All posts by John Twa

Letter to Representative Dan Newhouse

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April 2nd, 2018

Jamie Daniels

District Director,

Office of Washington State Representative Dan Newhouse

Jamie.daniels@mail.house.gov

Jamie,

I understand Congressman Newhouse is inviting comments today from stakeholders regarding increased spill and other issues related to federal dams in his district.  While I am not a constituent, that is a resident of his district, I am a stakeholder since I am a rate and tax payer.  In addition, my background as a civil engineer retired from the US Army Corps of Engineers, which included three years as the Deputy District Engineer for Programs in Walla Walla, gives me more than average understanding about the cost and policies of operating large projects.  I should also point out that since briefing the Congressman in January of 2015 about the costs and benefits of the lower Snake River Dams I have invested well over 6,000 hours of my time digging into the thousands of pagers of documents and data to unravel the truth about these dams.

Knowing what I do it pains me to see our elected officials, the public and even agency heads fall for the misleading arguments about the pros and cons of these four dams.  These argumentative statements developed primarily by special interest groups, lobbyist and trial attorneys on both sides of the argument are now so convoluted as to make no sense whatsoever.  For instance, will more spill recover salmon?  No.  Will it cost BPA a lot of money? No, given the loss of money the four lower Snake River Dams incur nearly every day and the overall financial hemorrhaging of BPA, BPA would more likely save money with more spill.  Will transporting more fish lead to salmon recovery?  No.  Will the billion dollar investment made since 2000 on passage improvements on the 4LSRD’s lead to salmon recovery? No.  Have these investments and other expenditures for the 4LSRD’s diverted funds from other more important dams in the Federal Hydro System? Yes. If the 4LSRD’s are breached, will it have devastating economic effects in eastern Washington? No.  Indeed it will lead to several thousand new jobs and over $500 million per year in direct and indirect economic benefit to the six counties adjacent to the lower Snake River. Will irrigation farmers along Ice Harbor pool be left high and dry with worthless land? No.  Is the Corps restricted from taking immediate action now by on going Biological Opinion litigation? No.  I could go on.

Instead I offer a letter I have written to my neighbors in eastern Washington that asks and expounds on these and other important issues concerning the benefits, or not, of the 4LSRD’s. It is attached, along with two short summaries concerning the economics and salmon status on 4LSRD’s and a paper that describes how existing policies within the Corps and BPA provide the means now to benefit virtually all stakeholders when a free flowing river is returned to the lower Snake valley.

I respectfully request that these documents be entered into the discussions.  I am available for questions and will also be asking for a meeting the next time I am in the area.

Thank you,

Jim Waddell

Civil Engineer, PE USACE Retired

Port Angeles Washington

360-775-7799

How to remove the four lower Snake River dams

How do you remove THAT?

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How to remove the four lower Snake River dams

What will it take to remove the four lower Snake River dams and restore access for salmon to, and from, 5,500 miles of spawning habitat? Will it require Congressional approval? A federal court order? Both would take many years, but the dams must be removed much sooner. Not only are the river’s ESA-protected salmon on the cusp of extinction, but those fish are desperately needed now to avoid extinction of the culturally unique and much beloved Southern Resident orcas.

Thankfully, the real answer is a much shorter route.

A panel discussion about the Elwha and the Snake rivers, called A Tale of Two Rivers, took place at the Burke Museum January 24th. Most likely all of the over 200 salmon and orca advocates in the room, including the panelists, saw the urgency to remove the Snake dams, but the only two options offered by the panel were either to ask our dysfunctional Congress for permission, or wait a decade or more for a new federal court order, which requires a new BiOp, and a new EIS, then new litigation, etc.

The panelists were two highly esteemed environment reporters for major newspapers. After opening remarks Palouse Tribe Chief Jessie Nighthawk spoke passionately about the failure of the government and the Army Corps to uphold treaty rights that promise salmon while his people suffer without them. One panelist answered: “The Army Corps has made it absolutely clear that they are not going to let those dams come down until Congress tells them to. So that means talking to your political leaders here in Washington and in Idaho, and Oregon, and Montana.”

The other panelist replied “We talk about how Congress is going to have to make the decision, well actually…this issue is squarely in the judiciary. So we’re in this process and it’s going to go on for several years, and that’s where you come in, because it is a public process and it’s absolutely your job to know where it is in the courts and to stay involved.”

A woman in the audience stated emphatically: “The Army Corps absolutely has the power to uphold treaty rights. I think they’re trying to put the focus on someone else, and for them to say that is really a slap in the face. They do have that power, and that’s just the truth.”

That authority was clearly stated in a January 2017 letter from then Assistant Secretary of the Army Ellen Darcy, who wrote: “the Army Corps is committed to following the guidance in the 2002 FR/EIS as a framework for its actions, which includes ongoing assessments as to the efficacy of the alternatives it has implemented to date; the results of those assessments will inform our next steps…” That 2002 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) still determines mitigation efforts, but after billions have been spent the salmon are still disappearing. Indeed, the EIS states that Alternative #4, breaching the dams, provides the only opportunity to recover Snake River salmon and steelhead, but it wasn’t chosen by the Corps.

