the film
Commentaries and editorials

Environmentalists Give Dams Failing Marks

by Nicholas K. Geranios, The Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 3, 2003

SPOKANE -- Four dams on the Snake River continue to raise water temperatures to dangerously high levels for endangered salmon, an environmental group contended Wednesday.

The dams include Ice Harbor, which President Bush visited in late August to declare that federal efforts to restore salmon numbers were working.

But the activist group American Rivers said that even on the day of Bush's visit, the water temperature behind Ice Harbor Dam was 71 degrees, 3 degrees higher than the federal Clean Water Act standard of 68 degrees.

"Because of the lower Snake River dams, the water temperature in the river is hot for weeks on end, creating harmful and sometimes lethal conditions for young salmon," said Michael Garrity of American Rivers' office in Seattle. "It's like having your children swim laps in a hot tub."

The group gave failing marks to federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Fisheries, which is charged with restoring salmon runs.

Brian Gorman of NOAA-Fisheries disagreed with the grade.

"We are making substantial headway on improving habitat and hatcheries and dams," Gorman said.

"The problem is snapshot criticism where they look at one or two aspects of salmon recovery for an instant and say `it's awful, so the feds are failing,'" Gorman said. "You also could say `it's great and they are succeeding.'"

Biologists must look at long-term trends, and those indicate that salmon numbers have been improving since some runs were listed as endangered in the 1990s, Gorman said.

Salmon require plenty of cold water for their migrations between spawning groups and the Pacific Ocean.

In addition to raising water temperature, the dams do not release adequate water downstream to help the fish migrate, American Rivers contended.

On the Snake River, federal dam managers failed to achieve spring salmon water flow targets nearly 75 percent of the time, and summer flow targets more than 90 percent of the time, the group said.

Snake River summer water temperature standards were violated over 75 percent of the time, the group said.

In May, U.S. District Judge James A. Redden of Portland, Ore., threw out the government's Columbia and Snake rivers salmon recovery plan as inadequate and gave the Bush administration one year to come up with a new plan.

In April 2001, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was ordered by another federal judge in a separate case to come up with a plan to bring the four lower Snake River dams into compliance with the Clean Water Act temperature standard of 68 degrees. That issue is still in court.

While an upswing in ocean survival has contributed to strong runs of mostly hatchery salmon for the last three years, wild Snake River salmon and steelhead are still in danger of extinction.

For instance, only 12 sockeye salmon made it past the dams to Redfish Lake in central Idaho this year.

Nicholas K. Geranios, The Associated Press
Environmentalists Give Dams Failing Marks
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 3, 2003

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation