Latest: Salmon get a boost over Columbia River dams

Court order to help beleaguered fish forces operators to spill more water over dams.

  • Spilling water over dams allows salmon in the Columbia River Basin to migrate more easily.

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Some 16 million salmon and steelhead once returned to the Columbia River Basin to spawn each fall. The construction of several large dams, starting in the 1930s, decimated their numbers, and despite recovery efforts, they failed to rebound. In 2006, court-mandated spillovers — running less water through hydropower turbines and spilling more over dams — began each spring to help young fish pass safely over the structures (“Columbia Basin (Political) Science,” HCN, 4/13/09).

In early April, a court ruling will require dam managers to spill the largest amount of water yet over Columbia and Snake River dams. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling last year ordering increased spill, despite controversy over the practice’s cost and effectiveness. Joseph Bogaard, executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon, told Oregon Public Broadcasting, “This is a short-term measure, but it’s a critical one, given that salmon populations — especially in the last few years — are headed in the wrong direction.”

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