The spring Chinook run has come to an end on the lower Snake River. The finally tally for 2017 was dismal compared to last year and the 10 year average, with a 56% decline.
10 yr avg: 62,403
The summer Chinook run is not fairing much better. It is currently half the 10 year average.
10 yr avg: 10,837
Counts taken at Lower Granite dam and reported by the Fish Passage Center (fpc.org).
But I thought we were having record fish returns?
This data does not support the reports of “record fish returns” cited by Washington Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers in her latest attempt to save the dams. Record fish returns have been proclaimed by several groups including our own federal agencies like the US Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration, and Bureau of Reclamation. Here is the chart they showed the public at the CRSO Open Houses last fall. Looks great doesn’t it?
But if one were to look back farther in history, they would find a different story. Here is a graph from Idaho Fish and Game going back to 1955.
Recent returns are far from being records. This is nothing more than data manipulation to support their cause.
“There are 3 kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Policy Considerations: How and Why Breaching the Four Lower Snake Dams Can Happen This Year
1. The Corps of Engineers has inherent fiduciary responsibilities to insure existing projects continue to provide economic benefit, do not harm the environment and are technically sound throughout the project life. They do not need a Federal Judge to order a correction but can do so as an independent action.
2. The dams have a Benefit to Cost ratio of 15¢ on the dollar (.15 to 1) in terms of National Economic Development, the standard by which the Corps must measure economic benefit. Corrected Cost and Economic conclusions based on Corps data and planning processes show breaching via channel bypass has benefits ranging from 4 to 20 to 1 with Regional effects adding more than 5K jobs in E. Washington and Lewiston.
3. #1 and #2 are why the Corps can put the projects into a “non-operational” status. This does not change the project Purpose thus does not need Congressional Authorization.
4. The 2002 Environmental Impact Statement, signed by the Corps Division Commander, states, the Alternative for further Systems Improvements, is unlikely to recover juvenile salmon migration (and after nearly $1 billion has not) and is no better than the existing condition or doing nothing, and that breaching provided the highest probability of meeting survival/recovery of listed Snake River Stocks. From a NEPA standpoint, this operable EIS provides the process documentation to undertake breaching and is consistent with recent court rulings.
5. Corrected costs for breaching via channel bypass are $339 million instead of the $1.3 to $2.6 BILLION stated by BPA in their March 2016 “Fact Sheet”. Corrected assumptions provide a far simpler removal of the earthen portion of the dam requiring only the simplest of design and contracting; essentially a Time and Materials contract for renting bulldozers and loaders to notch the dam for hydraulic removal and placement of armor stone, if required. Time to contract award is a matter of a few weeks and easily within the Contracting expertise of the Corps.
6. Since Bonneville Power Administration is responsible for approximately 92% of the cost of the Operations, Maintenance, Repairs for the 4 dams and full cost of all Hydropower capital costs, eg., Turbine replacements, as well as Fish Mitigation required by the 1980 Power Planning and Conservation Act, ratepayer funds, not new Congressional Appropriations, can be used to pay for the breach costs. Under the Fish Mitigation clauses of the 1980 act, BPA could pay the full cost of breaching and could receive a credit on their Federal Debt for the dams should they choose to. They could do this as the most cost effective fish mitigation measure in the Columbia/Snake. System and to avoid loosing more money on generating power at a loss on the 4 dams.
7. The Lower Snake Navigation system was out of service four months this year with no noticeable effect on farm shipments. Grain shipments continue to shift to truck/rail to Portland and SeaTac or truck/rail/barge to Columbia river ports using Washington States grain shuttle service because it is cheaper than the using LSR Navigation.
8. Oversupply and balancing power already exist to take up loss of LSRD generation.
Conclusion, all relevant ethical, policy, financial, technical or biological reasons to support a Dec 2018 start of breaching are in place now. To not do so will waste additional $millions and prevent salmon/orca recovery.
The spring Chinook salmon run continues on the lower Snake River. As of 6/11/17, 20,617 spring Chinook adults had passed Lower Granite Dam on their journey east to spawning grounds in Washington, Idaho and Oregon. In 2016, 58,602 fish had passed by this time. This was similar to the 10 year average of 57,481. It represents a 65% reduction between 2017 and 2016.
As a result, Idaho Fish and Game officials closed most of the spring Chinook salmon season in the Clearwater Basin. This is devastating to small Idaho towns like Orofino, Kamiah, Kooskia, and Elk City. They depend upon a robust fishing season to bring anglers from around the Pacific Northwest. Anglers spend money on lodging, gas, groceries, and fishing supplies.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologist Brett Bowersox at Lewiston said the run returning to the Clearwater Basin continues to show lower-than-average survival between Bonneville and Lower Granite dams – so poor that the state’s share of the harvestable surplus already has been exhausted. The closure also will help ensure hatcheries get an adequate number of spawners, known as broodstock, to produce the next generation of springers.” -Eric Barker, Lewiston Tribune
Chinook Salmon are a keystone species. Orcas, bears, and a host of birds depend upon their survival each year. Consequently, as the salmon runs decline, so do these other dependent species. The single greatest action to save the endangered salmon is the removal of the four lower Snake River dams. Recovery of salmon becomes more difficult each year they stay in place.
