1. Columbia – Snake River Basin Hot Water Kills Hundreds of Thousands of Adult Salmon
2. Elwha River Restoration Continues to Sparkle
3. Update: The Future Dims for Lower Snake Waterway, Port of Portland
4. Save the Dates! Three Upcoming Fall Events You Don’t Want to Miss!
5. Summer Raffle Results!
1. BAD NEWS FIRST: Hundreds of thousands of Columbia/Snake River Basin fish have been killed by hot water this summer.
The big story so far this summer is the devastating hot water fish kills on the Columbia and Snake Rivers and their tributaries. An unusually low snowpack this winter combined with unusually warm temperatures in the Northwest this spring and summer to create ‘perfect storm’ for coldwater fish like wild salmon and steelhead. Add to this already lethal mix big federal dams –especially the four on the lower Snake - and an already grim situation gets even worse. The slackwater reservoirs created by these dams slows the current and creates huge pools that absorb sunlight and drive water temperatures even higher.
Back in July, scientists estimated that hundreds of thousands of returning adult fish – particularly sockeye in the Columbia and Snake rivers were dead and dying. Some have suggested that we could lose more than a million by summer’s end. Water temperatures exceeding 70 degrees stress salmon and steelhead. The hotter the waters get, the greater stress: weakened immune systems, halted migration, increased susceptibility to disease, reduced reproductive success, and eventually death.
While these high temperatures are unusual, they are not unexpected. And scientists anticipate that the warming climate will over time make these sorts of summers more frequent, more intense, and longer lasting – bad news for salmon and all that rely on their healthy populations: people - and orcas, bears, eagles and myriad other fish and wildlife.
But NMFS and other federal agencies have ignored this reality for far too long and have produced salmon plan after salmon plan that merely tinkers in the margins rather than addressing the dams and dam operations that exacerbate these high temperatures. As a result, the region finds itself ill-equipped to deal with the devastating effects of these conditions this summer.
The changing climate is just one of the reasons that salmon and fishing advocates have focused on restoring salmon and steelhead’s productive access to the immense, protected, high elevation habitat in central Idaho especially, but also in eastern Washington and Oregon. Removing the lower Snake River dams is becoming more urgent for restoring healthy Snake River populations and protecting them from extinction.
An Inadequate Federal Salmon Plan: Like its predecessors, the federal government’s latest Salmon Plan for the Columbia Basin does virtually nothing to anticipate, respond to, or mitigate for the hot water made worse by the main-stem dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. In court recently arguing over the lawfulness of the 2014 Federal Plan, the federal attorneys called the freshwater impacts of climate change “too speculative” to address in detail in their latest plan, and as a result, the agencies included no measures specifically targeted to mitigate for warming waters.
The fish kills this summer highlight another of the plan’s shortcomings – it’s unrealistically rosy assumptions. Though the government’s plans have (mis)spent billions of taxpayer and billpayer dollars, ESA-listed fish populations remain at-risk. Not one of thirteen populations have recovered. Some Snake River populations have declined in recent years.
This plan assumes ocean conditions no worse than in recent years, deep snowpacks, and mild summer temperatures. So when Summer 2015 arrives, there is no buffer or slack or room for error in these critically endangered populations. Summer 2015 lays bare a grossly inadequate plan as it puts “salmon extinction” – front and center – on the table.
The Northwest CAN have clean, affordable energy AND healthy wild salmon populations, but the dam agencies and their allies, so far, continue to stand in the way.
The Court’s ruling on the 2014 Federal Salmon Plan for the Columbia and Snake Rivers could be issued later this summer or fall. Stay tuned!
Here are three links to press coverage in June and July. The first, by former SOS executive director Pat Ford calls out the obstructionist politics of BPA and the Army Corps – and calls on NW Governors to lead the region toward real lasting solutions.
A. SEATTLE TIMES GUEST OPINION: Dead Salmon, climate change and Northwest dams
B. LA TIMES: Heat and drought devastate sockeye salmon fishing and spawning on Washington rivers
C. EARTHFIX: A Last-Ditch Effort To Save Snake River Sockeye
2. NOW SOME GOOD NEWS: Elwha River Restoration Update
We do have some good news to report. It continues to emerge from the Elwha River watershed on the northside of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.
Reports from scientists leading research and restoration efforts on the newly-restored Elwha River are very encouraging – trends and progress in this watershed are meeting and exceeding the expectations of scientists – salmon are returning; sediment is moving downriver; the beaches are replenishing with sand locked upstream for 100 years, riparian habitat is being re-established. The river and everything that is represents is coming back to life.
The photo above was shot by John Gussman in early August. It shows a lot of Chinook salmon headed upstream in a stretch of river above the former site of the lower dam. Salmon and steelhead and other critters have been documented moving back into habitat that had either been cut off from the lower river or destroyed by the now-gone reservoirs.
Like many rivers in the Columbia-Snake Basin, the Elwha is warmer than normal this summer, but so far the Elwha’s fish have not been noticeably impacted. Wild, free-flowing rivers are far more resilient than slackwater reservoirs. They provide fish and wildlife healthier habitat, more cool pockets of water, and a greater number of refugia (refuges) to escape the high deadly temperatures, predators, and other threats.
