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Ecology and salmon related articles

Spill Plan May Dry Up

by Anna King, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, June 16, 2005

Salmon in the Snake and Columbia rivers may not get more water spilled over the dams this summer after all.

On Wednesday, the federal government filed an appeal with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and asked for an emergency order to stop spills planned to begin Monday.

The spills were ordered by U.S. District Judge James Redden last week to help juvenile salmon migrate to sea.

Nola Conway, spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the federal dams, said spilling water now will increase power rates and not do much for fish.

"These are some of the most effective fish-passage dams there are," she said. "They have state-of-the-art technology on them."

Fish water slides called weirs that allow fish to go over the dam while spilling less water have been installed at some dams, and fish bypass systems have also been put in place.

If the spill plan is carried out, Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, Lower Granite and McNary dams would only churn enough water through their turbines to power the dams' operations. Spills would gradually decrease as river levels full later this summer.

Spilling more water wouldn't increase river flow or lower the pool level, Conway said.

In an effort to help young fish survive warm river temperatures and slow-moving water between dams, the Corps has been barging juvenile fish collected at a couple of the dams and depositing them below Bonneville.

Last year, the Corps barged 24 million small fish. Conway said the bulk of the juvenile fish already had passed downstream.

Ed Mosey, Portland-based spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration, said about $67 million in lost power sales could be expected if the government is forced to spill water.

"We would be losing some sales, and purchasing power during that time of the year," he said.

Hot summer weather brings more demand for power, Mosey said.

Lonnie Osterholm, a Columbia River fishing guide from Spokane, said lost power doesn't concern him; he'd rather see fish in the rivers.

"As a fisherman, I think it's a lot of bull," he said. "I think they ought to let the fish live."

Osterholm said he already had lost about $18,000 from this year's poor spring chinook salmon run. He had to cancel 28 scheduled river trips.

And Osterholm said he's seen the benefits of spills.

"Every time we have a flood condition, we have huge returns," Osterholm said. "The flood makes them spill."

Terry Courtney Jr., a Warm Springs tribal fisherman, said what happens in a drought year with no spill is easy to see.

He blames this year's poor chinook run on the 2001 drought when fish were migrating to sea. Courtney fishes for salmon on traditional platforms and also with hook and line.

Salmon that were once used like currency for trade still are very important for tribal peoples' ceremonies, incomes and diet, he said.

"It's hard not to want to go eat a salmon," Courtney said. "It's still a mainstay. The only thing that the tribes have to fall back on is the same old thing, which is the salmon."

Anna King
Spill Plan May Dry Up
Tri-City Herald, June 16, 2004

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