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Salmon Recovery Will Take Idaho Water
If Dams Stay

by N.S. Nokkentved
Times-News, December 18, 1999

TWIN FALLS -- Salmon recovery in the Northwest will take more water from southern Idaho if four federal dams on the lower Snake River stay in place, one federal official says.

The specific measures to recover endangered salmon will depend on the final decisions on the recovery efforts, said Brian Brown, assistant regional administrator for hydro operations with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Many things have contributed to the demise of the salmon -- including over-fishing, logging, grazing, mining, irrigated agriculture, dam building, hatcheries and ocean conditions.

As federal officials and scientists in the Pacific Northwest grapple with saving and recovering populations of endangered salmon, they say improvements in the hydroelectric dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers alone are not going to do it. And neither are improvements in habitat, restrictions on fishing and changes in hatchery operations.

Documents released Friday at a Portland, Ore., news conference suggest that a combination of all these efforts would be required to save the fish.

No major reductions in stored water from Idaho to increase flows and lower water temperature in the lower Snake River are foreseeable even if dams are breached, Brown said.

But if dams are left in, the Fisheries Service would be looking at ways to increase the flows, he said.

Controversy has long surrounded the issue of using stored water from the upper Snake River, which includes southern and eastern Idaho and parts of eastern Oregon, to help endangered salmon.

The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates storage reservoirs in Idaho, releases 427,000 acre-feet from southern and eastern Idaho and 1.2 million acre-feet from Dworshak Reservoir on the Clearwater River, and Idaho Power sends about 237,000 acre-feet from Brownlee Reservoir.

An acre-foot is enough water to cover one acre, one foot deep -- 325,850 gallons or 43,560 cubic feet.

Brown agreed with Idaho water users -- who have criticized using Idaho water to increase flows -- that the Fisheries Service is not going to recover salmon with the water available from Idaho.

Gauging station records dating to 1916, when the first stations were installed, show that stream flows have remained essentially constant, says Karl Dreher, head of the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

And if flows haven't changed, then something else caused the decline in salmon. Dreher argues that the dams slowed the water through the reservoirs and that made the difference, but he's not convinced water from southern Idaho would help.

But the figures from Water Resources date from the early 1900s -- after irrigation diversions were well-established in eastern and southern Idaho, said Donna Darm, assistant regional administrator for protected resources with the Fisheries Service.

Those higher flows might be necessary to compensate for changes in temperature cycles in the river since the construction of these dams, particularly the Hells Canyon dams, Darm said.

Fisheries Services' biological research on survival shows a strong correlation between flows and survival for fall chinook salmon, Brown said.

The Fisheries Service also would like to continue flows to help fish in the Columbia River estuary. The effect of fresh water management in the estuary is not well understood, he said. But the fish evolved with a large springtime runoff.

Upriver storage reservoirs have cut the peaks of high spring runoff flows, Brown said.

"We'd like to leave a little of the natural spring runoff in the river," he said.

Responses to the release Friday of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' environmental impact statement on salmon recovery alternatives

Bruce Lovelin, executive director, Columbia River Alliance

"I expected a little more for $20 million," said Lovelin, who was disappointed that the study did not include a preferred alternative. "Maybe we're asking the impossible."

Scott Bosse, fisheries biologist with Idaho Rivers United

"All the reports show there's no way to recover Snake River salmon and steelhead with the Snake River dams in place."

Todd Maddock, chairman, Northwest Power Planning Council

The documents released Friday "move the federal government in the right direction -- toward a comprehensive approach to fish and wildlife recovery similar to the approach embodied in the council's fish and wildlife recovery plan."

Todd Klabenes, Lewiston Chamber of Commerce president

The report shows "there isn't any simple answer to this." The lack of a clear preferred alternative doesn't surprise him, and that leaves room for more regional dialogue and more analysis of economic effects. "We need to sit down and start talking."

Sen. Larry Craig

"The documents show there's little salmon recovery benefit from breaching the dams," said Will Hart, a spokesman for Craig. Until the effects of ocean conditions are better understood, it's hard to make decisions about how to recover salmon in the Snake River. Meanwhile, the region should continue to pursue cost-effective measures that benefit salmon.

Sen. Mike Crapo

"While it is well-known that I don't support dam-breaching or heavy flow augmentation, I do believe there are many measures we can take in the short-term to improve the condition of these fish while we ascertain the long-term measures that will accomplish recovery."

What dams have been removed?

Eleven miles east of Lower Stanley, below the shoulder of Idaho Highway 75, the remains of the Sunbeam Dam, the only dam ever built on the Salmon River, still are visible.

The dam was built in 1910 about 20 miles downstream from the mouth of Redfish Lake Creek. Without effective fish ladders, the dam all but blocked the passage of returning sockeye salmon.

In 1934, sport fishermen took the matter into their own hands and breached the dam with a charge of dynamite. Fish and Game officials later enlarged the opening. Following the breaching, sockeye in Redfish Lake began to recover.

Since then three other dams have been removed in Idaho and many more across the country.

American Rivers, a nationwide river conservation group, reports that more than 465 dams have been removed in all regions of the United States since 1912.

Dams removed include publicly and privately owned dams, and dams providing water supply, hydroelectric generation, flood control, recreation or abandoned dams.

Dam removal by state

Idaho 4

Wisconsin 73

California 47

Ohio 39

Pennsylvania 38

Tennessee 25

Facts about removed dams

Why remove dams?

Most removals were based on a combination of three reasons.

Related Links:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla 509-527-7015, or 509-527-7020.

N.S. Nokkentved
Salmon Recovery Will Take Idaho Water If Dams Stay
Times-News, December 18, 1999

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