Federal judges have reminded the Army Corps five times that they are required by the Endangered Species Act to cease harming endangered salmon to the verge of extinction. Tribal Treaty rights also demand salmon conservation. The Corps also has a fiduciary responsibility to fund only economically beneficial projects, but the four dams are losing money, returning only 15¢ for every $1 invested by taxpayers and ratepayers. Irrigators and grain shippers can stay in business with a tiny fraction of the money saved by dam removal.

When the panel ended we were left with two convoluted, confusing and disheartening paths to Snake River dam removal, both inaccurate and impossible to achieve in time to avoid extinction of endangered Snake River salmon and Southern Resident orcas. It is our responsibility to tell our political leaders to urge the Army Corps to proceed with dam removal immediately.


Howard Garrett

BPA and the Lower Snake dams

BPA LSR
Power substation

On Tuesday, January 30th, 2018, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) announced that it would be cutting funding for fish and wildlife programs.

BPA has been in a death spiral lately.  It would rather defend the dams to the death than admit that it’s wrong.

For a closer look into the reasons why, read Linwood Laughy’s recent article on the subject.

How much has BPA spent on fish and wildlife in the past several decades?  The answer is here in their letter to Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

With all this spending, how are the salmon doing? 

Finally, how can the BPA problem be solved?  How can it save itself?  The solution is actually quite simple.  It would allow the agency to not only save itself, but also save Snake River salmon, steelhead, and Southern Resident Killer Whales. 

 

The 2017 State of the Snake

In 2017 the fish returns at Lower Granite dam are down for all categories compared to both the 10 year average and 2016. A total of 142,527 salmon and steelhead returned to Lower Granite Dam in 2017, a 35% reduction from 2016, which followed a 33% reduction from 2015 to 2016. These precipitous declines should come as no surprise. They were predicted in the 2015 Salmon White Paper which was distributed to Pacific NW state representatives as well as federal agency representatives.
Five-year reviews by NOAA show minimal improvement in the risk-status of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead despite a billion taxpayer dollars being spent on system improvements. Current NOAA recovery plans are predicted to NOT achieve fish recovery. Pacific NW state fisheries reports show that smolt-to-adult ratios have not improved either and still show Snake River fish returns are not meeting criteria for species survival.

Printable PDF

2017 Fish ReturnsVs. 10-yr averageVs. 2016 returns
Spring Chinook-56%-56%
Summer Chinook-48%-26%
Fall Chinook-28%-28%
Sockeye-79%-72%
Steelhead-54%-23%
Wild Steelhead-66%-38%

Data from the Fish Passage Center, fpc.org

Snake River wild steelhead are on a decline to levels not seen in 20 years.  Adult returns in 2017 will mark the second steepest 5-year trend since the 2009-2013 trend.  The third worst 5-year trend will be from 2002-2006 adult counts.  This recent 5 year trend is so low that it will hit a trigger point in the 2014 biological opinion.  The BiOp states that the agencies must implement a solution within 12 months.  However, the downward trend is not the only problem; the actual number of wild steelhead is now so low that the only solution or recovery action that can be implemented quick enough to prevent virtual extinction is the breaching alternative in the existing EIS for the 4 Lower Snake River dams.  Run declines of other species point to 2018 breaching as well.

From the 2016 and 2017 NOAA Recovery Plan for Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook Salmon & Snake River Steelhead, National Marine Fisheries Service, West Coast Region
“Over $1 billion has been invested since the mid-1990s in baseline research, development, and testing of prototype improvements, and construction of new facilities and upgrades.”
“NMFS estimates that recovery of the Snake River spring/summer Chinook salmon ESU and steelhead DPS, like recovery for most of the ESA-listed Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead, could take 50 to 100 years.” But further states:  “This recovery plan contains an extensive list of actions to move the ESU and DPS towards viable status; however, the actions will not get us to recovery.”

From the 2016 Comparative Survival Study SAR Patterns: Snake and Mid-Columbia
SAR (smolt to adult return ratio) is a measure of fish survival, or the % of smolts that return as spawning adults. The Northwest Power & Conservation Council’s goals are 2% for mere survival of the species and 6% for recovery of the species. Overall, Snake River Chinook and steelhead SARs have only been above 2% in 5 of 20 years in recent history (and never above 6%). These results are in spite of increased spill and barging around the dams. In contrast, Mid-Columbia Chinook and steelhead are generally meeting the NPCC SAR goals and have SAR ratios 2.3X – 3.4X greater than Snake River wild SARs. Keep in mind that Snake River salmon and steelhead pass over 8 dams… 4 on the Columbia and 4 on the Snake. Mid-Columbia fish only pass 1- 4 lower Columbia dams. If the 4 lower Snake River dams were removed, Snake River salmon and steelhead would have very similar migration and spawning conditions, which should lead to fish recovery.  See charts below for trend of SAR’s below 1. 