No summer season is planned in drainage except for Lochsa River
By ERIC BARKER of the Lewiston Tribune
Idaho fisheries managers pulled the plug on spring fishing in the Clearwater Basin on Monday after giving the beleaguered season a brief second life.
The four-day-a-week season on sections of the Clearwater and its South and Middle forks that ran Thursdays through Sundays will not reopen this week, nor will it open there later this month for summer chinook. The Lochsa River is the lone exception in the basin. It is scheduled to open to summer chinook harvest June 22.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologist Brett Bowersox at Lewiston said the run returning to the Clearwater Basin continues to show lower-than-average survival between Bonneville and Lower Granite dams – so poor that the state’s share of the harvestable surplus already has been exhausted. The closure also will help ensure hatcheries get an adequate number of spawners, known as broodstock, to produce the next generation of springers.
“We are still wanting to protect our ability to get brood, and the most recent information we have showed we needed to shut down even the jack fishery to protect that brood stock,” said Bowersox.
Spring chinook season opened on the Clearwater and its tributaries in late April, but high water and cold flows apparently delayed the run. Fearing a shortage of spawners, the department closed fishing on the Clearwater River and its tributaries and on the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers May 22.
Fishing resumed June 3 following a spike of adult chinook passing Bonneville Dam. However, fisheries managers shrunk the number of river miles open in the Clearwater basin and they restricted harvest to jack salmon only – those under 24 inches long.
Anglers harvested 77 jacks and released 170 adults during the season’s brief second life.
Fishing on a short section of the lower Salmon River and on the Little Salmon River will resume Thursday. Bowersox said flows on those rivers are dropping and the fishing conditions should be improving. Anglers caught and kept just six adult chinook on the lower Salmon River last week.
“I suspect fish should start moving in the Salmon River quite a bit more than they had been,” Bowersox said.
At Bonneville Dam, the spring Chinook run ended on May 31st. The run started late due to river conditions and never fully recovered. The final number of adults across the dam was 83,624. This is a 39% reduction from last year and a 44% reduction from the 10 year average.
The summer run started on June 1st. As of 6/11/17, the run total was 17,384. This is a 27% reduction compared to last year, and a 23% reduction from the 10 year average. River conditions have been difficult for Chinook salmon this year. But we cannot forget that 61% of juvenile Chinook perished in the hydropower system in 2015, the year that they migrated out to the ocean.
The steelhead run at Bonneville dam is just getting underway and is currently at 3,712 adults, including 1,149 wild fish (not from a hatchery). Last year at this time, 7,164 steelhead, including 2,611 wild fish had passed. The 10 year average is 6,985 adults including 2,017 wild fish. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has restricted the steelhead fishing season as a result. This is predicted to be the worst steelhead run in 37 years. A WDFW fishery manager, Ron Roler, left out a key piece of information when he tried to explain these poor results.
“Many of the fish returning this year were subjected to drought conditions in the Columbia Basin in 2015 and unusually warm water in the ocean through 2016,” Roler said. “We saw the effects of these conditions in last year’s upriver steelhead return, and this year they’re even more pronounced.”
When these adults were just smolts out-migrating to the ocean in 2015, steelhead mortality through the 4 lower Snake dams and 4 Columbia dams was 64%.
HR 2083 “Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act”
On June 8th, 2017, a legislative hearing was held regarding HR 2083. The purpose of this bill is to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to reduce predation on endangered Columbia River salmon and other nonlisted species, and for other purposes. It was introduced by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-WA.
To assist the recovery of Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed salmon in the Columbia River watershed and to protect tribal ceremonial, subsistence and commercial fisheries, H.R. 2083 authorizes the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to issue expedited permits authorizing states and tribes to lethally take California sea lions and non-ESA listed Steller sea lions (hereinafter referred to as “sea lions”) under certain conditions.
Testimony by Mr. Gary Dorr, representing Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment, was included in the hearing. His statement targets the true root-cause of salmon mortality on the Snake-Columbia River system. To hear more of Gary’s testimony, begin listening here at minute 42.
Comments from Jim Waddell
“Once again federal agencies and prodam advocates are pitting endangered marine mammals against salmon recovery in another effort to deflect attention to the real problem, four too many dams endangering Snake River salmon and steelhead. Immediate breaching of the lower Snake River Dams not only benefits all the endangered harvesters, whether you be a sea lion, a killer whale, a tribal, commercial or sport fisherman, or a farmer, but adds thousands of jobs to the region and saves tax/rate payer money. “
‘Most’ everything in this article is correct, except that the conclusion is wrong. It was written by the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club. Too much spill kills salmon and the incremental benefit to more spill is minimal at this point. If we want robust, economically thriving river communities, wild salmon for future generations to experience, and a healthy Pacific Northwest ecosystem for all of us, the Snake River needs to be set free from the four Lower Snake River Dams.
