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What Will the Weiser-Galloway Dam
Do for Salmon Recovery? Nothing

by Michael Wells
Salmon Blog, November 22, 2011

Dam plans are like vampires, you have to drive a stake through their heart, otherwise they never go away. Sock that file away and someday someone will pull out the old, dusty dam plan file and read the political tea leaves and make a new push for something that hasn't made sense for almost six decades.

The Weiser-Galloway Dam won't stop salmon from getting to their natal streams to spawn and it won't kill juvenile salmon and steelhead hoping to go to sea. It's on the lower Weiser River and while the Weiser River had salmon and steelhead runs, those runs have long since passed to history. The Weiser River is today locked behind the entire Hells Canyon Complex of three dams. This isn't about a salmon killing dam, but those proposing the idea are brazen enough in this economy to use salmon recovery as the primary way they plan to sell the idea. The proponents say it will help fulfill obligations to help endangered salmon and steelhead (here) Jack Peterson, a senior advisor with the Idaho Department of Water Resources, even went so far as to say it would be "huge" for salmon recovery in the Columbia basin here.

The idea of this dam began in 1954 and it has been looked at before and this notion that it would help for salmon recovery has also already been looked at by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and you can see what they had to say in 1992 here. And what they have to say is a bit confusing as to where they come up with their conclusions, because they pretty much come right out and say that this dam and the water it would store will have virtually no effect on salmon recovery. Here, read a quote or two from the document...

"Generally, the model results showed only small changes in survival for the Snake River spring/summer and fall Chinook smolts compared to base conditions. However, most were considered to be within the variability of the model and, therefore, considered to be negligible." If you go to that link above and print this to pdf this quote would be on page 9.

If you do the same, this next quote is on page 25...

"Based on the assumptions and evaluation completed as part of the Phase I study, there are no quantifiable benefits of adding new upstream storage for the purpose of increasing fish survival in the lower Snake and Columbia Rivers. The estimated benefits to fish modeling survival were found to be marginal, and fall within the margin of error in the analysis. Although additional storage showed no measurable quantifiable biological benefit, in terms of improved salmon survival (as determined using CRiSP), the Phase I analysis probably does not indicate the true potential of this alternative. The Phase I quantitative evaluation was based on monthly hydroregulation models (HYSSR), rigid flow targets, and lengthy augmentation release periods, which in all probability understate the benefits to fish migration."

In other words, we looked at it, it didn't tell us what we wanted to hear, so obviously we need to figure out a new way to look at this so that we can we can build another dam and have people interested in salmon recovery marginalized in some new, future analysis.

The study has two interesting ideas about this project creating more cold water for fall Chinook. One is they believe the water being held behind this proposed dam would cool the water through the Hells Canyon reservoirs and the Snake River in Hells Canyon. The second is the creation of this dam will allow more water to be stored longer in Dworshak that could then be released allowing the colder Dworshak water to provide temperature control in the Snake River for fall Chinook.

To the first point, I highly doubt it will make a difference since it would leave the Weiser and then enter three reservoirs in Hells Canyon, which is generally pretty warm when they would be sending the water through and to the second point the Dworshak water would only cool the Lower Granite reservoir. I could be wrong, but I lived within 30 miles of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers for a great deal of my life and the Corps doesn't have a good record when it comes to what they say will happen and what actually happens. There was a joke that went something like this, when setting your watch ask a Corps representative for the time and set your watch to any other time than what the Corps said and your watch will be more accurate. I didn't say it was a good joke. And in this early 90s study the Corps generally finds these things won't work, then they follow up by saying it COULD work.

Beyond whether or not this dam project will help or do nothing for endangered salmon, what about the Weiser River? I seriously doubt the damage done to the Weiser River will be thoroughly vetted. Why do I doubt this? Because it is an afterthought, if a thought at all, by anyone promoting this dam. Will there be a thorough review of the cultural resources that this dam and its reservoir may sink forever? They didn't look at it in the early 90s.

What about resident fish and the stream fishing on the Weiser River?

"Project impacts to resident fish resources will occur in three locations: the reservoir area; the lower Weiser River; and potentially in the Snake River below the mouth of the Weiser River. Existing stream fisheries for rainbow trout and smallmouth bass will be eliminated in the permanent inundation area. Stream fisheries in the upper reservoir area will also be degraded, due to annual inundation as the reservoir refills after the previous year's drawdown. Indirect impacts may occur from stream habitat deterioration above the reservoir, and from the proliferation of nuisance fish species. Stream habitat may be adversely affected by silt accumulation in the streambed just above the reservoir. Although no data is available to estimate this effect, it is likely to be a minor loss. Nuisance fish (e.g., squawfish) may thrive in the reservoir, and migrate above the reservoir to spawn. They could compete with, and feed on, populations of more desirable nongame and game species. However, the effect may be minor if existing squawfish populations in the river are fully using spawning habitat."

"Likely to be a minor loss," I am happy to see they at least say there will be a loss.

Haven't we ruined enough rivers and natural environments?

What about flood control? I don't really know what to think of this quote from the report...

"The Galloway project will affect winter ice regimes in the reservoir area, both downstream and upstream for some distance. The project will not increase flood problems during the winter freeze up, and should eliminate all downstream ice-related flooding from breakup jams except, that resulting from ice jams on the Snake River. The project could increase the frequency and duration of flooding on agricultural lands between the project and Midvale by providing an additional jam initiation point at the upstream end of the reservoir. Winter drawdown will probably prevent jams from extending to Midvale in most years, but they might occasionally extend that far upstream. Changes in the frequency or severity of flooding at Midvale are difficult to demonstrate, since jams typically form at several locations near the city during severe winters, even without the project. Longer periods of flooding could be the primary impact, since it may taken longer for the ice to clear out of the Weiser River (upstream of the project) during the spring breakup. The additional ice backed up behind the reservoir could interfere with, and even delay, the downstream movement of upstream ice.

Even with a full pool at the time of ice breakup, the reservoir is expected to eliminate most of the ice delivery to the downstream reach. Warmer releases from the reservoir during the winter period, combined with the elimination of frazil ice production in the canyon above the dam, should eliminate ice-jam flooding that originates in the Weiser River (which accounts for all of the ice-jam flooding between the Galloway site and the city of Weiser). However, the city of Weiser will remain subject to flooding from Snake River ice jams that build across the mouth of the Weiser River."

Let's take one more look at this idea. What they are saying with this project is fairly simple. They are saying we aren't going to get rid of the lower Snake River dams, though we clearly see they are why the Snake River salmon and steelhead are headed for extinction. They are saying rather than return the river to its natural, free-flowing form, man in all his hubris can simply raise all the levels thereby creating a man made version of a free flowing river and have our dams and eat our salmon too. It's a theory, doesn't hold up to scrutiny, won't hold up in reality, but it's a theory.

But hey, if they continue along this path our wild salmon and steelhead that remain in the Snake River will go extinct and then they can dust off that old Nez Perce Dam project they wanted to do that would have closed off the Salmon River and all its tributaries to migrating salmon forever, because it was going to be located on the Snake River downriver from the mouth of the salmon with no fish ladder. Sounds ludicrous, but it's a dam plan and it still exists on someone's shelf just waiting for the right time for someone to dust it off again and propose it. Why not? This Weiser-Galloway plan began in 1954, Eisenhower was president then, dam plans never go away. And to put a sharper point on it, dams don't help salmon and steelhead, dams don't help migrating fish, they kill them.

Michael Wells
is an award winning journalist and photographer living in McCall, Idaho. He is a member of Trout Unlimited, Idaho Rivers United, The Wilderness Society and The Sierra Club.
What Will the Weiser-Galloway Dam Do for Salmon Recovery? Nothing
Salmon Blog, November 24, 2011

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