A. NYTIMES SCIENCE: When Dams Come Down, Salmon and Sand Can Prosper
B. Here’s another encouraging story on two dam removal projects in salmon country in Oregon:
KUOW.ORG: Two of Oregon's worst dams for fish are coming down
3. The Future Dims for Lower Snake Waterway, Port of Portland
The dismal prospects for the Port of Portland are receiving national attention as Portland’s woes are making the justification of barging on the lower Snake shakier by the year. It appears unlikely that container shipping will return to the Port of Portland, leaving the Port of Lewiston’s Snake River dock without a purpose.
While grain is still shipped out of Lewiston via Lewis-Clark Terminals, that traffic is expected to continue its steady decline as well; it's likely to fall another 3-4 percent next year. Recognizing the writing on the wall, shippers, farmers and Washington State are stepping up investments in rail to enable goods to efficiently and affordably travel to the large, deep-water Puget Sound ports. Recently a fertilizer company located near the lower Snake River invested in new rail connections, the State of Washington has committed $18 million to short rail upgrades, and a new unit train loader facility is being built west of Spokane, WA.
Shippers are moving off the river to rail. It is way past time to rethink the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to keep up the lower Snake waterway and it’s aging, outdated dams. The region could devote a fraction of those taxpayer dollars to rail and other upgrades that could provide the transportation system farmers and other shippers will need into the future. It’s time for an honest assessment of the actual costs and benefits of the lower Snake dams. For more information, see the press coverage below:
A. Wall Street Journal: Super-sized cargo skips small ports.
B. High Country News: Why is bad science protecting the Lower Snake River dams?
4. SAVE THESE DATES: SEPT 30, OCT 3 AND OCT 7!
SOS is working with our allies on three events in early fall. Mark your calendar – we’ll see you there! Please check back on the SOS website for further information, contacts, and ticket information. For the moment: please mark your calendar and save the date!
SAVE THE DATE #1: WILD RIVERS NIGHT - SEATTLE - 9/30.
Seattle will celebrate Washington State’s wild rivers with a free event at The Mountaineers Building. The event, emceed by UW Professor, award-winning author, and MacArthur Genius David Montgomery, will feature short films, stunning photography, compelling information, humorous stories, socializing, and fun - all centered around the rivers of Washington State. Doors open at 6:30pm, programming begins at 7:30pm.
Conservationists, boaters, anglers, business owners and interested citizens are invited to attend this second annual event to celebrate Washington’s wild rivers and efforts to protect, enhance and restore our watersheds for fish and wildlife, recreation, and a healthy region.
Libations by Snoqualmie Brewery, Sawtooth Winery and Sky River Meade ($10 pint cup purchase available at the event). Dante’s Inferno Dogs will be serving meat and vegetarian sausages. We’ll host a silent auction of outdoor equipment, books, and art. Proceeds will support the conservation of Washington State rivers and fish and wildlife. For further information: firstname.lastname@example.org
SAVE THE DATE #2: FREE THE SNAKE FLOTILLA & RIVER RECREATION DAY – WAWAWAI COUNTY PARK NEAR PULLMAN, WA -10/3.
Join Northwest fishermen, boaters, orca lovers and other river users for a rally on the river in support of removing the 4 lower Snake River dams for salmon, for people, for orcas. Bring a boat or borrow one at the event. Experienced and novice boaters encouraged to come. And if you don’t want to get on the water, come show your support from shore! It’s time to tell our elected leaders to remove these four salmon-killing dams, restore a river and recover fishing-dependent communities.
Saturday: Coffee and snacks begin at 7 am. The Flotilla begins at 10 am. Music and speakers after! Friday evening event: Come the night before for music, beer and fun in Moscow, ID. Camping, Lodging: Lodging and camping options will be available.
For further information: email@example.com
SAVE THE DATE #3: ORCA-SALMON EVENING AT SEATTLE AQUARIUM – 10/7.
You’re invited to join SOS and its allies in the new Orca-Salmon Alliance for an evening of science and policy and food and drink at Intertwined Fate: the Orca – Salmon Connection in the Pacific Northwest. Our keynote speaker – acclaimed scientist and award-winning author Dr. Carl Safina will be followed by a panel of regional experts - Ken Balcomb, Jacques White, Dr. Lynn Barre (NOAA, invited) and Dr. Howard Schaller (USFWS, invited) – to discuss the challenges and opportunities for protecting two iconic Northwest species – and critical connections between them.
For further information: firstname.lastname@example.org
5. SUMMER RAFFLE RESULTS:
We want to thank everyone who helped make our summer raffle a successful fundraiser! And we’d like to announce the winners of our four raffle prizes: four excellent books, signed by the authors: (2) King of Fish by Dr. David Montgomery and (2) Never Give Up on the Sagebrush Sea by Richard Howard.
And the winners are:
Jon R. of Oakland CA and Ed D. of Jericho VT will receive a signed copy of "King of Fish".
Carl J. of Camano Island and Ann F. of Boise ID will receive signed copies of "Never Give Up".
Thank you for your support of SOS and the wild salmon and steelhead and free-flowing rivers of the Columbia Basin and Pacific Northwest.