In This Issue:
1. DamNation in D.C. - A report from the nation's capitol
2. Orca advocates: "Restore the lower Snake River to feed hungry, endangered orcas"
3. Lower Snake River barging takes another hit
4. Good news from the “California Department of River Restoration”
5. Recent coverage of the newly-restored Elwha River
1. DamNation in D.C. - A report from the nation's capitol:
A. The White House was presented with petition signed by more than 65,000 citizens urging President Obama to consider Snake River dam removal.
Last month SOS Inland NW Director Sam Mace and retired Army Corps of Engineers staff Jim Waddell joined Patagonia clothing company in Washington D.C. to deliver a petition to the White House urging President Obama to put removal of the four lower Snake River dams back on the table.
Along with the petition, salmon advocates carried a letter signed by nine Northwest scientists urging Members of Congress to support dam removal to save the Puget Sound’s much-loved orcas, whose decline is linked to the extreme loss of Columbia-Snake River salmon.
Jim Waddell has attracted new converts with his personal story of working on the Corps’ lower Snake River dam removal feasibility study 15 years ago when the agency put forth faulty economic data in order to justify keeping the dams. As a Corps project manager in 1999, Waddell argued that the dams should come out in the interests of both endangered salmon and American taxpayers. On this trip, he brought his message and story to Congress and the Administration.
New interest in dam removal is steadily building in the Northwest and in D.C. As the region and nation celebrate the restoration of a once-again free-flowing Elwha River, its returning salmon and steelhead demonstrate how removing dams to restore rivers can benefit communities and economies (and orcas!). There is also a growing recognition that the aging lower Snake River dams provide few benefits today when compared to the escalating costs of maintaining them. There is in addition a rapidly spreading awareness of these dams are severely limiting a critical food source - chinook salmon - for endangered Puget Sound orcas (see story below). All these types of factors are helping stir a new look at and new public support for removing these four high cost-low value dams.
B. DamNation plays to sold out D.C. crowd
DamNation screened twice in D.C. in January - first on Capitol Hill hosted by Senator Al Franken, followed by a panel discussion moderated by National Geographic content editor Chris Johns, who grew up in Oregon salmon country. DamNation then played to a sold-out audience at National Geographic as part of the touring Banff Film Festival. A year after its release, this powerful and hopeful film continues to inspire and mobilize people. There’s no question that this film documenting dam removal success stories around the country is changing the conversation on the lower Snake.
C. Make yourself heard!
Join more than 70,000 others calling on President Obama to put lower Snake River dam removal squarely back on the table. While you are at it, sign the petition here to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee urging him to restore Puget Sound orcas’ food source by removing the four lower dams.
NAT GEO: “Dam Removal Has Really Captured the Public’s Imagination” A year after their award-winning film came out, the DamNation filmmakers share a look at the growing public support for “deadbeat” dam removal in the U.S.
NETFLIX: DamNation is now available for streaming on Netflix - just in case you have not yet seen it - or you've got to watch it again!
2. Orca advocates call to restore the lower Snake River to feed hungry, endangered orcas
Orcas – or Killer Whales – have been roaming the waters of Puget Sound and our nation’s west coast since long before humans arrived in the Pacific Northwest. The orcas that frequent the Puget Sound in Washington State – Southern Resident Killer Whales, or SRKWs – rely almost exclusively on chinook salmon. Not long ago the coastal waters of the Northwest were full of big, abundant chinook virtually year-round. But the steep decline in salmon populations in recent decades has contributed significantly to a similar decline in the number of SRKWs and scientists have recently found strong evidence of “nutritional stress” in the whales. With less chinook in the ocean, SRKWs are forced to work harder as they find less fish. As they burn through their blubber to make up for inadequate food, the whales release toxins that harm them and – for pregnant or lactating females – the young orcas who are critical to this unique population's survival.
Here are a few critical SRKW facts:
-- SRKWs have been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 2005.
-- Today, there are just 79 SRKWs, down from at least 200, less than 100 years ago.
-- NOAA-Fisheries, the federal agency charged with protecting this imperiled species has described the decline of salmon in the Columbia River basin as “[p]erhaps the single greatest change in food availability for resident killer whales since the late 1800s...”
-- Despite this critical relationship between SRKWs and Columbia Basin chinook salmon, NOAA has done very little to actually rebuild abundant salmon populations there – leaving salmon and orcas increasingly vulnerable to extinction.
Two things have changed recently. First, scientists have clearly documented the SRKWs spending lots of time hunting for and feeding on Columbia Basin Chinook – especially in the lean months of winter. Second, in just the last two years, eight SRKWs have died – a 10% decrease in an already endangered population!
According to a December 20 article in the Seattle Times “officials overseeing whale recovery say it’s too soon to say the situation is, in fact, dire.” Will Stelle, NOAA’s West Coast Director, declared "if you look in the rearview mirror, you’ll see that in fact over the last decade we’ve made substantial progress in building the basic foundation for a long-term conservation strategy for southern residents. We’re by no means there...[but] [t]his is not the time to light our hair on fire, or to run about saying ‘The sky is falling, the sky is falling,’ ” he said. “What is really important here is to take the long view.”
Orca advocates and scientists, however, disagree. A growing number of people are becoming frustrated with NOAA’s slow-walking approach to recovery. Salmon and orca advocates see NOAA's "long view" approach as a sure-fire extinction strategy for SRKWs and the chinook salmon they depend upon. Our collective patience has worn thin waiting for NOAA to address these problems and recover these two iconic Northwest species.
A group of concerned citizens have recently established the Southern Resident Killer Whale – Chinook Salmon Initiative to raise public awareness about the SRKW crisis and to mobilize people who love orcas to add their voice to the growing number of people who are now convinced that the costs of the lower Snake River dams far exceed their benefits – and calling for their removal.
