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Fish Finding Themselves in Hot Water

by Associated Press
Spokesman Review, August 18, 2001

Temperatures in Snake hit dangerous levels for steelhead

LEWISTON -- Temperatures in the Snake River this week climbed to dangerously high levels for steelhead, dramatically slowing their migration through the four lower Snake River dams.

Water in the four reservoirs hit the mid-70s -- temperatures experts say pose a lethal threat to the fish.

"It just increases susceptibility to the large number of things that could happen," said Sharon Kiefer, anadromous fish coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

At Lower Granite Dam, the last the fish cross to reach spawning beds in Idaho, the water temperature hit 76 degrees last Wednesday and only 12 steelhead were counted climbing the fish ladder.

Fisheries officials had predicted as many as 200,000 steelhead could return to the Snake River this fall, but Kiefer said the heat wave could shrink that number. Still, she said that with more than 370,000 steelhead already past Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, the run to the Snake should be at least 100,000.

"Two hundred thousand is still possible, but if you asked me today, that is not the forecast I would put on the table," Kiefer said.

Right now biologists and anglers are at the mercy of nature.

"There is not a lot we can do at this point in time except hope for moderation in the weather," Kiefer said.

Steelhead continued to enter the Snake River from the Columbia in large numbers but passage through the four dams has slowed. Early last week, more than 1,100 steelhead were counted at Ice Harbor Dam, the first of the four, and nearly 1,300 at Lower Monumental Dam. But only 35 steelhead cleared Little Goose Dam, and just a dozen moved past Lower Granite.

Dworshak reservoir has been releasing about 10,000 cubic feet of 48-degree water per second since July 4 to cool the Snake River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to begin reducing those releases next weekend.

If the heat persists after that, a thermal block could develop at the mouth of the Snake, discouraging fish from leaving the Columbia for the warmer water, Steve Pettit, a fish passage specialist for the department, said.

Associated Press
Fish Finding Themselves in Hot Water
Spokesman Review, August 18, 2001

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