Stanley Basin (6 fish) -- and trucking them to Idaho Fish and Game's Eagle Hatchery near Boise -- plus the 44 fish that migrated from the mouth of the Columbia River to Redfish Lake. The trap and haul operation was approved by NOAA Fisheries and carried out by Idaho Fish and Game and the Nez Perce Tribes.

"This is not a bad migration year for sockeye," according to Paul Kline, biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, who also spoke to the Council Tuesday. "The run is about one week early and we're seeing higher than average survival."

He said that almost 90 percent of the 2015 run did not make it even to McNary Dam. The 10-year survival average to the dam is under 70 percent, but this year "close to 70 percent of the run will make it from McNary to Lower Granite," he added.

The average survival for the remainder of the journey is just under 40 percent. "I hope it will be at least that high or higher," Kline said.

As of August 8, about 177 fish had made it to the Stanley Basin, and Kline predicts a total of 300 to 400 of the fish will eventually make it into the Basin on their own. From Lower Granite, many still have about 460 kilometers (286 miles) to go up the warmer Salmon River and into the Basin.

He said the conversion rate this year from Bonneville to Lower Granite is about 60 percent and about 40 percent from Lower Granite into the Basin. Conversion rate is the percentage of fish that survive from one point to another.

From 1985 to 1990 only 58 wild sockeye returned to Idaho.

Before the turn of the twentieth century, an estimated 150,000 sockeye returned annually to the Snake River basin.

The sockeye in those days ascended the Snake River to the Wallowa River basin in northeastern Oregon and the Payette and Salmon River basins in Idaho to spawn in natural lakes. Within the Salmon River basin, sockeye spawned in Warm Lake in the South Fork Salmon River basin, as well as in the Sawtooth Valley lakes: Stanley, Redfish, Yellowbelly, Pettit and Alturas Lakes. A smaller Sawtooth Valley lake, Hellroaring Lake, may have also supported some sockeye.

In addition to cooler weather this year in the lower Snake River, the conditions have been kept cooler by cold water releases from Dworshak Dam on the North Fork of the Clearwater River.

According to Kline, the temperature in the Clearwater River just upstream from where the North Fork enters the mainstem is almost 75 degrees F now and can get up to 80 degrees later in August. However, releases of as much as 12,000 cubic feet per second of 45 degree Dworshak water that is pulled from the bottom of the Dworshak Reservoir mixes with the Clearwater, essentially cooling the Clearwater temperature to 52 degrees. Current flow from Dworshak is about 10 kcfs, a flow that will continue through August before it begins to drop off.

Three days after it is released from Dworshak Dam that pulse or "wedge" of cold water reaches Lower Granite Dam.

In addition, since last year the Corps has installed a permanent adult fish ladder water cooling system that pulls cold water from deep in the Lower Granite forebay into the fish ladder, NOAA Fisheries' Trevor Condor told the Council.

A similar device at Little Goose Dam is also operating. It pumps water from a 60 foot depth in the Little Goose reservoir, where there is 63 degree water, into the dam's fish ladder. Surface water highs at the dam are in the 70s, according to the Corps.

(See Corps' information on the project and CBB, June 17, 2016, "Corps Moves Forward On Fish Passage Improvements At Lower Granite Dam, Includes Fish Ladder Cooling").

Still, the sockeye face some warm conditions as they migrate past Lower Granite Dam and up through the Salmon River where water temperature is in the 70s.

"It's in the 70-degree plus range every year and the sockeye successfully manage this move -- quickly," Kline said. "They average about 14 to 16 miles a day after they leave Lower Granite."

Related Pages:
Corps Report On 2015 Columbia/Snake Warm Water, Fish Die-Off Will Discuss Actions To Avoid Repeat" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, April 1, 2016
"Report Analyzes Impacts, Causes Of This Year's Warm Fish-Killing Water In Columbia/Snake" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 6, 2015
Snake River Sockeye: Lowest Return Since 2007, Captive Broodstock Program Increases Spawners" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 11, 2015
Smoke, Lower Air Temperatures Keep Lower Snake Cooler; 33 Sockeye Make It To Redfish Lake Trap" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, August 28, 2015
Last of Dworshak Water For August? 400 Snake River Sockeye Between Lower Granite, Sawtooth Basin" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, August 14, 2015

Related Sites:
First Snake River Sockeye Of The Year Makes It To Sawtooth Valley; No Passage Issues At Dams" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 22, 2016
Compared To Last Year, Cooler Temperatures Seem To Be Giving Snake River Sockeye A Break" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 5, 2016
"Steps Taken To Cool Warming Lower Snake, Reduce Thermal Blocks During Large Basin Sockeye Return" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 1, 2016
Columbia Basin Salmon/Hydro Managers Gear Up For Another Hot Summer: Will Sockeye Get Slammed Again?" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 24, 2016
"Post-Mortem 2015 Snake River Sockeye Run; 90 Percent Of Fish Dead Before Reaching Ice Harbor Dam" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, December 4, 2015
First Snake River Sockeye Reaches Sawtooth Basin; Fish Trapped At Lower Granite Taken to Hatchery" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 31, 2015
"NOAA Fisheries Releases Snake River Sockeye Salmon Recovery Plan: 25 Years Of Actions At $101 Million" by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 12, 2015

With Cooler Weather, Snake River Sockeye Showing Decent Numbers Reaching Lower Granite, Sawtooths
Columbia Basin Bulletin, August 12, 2016

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