From the Draft Comparative Survival Study 2017 Annual Report by the Fish Passage Center
“If the lower four Snake River dams are breached and the remaining four Columbia dams operate at BiOp spill levels, we predict approximately a 2-3 fold increase in abundance above that predicted at BiOp spill levels in an impounded system, and up to a 4 fold increase if spill is increased to the 125% TDG limit. This analysis predicts that higher SARs and long-term abundances can be achieved by reducing powerhouse passage and water transit time*, both of which are reduced by increasing spill, and reduced further when the lower four Snake River dams are breached.”

*At the dams, river transit time unaffected.

state of the snake
This is not recovery….

 

state of the snake
This is not recovery either….

John Twa

2017.12.14

A Huge Price to Pay

Price grain train
A cost effective alternative to shipping wheat by barge.

Lewiston Morning Tribune

Letter to the Editor

12-10-17

A Huge Price to Pay

Cole Riggers, responding to your recent letter in the Lewiston Tribune, are you blind to the costs you and other “captive shippers” impose on your neighbors, other Northwest citizens and federal taxpayers so you can barge wheat on the Snake River?

Taxpayers spend millions annually subsidizing grain shipments by barge.

Home and business owners across the Northwest pay higher electricity rates to cover the costs of required fish mitigation so you can ship wheat by barge.

The owners of hotels, grocery stores, gas stations and sporting goods stores lose business because the lower Snake River dams and reservoirs damage fish runs. Entire communities, like Riggins, suffer economically.

Loggers, truck drivers and mill workers experience lost timber sales because Idaho salmon and steelhead remain in jeopardy of extinction.

Lower Snake River farmers, ranchers and recreationists lost 20,000 acres drowned by reservoirs.

Your Nez Perce neighbors lost much more.

The resident orcas in Puget Sound are starving and threatened with extinction.

With 140 miles of Snake River riverine habitat destroyed, 85,000 songbirds and 110,000 game birds disappeared.

Janice Inghram’s letter suggests two interesting questions. If one or more locks on the lower Snake became permanently inoperable, would you stop growing wheat? Secondly, if “captive shippers” had to pay even a third of the subsidies required to operate and maintain Snake River barging, would they stop growing wheat?

Like Inghram, I suspect “captive shippers” would instead invest in rail, like Palouse Prairie farmers did with their cooperatively financed McCoy Unit Loader.

 

Linwood Laughy

Moscow, ID

Farmers don’t need dams

farmers don't need damsLewiston Morning Tribune

Letter to the Editor

November 28th, 2017

Farmers don’t need dams

I often read barging wheat on the lower Snake River is critically important to maintaining wheat production in eastern Washington and north central Idaho. Without Snake River barging, so I’m told, wheat farmers couldn’t survive.

I’m puzzled. Farmers in the Inland Northwest grew wheat for 100 years before the lower Snake River dams were completed. Many wheat farmers on the Palouse ship by rail while others truck their wheat to barges on the Columbia. Wheat growers in Montana don’t barge any wheat, but they remain in business.

With the loss of container shipping on the lower Snake, garbanzos and lentils and peas (pulse) are now transported by truck and rail. I haven’t read any newspaper articles about pulse processors closing shop. I have read that area farmers are expanding their production of pulse crops.

If one of the dams or locks on the lower Snake suffered irreparable damage or the cost of repair was well beyond any possible economic justification, do you think the wheat farmers who still use the barge system would stop growing wheat?

Almost 90 percent of all freight shipped on the lower Snake River is grain. What if the farmers who still ship grain by barge had to pay even a third of the $10 million annual direct taxpayer cost of lock operations, and/or the $10 million spent on the last dredging project to keep the navigation channel open to the Port of Lewiston? How long do you think barging would last on the lower Snake?

Janice Inghram
Grangeville, ID

Salmon Survival Report: Smolt to Adult Returns

survival
The drop in Chinook salmon abundance due to lower Snake River dam construction (1962 – 1975) is very apparent.

The Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Weekly Fish and Wildlife News

www.cbbulletin.com

October 13, 2017

Issue No. 847

Draft Salmon Survival Report: Smolt To Adult Returns For Snake River Fish Remain Below NW Power/Conservation Council Goals

The number of wild Snake River adult spring/summer chinook, measured as a percentage of juveniles that left the river and returned as adults (smolt-to-adult returns or SARs), has declined four-fold since the early 1960s and since the four lower Snake River dams were built, according to a report produced by the Fish Passage Center.

In its annual draft Comparative Survival Study, the FPC found that SARs for the wild chinook had fallen from 4.3 percent in the early 1960s to 1.0 percent during the period 1994 – 1999, and since the year 2000 SARs has been at 1.1 percent. The FPC released the Bonneville Power Administration-funded report in late August and is asking for comments from fisheries managers and the public by October 15. The final CSS is scheduled for completion by the end of December.

The study also determined that SARs for Snake River wild steelhead declined nearly four-fold from the 1960s from 7.2 percent (1964 to 1969) to 1.9 percent (1990 to 1999) and 2.5 percent during the 2000 to 2014 period.

Ice Harbor Dam, the lowest of the four dams on the Snake River, was completed in 1961, Lower Monumental in 1969, Little Goose in 1970 and Lower Granite in 1975. In addition, the John Day Dam, a lower Columbia River dam that’s shoe-horned between McNary Dam upstream and The Dalles Dam downstream, was completed in 1968.

“Overall PIT-tag SARs for Snake River wild spring/summer Chinook and wild steelhead fell well short of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NPCC) SAR objectives of a 4 percent average for recovery and 2 percent minimum,” the CSS concluded.

The SAR objectives for wild fish from the Snake River system are contained in the Council’s 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program.

— Snake River spring/summer chinook

The Council objective of 2 percent has been achieved in only two migration years for Snake River wild spring/summer chinook from 1994 through 2015. Those years were 1999 and 2008, the CSS report says. The mean for all stocks is 0.84 percent. For all spring/summer chinook stocks, SARs were highest in 2008 and were very low in 2006, 2011, 2014 and 2015. The reintroduced and also unlisted Clearwater River chinook SAR was lower at a mean of 0.53 percent than other Snake River spring/summer chinook stocks.

The estimated overall SARs for Snake River hatchery spring and summer Chinook varied by hatchery and year. In general, the two hatchery summer chinook populations had higher SARs than the hatchery spring chinook populations.
–Dworshak hatchery spring chinook averaged 0.47 percent and did not exceed 2 percent in any year during 1997–2015;
— Rapid River hatchery spring chinook averaged 0.79 percent and exceeded 2 percent in only 1999;
— Catherine Creek hatchery chinook SARs from 2001 through 2015 averaged 0.79 percent and exceeded 2 percent only in 2008;
— McCall hatchery summer chinook averaged 1.18 percent and exceeded 2 percent in four years, 1998–2000 and 2008;
— Imnaha hatchery summer chinook averaged 1.09 percent SARs and exceeded 2 percent in three years — 1999, 2000 and 2008;
— Clearwater Hatchery spring and summer chinook, Sawtooth Hatchery spring chinook and Pahsimeroi Hatchery summer chinook varied by year within a range generally similar to other CSS hatchery chinook groups, the report says. However, SARs for Pahsimeroi Hatchery summer chinook were very low in 2014-2015.

— Snake River Steelhead

The mean SAR for wild Snake River steelhead during the period 1997 to 2014 was 1.6 percent, and exceeded the Council’s 2 percent objective in eight of the 18 migration years. The mean SAR during 2006 to 2014 for the wild A-run group of steelhead (smaller than 28 inches in length) was 2.12 percent, about 32 percent higher than the wild B-run of steelhead at 1.6 percent.

Snake River hatchery steelhead had overall lower SARs than their wild counterparts. Overall, hatchery steelhead SARs were 1.27 percent and significantly exceeded 2 percent only in 2008. Overall SARs were higher for A-run hatchery steelhead than for B-run hatchery steelhead in the years 2008 to 2014, and SARs of Clearwater River hatchery B-run exceeded those from the Salmon River.

“Overall SARs of Snake River wild spring/summer chinook and steelhead are the net effect of SARs for the different routes of in-river passage and juvenile transportation. None of the passage routes have resulted in SARs that met the NPCC SAR objectives for either species. The relative effectiveness of transportation has been observed to decline as in-river conditions and survival rates improve,” the study concludes.

— Snake River Sockeye Salmon

SARs of Snake River hatchery sockeye varied by year and hatchery group during smolt migration years 2009–2015. SARs for Sawtooth sockeye ranged from 0.10 percent to 1.15 percent in the years 2009 through 2015, whereas Oxbow sockeye SARs ranged from 0.39 percent to 2.26 percent (2009–2012). The 2015 SAR for Springfield Hatchery sockeye was 0.0 percent.

“Differences in size at release between Oxbow and Sawtooth may explain some of the between-hatchery difference in SARs, particularly in 2011 and 2012,” the CSS says. “Typically, Oxbow hatchery smolts averaged about 45 grams (1.6 ounces), while Sawtooth hatchery sockeye smolts averaged about 15 g (0.53 oz.), similar in size to natural origin smolts. In 2011 and 2012, Sawtooth Hatchery smolts were smaller than normal, averaging only 8 to 9 g (0.28 to 0.32 oz.).”

The 2015 Springfield hatchery release experienced several fish health problems that affected juvenile survival and SARs, the report says. “Observations by IDFG personnel during release (and at LGR) indicated fish displayed external symptoms of gas bubble disease (fin occlusion, distended bodies and exophthalmia), presumably during transit from the hatchery over Galena Summit to the release site in the Stanley Basin. IDFG hatchery and research staff are working on operational remedies.”

–Snake River Fall Chinook

The inclusion of fall chinook salmon is a work in progress, the CSS says. That’s because it wasn’t until 2010 that the CSS oversight committee received a request to begin their inclusion.

Working with the Nez Perce Tribe, the CSS funded PIT-tag marking in 2015. Some 40,400 subyearling fall chinook were tagged that year. In 2016, 50,000 were tagged and 60,000 were tagged this year. Although migration information existed prior to these PIT-tag releases, future survival estimates will benefit from the tagged fish.

“As a pilot effort, its scope is limited, but will provide some level of information for an entire ESU that currently has no comprehensive marking program to evaluate the effects of transportation on adult return rates,” the CSS says.

Overall SARs to Lower Granite Dam (excluding jacks) for Snake River hatchery subyearling fall chinook were low in three of the seven years analyzed, the report says. Fall chinook overall SARs ranged from 0.12 percent to 0.56 percent for hatchery releases in 2006 and 0.0 percent to 0.3 percent in 2007. The highest SARs were observed for migration years 2008 and 2011 when SARs ranged from 0.30 percent to 1.07 percent.

SARs for 2009 were relatively low as well, with SARs ranging from 0.05 percent to 0.23 percent. For the 2010 migration year, SARs were between the low returns from 2009 and the highest returns from 2008. SARs for 2010 ranged from 0.20 percent to 0.97 percent. For migration year 2012 SARs ranged from 0.40 percent and 0.79 percent.

The “Comparative Survival Study of PIT-tagged Spring/Summer/Fall Chinook, Summer Steelhead, and Sockeye DRAFT 2017 Annual Report,” can be found at http://www.fpc.org/documents/CSS/DRAFT2017CSS.pdf. Comments should be sent by October 15 to Michelle DeHart at mdehart@fpc.org.

The study’s project leader is the FPC’s DeHart, but the report is compiled by the Comparative Survival Study Oversight Committee and the Fish Passage Center. Contributors include Jerry McCann, Brandon Chockley, Erin Cooper and Bobby Hsu of the FPC; Howard Schaller and Steve Haeseker are from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Robert Lessard is with the Columbia River InterTribal Fish Commission; Charlie Petrosky is from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game; Eric Tinus, Erick Van Dyke and Adam Storch are from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; and Dan Rawding is with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Also see:

— CBB, Oct. 6, 2017, “Draft Annual Salmon Survival Study Considers Impacts Of Lower Snake Dam Breaching, More Spill” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439682.aspx

–CBB, June 23, 2017, “Litigants In Salmon BiOp Case Working Together To Develop Court-Ordered Spill-For-Fish Plan In 2018,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439147.aspx

–CBB, May 19, 2017, “Spill Advocates, Federal Agencies Agree To Status Conference Schedule, Protocol In Salmon BiOp Case,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438950.aspx

2017 September Snake River fish return summary

Overall Chinook Returns as of 9/29/17:

chinook extinction september
2017 chinook salmon runs decline 50% vs. the 10 year average

2017:  53,044

2016:  103,355

10 year average:  106,942

 

 

Spring Chinook Returns

spring chinook extinction september
2017 Spring Chinook decline 56% vs. the 10 year average

2017:  27,357

2016:  62,050

10 year average:  62,403

 

 

Summer Chinook Returns

summer chinook extinction
2017 Summer Chinook decline 48% vs. the 10 year average.

2017:  8,952

2016:  12,110

10 year average:  17,232

 

 

Fall Chinook Returns (as of 9/29/17, run is still going)

fall chinook extinction
2017 Fall Chinook decline 38% vs. the 10 year average

2017:  16,733

2016:  29,195

10 year average:  27,307

 

 

 

steelhead extinction
2017 Steelhead decline 74% vs. the 10 year average

Steelhead Returns (as of 9/29/17, run is still going)

2017:  21,047

2016:  40,517

10 year average:  82,660

 

 

Sockeye Returns

sockeye extinction
2017 Sockeye returns decline 78% vs. the 10 year average

2017:  228 to Lower Granite Dam, 157 of those made it back to Red Fish Lake.

2016:  815 to Lower Granite Dam, 595 of those made it back to Red Fish Lake.

10 year average:  1,062 to Lower Granite Dam, 690  of those make it back to Red Fish Lake.

 

 

If you are tired of fishing season closures, Southern Resident orca deaths, and your power bill going up, give your local elected officials a call.  They need to know that you want change.  Let them know that the ONLY solution to these problems is to mothball the 4 lower Snake River dams.

Tragedy of the Snake River Commons

August 30, 2017

 

Tragedy of the Snake River Commons

The law locks up both man and woman

Who steals a goose from off the commons

But let’s the greater felon loose

Who steals the commons from the goose.

                                                                                                                                    Old English Proverb

 

A Tragedy Unfolding

In his 2005 bestseller Collapse, Jared Diamond describes how civilizations can quickly end when natural resources have been pushed to the limit, and then disaster—like a prolonged drought—sweeps across the land. For threatened and endangered salmon on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, 2015 was a disaster. An estimated 250,000 Columbia and Snake River adult sockeye salmon died before reaching spawning grounds due principally to high water temperatures. Only 56 Idaho sockeye reached the Sawtooth Basin, while 35 more were trucked from the lower Snake to the hatchery in Eagle, Idaho.  Was 2015 a perfect storm of low water volume and high ambient temperatures, or are sockeye and other Snake River salmon and steelhead species now on an irreversible path to extinction?

Snake River Sockeye

In 2015 the survival rate for juvenile Snake River sockeye from Lower Granite Dam to Bonneville Dam was just 32%.  In 2016 that rate fell to 12%.  Those survival rates do not include further losses below Bonneville Dam due to avian predation and delayed mortality. During 2015 and 2016 a total of 44 wild sockeye returned to Stanley Basin. This year only 227 adult sockeye passed Lower Granite Dam, and as of August 16 a total of 53 sockeye had returned to Stanley Basin fish traps, only 8 of which were wild fish.

Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook

As noted above, 2015 was a disastrous year for spring and summer Chinook in the Columbia Basin. In 2016 the number of these fish that reached the Snake River at Ice Harbor Dam totaled 116,282.  With the 2017 Chinook run over, as of August 29th that number is 44,762, a decline of 62%.

In late July 2017 the Idaho Department of Fish and Game reported adult spring Chinook numbers in Idaho would necessitate extraordinary measures to provide required brood stock to fill Idaho’s hatcheries.

Snake River Steelhead

In 2016 the return of Snake River A-run steelhead was accurately described as dismal, with just 3,400 of these one-salt (one year in ocean) fish having crossed Lower Granite Dam by August 11th compared to a 10-year average of around 5,100 fish. By August 11, 2017, the number of A-run fish that had crossed Lower Granite was 393.  As reported by Eric Barker of the Lewiston Morning Tribune on August 16, 2017,  “the run is amongst the lowest on record at Bonneville, and the lowest ever at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River.”

Snake River B-run steelhead typically spend two years in the ocean, and due to poor 2015 river and ocean conditions, 2017 was predicted to be a poor year for these steelies. While these fish are just beginning to move up the Columbia, run size predictions are worse than dismal. The number of the once famous wild B-run fish to pass Lower Granite dam is pegged at 770 fish. That prediction may need a downward adjustment.

The Pacific Northwest is currently experiencing a record-breaking heat wave that is impacting river temperatures. The Environmental Protection Agency prescribes a maximum water temperature of 68° F for salmon migration routes, but notes that rivers with “significant hydrologic alterations [like dams and reservoirs] may present additional problems even at 68°.” According to the EPA, multiple scientific studies have concluded water temperature of 70° “can result in severe infections and catastrophic outbreaks” in salmonids. A thermal block to migration begins forming at 71.6°. Water temperatures in the 72°–73.5° range characterize a lethal threshold when fish begin to die.

On August 10, 2017 seven of the eight dams on the lower Snake and lower Columbia had average daily forebay temperatures exceeding 70° F. Water temperatures at two dams were 73.5° F, and at one dam, 74.0° F.  With a thermal block in place, at 73° F the term “poached salmon” takes on an entirely new meaning.

Collapse

When Jared Diamond studied the collapse of entire societies, he learned that societies sometimes fail to perceive a problem “when it takes the form of a slow trend concealed by wide up-and-down fluctuations” sometimes referred to as “creeping normalcy” or, in salmon management, “shifting baselines.” The comparison of a current fish run with the preceding 10-year average provides an example of a shifting baseline that can camouflage a downward trend.

However, even when a significant problem is perceived, a society “often fails even to attempt to solve the problem” stated Diamond, frequently due to clashes of interest among people and special interest groups. “This is particularly the case when a small minority highly motivated by the prospect of profit—and often supported by government subsidies—competes with the majority who individually stand to suffer a relatively small loss insufficient to motivate them to protect their common interest.”  This phenomenon is known as the tragedy of the commons, first described by Garrett Hardin in Science in 1968, wherein the parties who share a common resource find it in their individual best interest to exploit the resource until at some point the resource itself collapses.

In the present context, consider the Snake and Columbia Rivers and their tributaries and the fish therein as a giant, publicly owned commons, which in fact it is. Disaster struck the fish in 2015.  In 2017 the combination of ocean and river conditions has created a fish run collapse. A collapse, says author and passionate salmon advocate David James Duncan, is simply extinction in slow motion.

Simultaneously, the plight of endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales that rely heavily on Columbia Basin salmon for survival share the salmon’s fate.

Who Will Save Idaho’s Threatened and Endangered Salmon and Steelhead?

Despite her tenacity, the Little Red Hen isn’t going to save the Snake River’s wild salmon and steelhead.

