Man, weather conspire against salmon

  • Chart on how fish died in 1994

    Diane Sylvain
 

The giant spring runoff that was supposed to safely whisk baby Snake River salmon over dams to the Pacific Ocean has been cut down to size. Mother Nature accomplished part of the feat. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did the rest.

A series of wet winter storms had buoyed the hopes of salmon advocates working for the survival of this year's "class of '95" (HCN, 5/29/95). But while millions of young salmon began their journey to the sea, cool spring weather kept much of the snowpack from melting. Flows on the Snake River, while significantly better than last year, were not high enough that river managers would consistently spill water - and endangered salmon - over the blockade of federal dams.

When water isn't spilled over dams, fish are pulled into the dams' power turbines where their chances of survival are greatly diminished, according to fisheries biologists.

To make matters worse, salmon advocates say the Army Corps, which operates the dams, cut back spill levels at three Lower Snake River dams several times in May, ostensibly to protect fish. The agency said it had to reduce dissolved nitrogen levels in the water below the dams to meet state water quality standards. Too much of the gas in water is deadly to fish.

But fisheries biologists say the Corps killed many more fish sending them through the dams' whirling turbines than they saved trying to reduce the gas caused by turbulent spills.

Monitoring of fish below the dams has shown that nitrogen gas has affected less than 1 percent of the fish sampled by scientists this year. "Dissolved gas is not a problem biologically," says Michelle DeHart, manager of the Fish Passage Center. The center collects biological information for the federal agencies overseeing the hydropower system.

DeHart says the real problem is political, since the Corps is under pressure to maximize power production for the Bonneville Power Administration and its customers, and has no interest in changing its policy of barging salmon around the dams. Spilled water, she adds, does not produce electricity, and spilled fish don't ride on barges.

Charles Ray, an advocate for salmon with Idaho Rivers United, says the Corps reduced spills against the wishes of another federal agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is responsible for recovering the endangered salmon. In a letter to Fisheries Service regional director William Stelle, Ray and representatives of two fishing groups wrote: "Are you and NMFS in charge, or is the Army Corps of Engineers the real decision maker for Snake River salmon?"

"It's obvious that the Corps is acting as a free agent," Ray says. "They do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it."

High Country News Classifieds
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.