More spill won’t make it, so lets not ask for it. We need to be asking for immediate breach starting this year.
2017 Incidents at Little Goose Dam on the Lower Snake River
A short summary of issues jeopardizing salmon recovery since April 11th
On April 11th, the first juvenile salmon and steelhead deaths at Little Goose Lock and Dam were reported. This was the day after the lock was finally returned to service after three weeks delay due to numerous operations issues. “Higher than normal debris load” through the juvenile collection system killed 94 juveniles.
On April 28th, another debris blockage killed 395 juveniles. This time the Corps implemented additional efforts to manage debris issues. The salmon deaths prompted a letter from NOAA. Eric & Ann (Army Corps of Engineers), If I’m not mistaken this is the second debris caused high mortality incident in the Little Goose juvenile sampling and collection system in April. I know we all hate to see these incidents that can usually be avoided by due diligence and observation. I am wondering if its time for you to meet with the staff at Goose and walk through the system to identify areas that may get plugged and point out how continued observation can alert staff to a developing problem. I am hopeful this may emphasize the needs and help to avoid further problems. Thank You!
Bill Hevlin NOAA Fisheries
On May 3rd, another debris clog killed 2,240 juvenile salmon and steelhead. This time gatewell orifices were found plugged by debris. After this kill incident, orifice monitoring was to take place every 2 hours until further notice.
On May 1st another deadly event occurred when juveniles were mortally injured in passing or wedged into defective vertical barrier screens because the screens had not undergone seasonal maintenance and repairs. Debris further damaged the screens and was given as the cause of the approximately 5,000 mortalities, but reporting was late and vague. To repair the screens, the Corps took the turbines out of service. Incredibly, 25% of the turbines (6 of 24) at the four lower Snake River dams have been out of service this Spring (including one at Little Goose). Then the Corps removed another 3 turbines from service, which left 2 turbines running during these times of high flow. If water isn’t flowing through turbines, it must spill over the dam. This creates high levels of dissolved gas in the water, that at certain levels causes short and long term harm to juvenile and adult fish. Biologists generally agree that fish can survive gas levels of 120%, but not a lot higher. With this years excessive spill at Little Goose, dissolved gas levels went off the charts to 132% below the dam. Downstream at Lower Monumental Dam, 22% of juveniles were measured with gas bubble trauma and some was severe. Additionally, adults are currently migrating upstream past the dams and seem to be delayed at Little Goose. This means they too are being forced to endure deadly levels of dissolved gases and for extended periods of time. This may indeed prove to be Incident #5, and potentially the most deadly of them all for the fish.
Why did this happen?
All of these issues stemmed from a lack of maintenance and repair of complex fish passage systems that the Corps does not have the budget to maintain. It is not because of nature, which has become the standard excuse. The flows experienced this year are not unusual and mitigating river debris is designed into the system, but only works if maintained properly. In February 2014, the Little Goose Dam debris boom that had prevented past debris issues was damaged. As a result, debris issues have occurred at the dam each year since the failure. Repairs will not occur until winter 2017-2018. Why has this taken so long? These dams are aging and much of the equipment, including the massively expensive turbines and fish passage equipment, is past its useful life. Operation and maintenance costs are escalating rapidly as predicted 10-15 years ago and budgets are not. Delayed repairs are resulting in exponentially higher future replacement costs. At some point, the Army Corps of Engineers will realize that sinking more money into these dams is futile and a poor way to spend tax and rate payer money.
As of 5/25/17, the current and recent past counts of Spring Chinook Salmon that have completed passage of Bonneville dam and entered the Columbia River system are:
10 yr avg: 141,414
As a result of the extremely low returns this year, Washington State fisheries managers have closed fishing on the Snake River. In addition, Idaho has also closed fishing for Spring Chinook on the Salmon, Little Salmon, and Clearwater Rivers.
As of 5/25/17, the current and recent past counts of Steelhead are:
10-yr avg: 5,024
This years returns are forecast to be the worst in decades. Consequently, fisheries managers in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon are all very concerned about B-run steelhead. They are mulling measures to protect the fish this season. That could result in rolling closures, length restrictions, and limit restrictions.
So, what’s the dam problem?
All of these low salmon and steelhead returns are the result of a hydrosystem that kills over half the juvenile fish on their journey to the Pacific Ocean. Fish ladders do help adults get up the river to spawn. But passing juvenile salmon down the river is difficult. As a result, despite the increase in hatchery fish, improvement of habitat, and limits on harvest, salmon and steelhead returns continue to decline. Removing the four lower Snake River dams would immediately improve fish passage, open up around 70 miles of Fall Chinook spawning habitat, and lead to steelhead, Chinook, Sockeye, and possibly even Coho salmon recovery.
All data is from the Fish Passage Center website (fpc.org)
Finally, while what seem to be impressive numbers of fish return to the Columbia River basin today, be aware that historically 17 MILLION salmon returned to the Columbia River each year.
Working to breach Lower Snake River dams to save millions of tax dollars annually, bring wealth & jobs to a region and restore salmon runs which will increase prey availability for southern resident orcas.