State Fish and Game Departments aren’t going to save our salmon and steelhead. These organizations are focused on hatchery production and setting seasons that keep sports anglers buying fishing licenses. In Idaho this year, with as few as 20 wild Clearwater steelhead available for “incidental take,” Idaho Department of Fish and Game is allowing a catch-and-release steelhead season.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) is not going to save our salmon and steelhead.  The Corps builds, operates, maintains and defends dams. For at least the past 20 years this federal agency has done everything possible to maintain the status quo on the lower Snake River. The Walla Walla District prominently highlights on its website the “Outstanding Value to the Nation” of the lower Snake River dams despite being confronted by 10 state and national conservation organizations calling out the Corps’ blatant misinformation in this propaganda piece. Under federal court order, the COE will spend the next 5 years and an estimated $70 million studying dam operations on the lower Snake and Columbia Rivers. The Corps is the agency that will decide whether the Lower Snake River dams should be breached. As was the case in the Corps’ 2002 Snake River Juvenile Salmon Migration Feasibility Study, the fix is already in.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries won’t save our threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. This agency has produced twenty years of biological opinions (BiOps) that govern the operation of federal dams on the Columbia and lower Snake Rivers. Three federal judges over the same time period have declared NOAA’s Bi-Ops illegal, in part because NOAA Fisheries has ignored best science and protects the LSR dams at all costs.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council won’t save our salmon and steelhead.  This agency was created in major part to ensure the protection of anadromous fish in the Columbia River and its tributaries impacted by hydropower dams. The Council is supposed to “consider protection, mitigation, and enhancement of fish and wildlife and related spawning grounds and habitat, including sufficient quantities and qualities of flows for successful migration, survival and propagation of anadromous fish.” While Council members perhaps do “consider” fish protection, their actions make clear the production of hydropower has priority. The Council’s stated vision for its fish and wildlife program tells the tale.  “The vision (an abundance, productive and diverse community of fish and wildlife) will be accomplished by protecting and restoring the natural ecological functions, habitats and biological diversity of the Columbia River System. Where impacts have irrevocably changed the ecosystem, the program will protect and enhance habitat and species assemblages compatible with the altered ecosystem.” (Emphasis added)

The US Fish and Wildlife Service won’t save our wild salmon and steelhead.  This agency “provides a broad and flexible framework to facilitate conservation with a variety of stakeholders.” Thus USFWS lists and delists species and makes recommendations on what should be done to protect T & E species. However, the results are dependent on the actions of a myriad of other state and federal agencies, leaving the USFWS ultimately unaccountable for actual species recovery. Year after year the Smolt-to-Adult Return ratio (SAR) for wild Snake River salmon and steelhead remains below the level required for species maintenance, let alone to avoid extinction. Based on the past 20+ years, the USFWS will “facilitate conservation” until the last Lonesome Larry disappears.

The Bonneville Power Administration won’t save our salmon and steelhead. With a surplus of power in the Pacific Northwest projected well into the future and BPA requesting a rate increase due to the lack of demand for its electricity, the agency continues to support the lower Snake River dams. BPA’s wholesale power price is now $33.75 per megawatt hour, while the price for the same power on the Northwest spot market is under $20. BPA’s financial reserves in 2007 stood at $917 million, and in 2017, just $21 million. Fifteen of the twenty-four turbines in the lower Snake River dams have exceeded their life expectancies, and rehabilitation of just the first three turbines has cost over $100 million to date. Northwest wind energy now produces nearly three times the electricity of all four Lower Snake River dams.  Fully one-third of BPA’s price for power in 2016 is attributable to fish and game mitigation, supporting a failing program. Nevertheless, the agency’s support of the lower Snake River dams remains unwavering.

The Environmental Protection Agency won’t save Snake River salmon and steelhead. This federal agency is responsible for controlling pollution in the nation’s waterways, and temperature is a major pollutant.  In 2003 the EPA completed a draft TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) study on the lower Snake River that demonstrated the single significant source of increased water temperature on the river is the solar radiation collected by the reservoirs behind the four dams, with each reservoir raising water temperature by up to 2 degrees Fahrenheit.  Such a finding was anathema to the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration and the special interest groups that dominate the political support for the dams.  The result was that the draft TMDL was soon buried. Today, fourteen years later, the EPA claims the completion of a final, actionable TMDL for the Snake and Columbia Rivers would be a difficult task requiring several additional years.

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and five of her House colleagues won’t save the Snake River’s salmon and steelhead. These Northwest politicians and their political supporters can’t even get past their belief that our salmon and steelhead are achieving record-breaking runs.  McMorris and her colleagues hope to mute the orders of a federal judge, stop any additional spill of water over the dams to help juvenile fish migrate to the sea, and halt any further alteration of any kind to the LSR dams without Congressional approval. They are betting the public can be duped by propaganda or won’t pay attention to the growing salmon crisis.

The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association has proposed a solution to the collapse of our wild salmon and steelhead —let them all die. They propose removing these fish from the protection of the Endangered Species Act and allowing wild fish to become extinct.  Only one dam on the lower Snake, Ice Harbor, provides irrigation, and to fewer than 20 farms.