Here’s one immediate way that you can help: sign the SRKW-CSI petition: Don’t Dam Orcas to Extinction!
Additional Reading / News Coverage:
Seattle Times: Ten years after ESA listing, killer whale numbers falling (December 20, 2014)
Islands Weekly: Dam Removal Initiative finds footing in D.C. (January 31, 2015)
3. Lower Snake River barging takes another hit
Barge traffic on the lower Snake River took yet another hit recently as the Port of Portland’s largest container shipping company, Hanjin, announced it was leaving. Hanjin ships 1600 containers in and out of the Port of Portland each week. Its departure means even fewer containers will ship down the lower Snake River from Port of Lewiston. Container shipping on the lower Snake has already seen a decline of more than 65 percent in the last decade. Hanjin’s announcement deals it another blow. Read about Hanjin here.
This development will make it even harder to justify the growing pile of taxpayer money being devoted to maintain the lower Snake dams and its waterway. Fishing and conservation groups are currently in court with the Nez Perce Tribe challenging the Army Corps of Engineers' plans to dredge the lower Snake River. We have two main concerns: (1) adverse impacts to wild salmon and Pacific Lamprey and (2) the Corps' failure to properly justify this expensive project in the face of its extremely limited benefits. The Corps’ dredging study by itself cost $16+ million.
Meanwhile, the Port of Lewiston just posted its worst year (2014) ever - following on its previous worst year in 2013. Its problems have become impossible to ignore. Read more here. Container shipping from Port of Lewiston has declined 82 percent since 1997. Shipping of all goods including wheat has declined 69 percent. With new and planned investments in rail infrastructure and expanded capacity in eastern Washington, wheat shipments are likely to continue to move off the river for the foreseeable future.
In fact, rail - not barge - investments are some of the largest new developments at the river ports. The Port of Wilma on the lower Snake downstream from Clarkston, for example, has a new facility to handle fertilizers, 90 percent of which will travel to the Port by rail rather than river.
Already the lower Snake waterway contributes just 4 percent of the entire traffic on the so-called “Columbia-Snake waterway.” So little freight ships on the lower Snake currently that the waterway qualifies as a “negligible use” project under the Army Corps' own definition. With limited federal dollars and major maintenance investments piling up on the far more valuable lower Columbia River infrastructure that provides significant power, flood control, irrigation and shipping - it's time to rethink funneling more money into the high-cost low-value lower Snake River dams.
A judge is expected to rule later this year as to whether the Corps’ dredging plan is lawful. As barge traffic continues to drop, the economic arguments for keeping the four dams continue to drop with it.
4. Good news from the “California Department of River Restoration”:
A. Stanford University has been ordered to remove the abandoned Lagunita Dam on the San Francisquito River: A court recently ordered Stanford University to remove its abandoned and environmentally harmful Lagunita Diversion Dam from the mainstem of the San Francisquito Creek. For two decades, local conservation groups, community leaders, and state and federal agencies have pushed for the removal of this dam and steelhead migration impediment. The San Francisquito Watershed Council’s Steelhead Task Force identified the dam as a top fish passage problem on this creek's mainstem. This important removal project will eliminate this significant barrier – leaving Searsville Dam as the last and largest impediment to restoring a healthy creek and steelhead to their ancestral habitat upstream.
For more information, visit Beyond Searsville Dam here.
B. Progress on the Carmel River – California’s largest dam removal project … so far!
SOS friend Julie Hansen of Monterey Bay recently visited the San Clemente Dam on the Carmel River in the coastal mountains of central California. Thank you Julie for this report and photos:
The 106 ft dam - now owned by California American Water (Cal Am) - was built in 1921 to provide water for a growing Monterey Peninsula. While it once held 1425 acre-feet of water, it was determined in 2008 that its capacity had diminished to just 70 acre-feet due to sediment build up (a 95 percent reduction in capacity!). It has not been used as a water source for several years. In the 1990's, the California Department of Water Resources Division of the Safety of Dams also determined that the dam to be a risk to public safety as the aging, dated structure would be unable to withstand a major flood or earthquake.
Over the last 2 decades and after consideration of many options, it was finally determined that the dam should come down. Dam removal was viewed as the best option because it would:-- Alleviate public health and safety risks associated with potential dam failure; -- Restore connectivity and access to 25 unimpaired miles of upstream spawning and rearing habitat for steelhead; -- Restore connectivity of aquatic and riparian habitat particularly the California red-legged frog; and -- Restore natural sediment flow to the river mouth.
When completed, Cal Am will donate 928 acres of adjacent land to the Bureau of Land Management for watershed protection and addition to two adjacent regional parks.
Work to remove the dams formally began in 2013. So far, the Carmel River has been rerouted and the existing sediment stabilized. Dam demolition is expected to commence in August this year. Restoration, rehabilitation, and monitoring will continue into 2016.
Below the San Clemente Dam lies an older, smaller dam. The Old Carmel River Dam (also known as the China Creek Dam) was built in 1880 to provide water for the then-small community of Monterey. When the San Clemente dam was completed in the 1920’s, the Old Careml River Dam was "decommissioned" but not removed. Fortunately, this structure is scheduled for removal in 2016. This is the largest dam removal project so far (!!!) in the state of California; it is expected to cost about $88 million.
For more information: SFGate: Carmel River diverted to demolish San Clemente Dam (Sunday, December 14, 2014)
5. Recent coverage of the newly-restored Elwha River:
B. Here is a 2-minute video of one of our nation’s most newly restored rivers coming back to life during a flood event on February 6. Footage courtesy of John Gussman – co-director of the Return of the River.