A comment about ocean conditions is appropriate here. Ocean conditions will emerge on the websites of the agencies and special interest groups that support the continued existence of the lower Snake River Dams as the shorthand explanation for 2017’s collapsing Snake River fish runs. On August 24, 2017 Idaho Department of Fish and Game Clearwater Fisheries Regional Manager Joe Dupont published an analysis lending credence to this position. Dupont included an important caveat to his analysis. “However, I need to emphasize that continued improvements to spawning and rearing habitat and the migratory corridor can make a difference in salmon and steelhead returns. In fact, I would argue that in years like this, if we had better spawning, rearing, and migratory conditions, it could buffer the poor ocean conditions to the point that we could still provide harvest fisheries in Idaho, and wild fish would not be threatened of going extinct.” (Emphasis added) The reader should be aware that Idaho rivers and streams include over 5000 miles of salmon and steelhead spawning and rearing habitat, much of it in pristine condition, leaving the migratory corridor the principal issue. Also noteworthy is the fact the State of Idaho is a co-defendant in the latest legal challenge to the Biological Opinion (BiOp) governing the operation of the dams on the Columbia and lower Snake Rivers.  Idaho is thus defending the status quo on dam operations, which federal Judge Michael H. Simon acknowledged, and the record clearly demonstrates, are imperiling threatened and endangered Idaho salmon and steelhead.

Will anyone save our wild Snake River salmon and steelhead and the orcas of the Salish Sea?

In Collapse, Diamond identifies three approaches that have proven successful in the past to preserve a commons resource.  First, a government can step in to enforce harvest quotas and take other actions necessary to preserve the resource. In the case of Snake River salmon and steelhead, a host of government agencies have spent 20+ years and billions of dollars on the recovery of Snake River threatened and endangered fish. All species continue to decline. The Southern Resident Killer Whales are likewise an endangered species, suffering from a lack of a major portion of their diet, Columbia Basin Chinook salmon.  As noted above, government agencies have devoted much time and treasure to maintaining the status quo on the lower Snake River and continue to do so today.

Privatization of a commons resource is a second possible solution, based on the hope that private owners would take a long-term perspective and be good stewards of the resource in order to protect their own interests. This solution is not possible, however, when the resource cannot be divided, which is the case with migratory fish and game.

A third possible solution, which Diamond acknowledged as the most difficult, requires that consumers of the resource recognize their common interests and actively intercede.  According to Diamond, “That is likely to happen only if a whole series of conditions is met: the consumers form a homogeneous group; they have learned to trust and communicate with each other; they expect to share a common future and to pass on the resource to their heirs; they are capable of and permitted to organize and police themselves; and the boundaries of the resource and of its pool of consumers are well defined.”

If Diamond’s analysis is correct, saving Snake River wild salmon and steelhead requires an aggressive mass movement, most likely originating in the Pacific Northwest, of people who refuse to see our river and ocean commons stripped of the iconic species that help define who we are and where we live. While the removal of the lower Snake River dams is a critical element in Snake River Basin fish recovery and can provide a focus for civil action, returning the lower Snake to a more natural flow will not be sufficient. Needed is an entirely new salmon management effort based not on the failed industrialization of salmon production in concrete tanks but the stitching together of the ecological requirements of salmon and steelhead life cycles.

Meanwhile, the great fisheries commons we call the waters of the lower Snake, the Grande Ronde, the Imnaha, the Clearwater, even the namesake Salmon River itself, is disappearing. The scientific community advises that the warming of the planet will continue to make this situation worse.

Whatever individuals and organizations throughout the Pacific Northwest who care about Snake River salmon and steelhead are now doing is not enough. Whatever supporters of Southern Resident Killer Whales are doing now to protect a critical food source for these orcas is not enough.  Concern without anger is insufficient to save our wild Snake River salmon and steelhead; anger without outrage belittles the truth; outrage without action is a sure path to species extinction.

 

Linwood Laughy       Kooskia, Idaho 83539          lochsalaughy@yahoo.com

It’s time to speak up for salmon

ACTION REQUIRED – PLEASE SPEAK UP BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!

speak up for salmonBPA has raised power rates 28% in the last eight years! They don’t want to recognize that breaching the four Lower Snake River dams will help REDUCE the cost of power. What’s worse is that the pro-dam lobby and sympathetic politicians in the Northwest have already convinced many Public Utilities in Washington & Oregon to support a radical and misguided House Resolution 3144 now being reviewed & evaluated in congress. Approval of HR 3144 would force administrators to keep the dams, regardless of the science. If your own power rates and wild salmon are important to you, you must ACT NOW.   

This is one of those times when public outcry can actually make an impact.

BPA rates are rapidly increasing and will continue to because of the under performing lower Snake River dams.

With mitigation costs in the billions, vastly more expensive rehabilitation cost on just 3 of the 24 turbines, court ordered spill that reduces power output along with the low seasonal flows that limit their output when demand is greatest, put these 4 dams in a league of losers that are draining funds from more beneficial BPA hydro projects and wasting wind power.

The Pacific Northwest region is energy rich. 

Currently there is a 16% surplus of energy.  Existing wind production is 3 times the average production of the LSR dams.