Welcome to Save Our wild Salmon’s Hot Water Report 2022.
During the summer, this weekly report provides an update on real-time water temperatures in the lower Snake and Columbia River reservoirs via graphs and analyses, a summary on the highest weekly water temperatures at the forebay/reservoir of each dam, and the status of adult returns for different salmon and steelhead populations as they make their way back to their natal spawning grounds. We’ll hear first-hand from scientists, Tribal members, fishing guides, advocates, and other experts about the challenges facing the Columbia and Snake rivers - and our opportunities to improve and restore them - in order to recover healthy, resilient fish populations and the benefits they deliver to the Northwest’s culture, economy, and ecology.
The once-abundant anadromous fish populations of the Columbia-Snake River Basin are struggling to survive today in large part due to multiple harms caused by the system of federal dams and reservoirs. The federal hydro-system creates conditions that harm and kill both juvenile and adult fish, including by elevating water temperatures in large, stagnant reservoirs in the summer months. These cold-water fish begin to suffer harmful effects when water temperatures exceed 68° Fahrenheit. The longer and the higher these temperatures rise above 68°F, the greater the harm, including: migration disruption, increased metabolism, increased susceptibility to disease, reduced reproductive potential (by reducing egg viability), suffocation (warm water carries less oxygen), and in the worst case - death.
Today, these harmful hot water episodes above 68°F in the Columbia and Snake Rivers are increasing in duration, frequency, and intensity. Our changing climate is making a bad situation for the Northwest’s iconic fish worse. Our region and nation must take urgent action to maintain cool water temperatures - or we will lose these species forever. Restoring a freely flowing lower Snake River by removing its four federal dams is our only feasible option to address high water temperatures in this 140-mile stretch of river running through southeast Washington State. Restoring the Snake River is one essential element of what must be a larger regional strategy to protect and rebuild healthy, abundant salmon and steelhead populations in order to benefit other fish and wildlife populations, including critically endangered Southern Resident orcas, to uphold our nation’s promises to Native American tribes, and to ensure prosperous communities across the Northwest.
The Hot Water Report 2022 is a joint project of the Save Our wild Salmon Coalition, Columbia Riverkeeper, American Rivers, Endangered Species Coalition, Environment Washington, Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Wildlife Federation, National Resource Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Sierra Club, Snake River Waterkeeper, Spokane Riverkeeper, Wild Orca, and Wild Steelhead Coalition.
II. READING THE DATA - Lower Snake and Columbia River Temperatures
Introduction: The daily mean temperature at the four reservoir forebays (immediately upstream from the dam) in the lower Snake River (above) and the lower Columbia River (below) for 2022 is represented with solid lines and their 10-year average (2012 - 2022) temperatures with dashed lines of the same color. The dotted line across the graph represents the 68°F “harm threshold” for adult and juvenile fish. Salmon and steelhead begin to suffer harmful effects when water temperatures exceed 68° Fahrenheit. The longer temperatures remain above 68°F and the higher the temperatures rise above 68°F, the more severe the potential effects, including: increased metabolism, increased susceptibility to disease, reduced reproductive potential, and/or death (see Issue 1 for more detailed information).
Discussion: Since April, temperatures in the lower Snake River and the lower Columbia River reservoirs have steadily moved upward. During April and May, trends have tracked closely with the 10-year average. In June, however, water temperatures dropped considerably below this average. This was good for cold-water species like salmon and steelhead, but since July, temperatures have reached and exceeded the 68°F “harm threshold” in the reservoirs on the lower Snake and Columbia River. Below, we present the highest temperatures for each reservoir on the lower Snake and Columbia River.
A note on data information: The mean water temperature data from these reports comes from the USGS Current Conditions for Washington State and the 10-year average water temperature data comes from the Fish Passage Center. There is no available data for Lower Monumental 10-year average water temperature. Graphs and tables were assembled by SOS Staff.
III. WEEKLY HIGH TEMPERATURES: 8/9-8/15
Harmful water temperatures in the lower Snake River reservoirs: This week, all reservoirs exceeded 68 degrees. The Little Goose Dam reservoir has spent 32 days above 68°F and similarly, the Ice Harbor Dam spent 30 consecutive days above 68°F.
The reservoir behind Ice Harbor Dam registered the highest temperature at 72.14°F on August 14th - significantly above the level that cold-water fish require. The waters behind Lower Monumental Dam registered the second highest temperature at 70.88°F.
This week, on the lower Columbia River, all reservoirs peaked over 68°F. The reservoirs behind the Bonneville Dam registered the highest temperature: 72.14°F.
IV. The Northwest economy will see many benefits from a free-flowing lower Snake River.
Healthy, abundant salmon and steelhead populations not only deliver innumerable ecological benefits to the Northwest, but are also integral to cultures and economies - tribal and non-tribal - of the region. And when salmon disappear, communities suffer due to a lack of opportunity that these fish would otherwise provide. With dam removal, economic opportunities for communities would further be revitalized with the return of 140-miles of free-flowing river and sustainable, fishable salmon and steelhead returns. An economic analysis by ECONorthwest indicated, based on publicly available data, that the “benefits of removal [of the lower Snake River dams] exceed the costs, and thus society would likely be better off without the dams.”1
In this week’s issue, we explore some of the benefits that a restored Snake River - and salmon and steelhead - will provide to tourism, recreational communities, and fishing communities.
Tourism and Recreation
The economic benefits of restoring the lower Snake River and its salmon and steelhead have been estimated in the billions of dollars thanks to the income it would generate for commercial fishing, and increased recreational fishing.2 And, rafting and kayaking on a restored lower Snake would create new business and income for communities from Hells Canyon Dam to the Tri-Cities.
Recreation enhances lives and forms the economic and cultural foundation of many small towns in the Columbia and Snake River Basins.3 In a letter from 40 recreation businesses/organizations to Northwest Senators and Members of Congress seeking restoration of the lower Snake River, the businesses and organizations describe how a restored lower Snake River will expand recreation and tourism opportunities in this region, including rafting, fishing, bird watching, and hunting. “Restoring the lower Snake River will also enhance the future of rural recreation economy along the Clearwater, Grande Ronde, Salmon, and Snake Rivers.”3
The letter states, “We know people are willing to travel long distances and wait years for permits to enjoy high quality wild rivers and scenic canyons. Outdoor recreation is a strong means of transferring wealth from urban to rural communities with every trip imparting $119 per person per day on average. And as more people come to the Northwest to fish and float its rivers, the economy continues to grow: outdoor recreation is currently an $11.5 billion industry in Washington state and a $6.5 billion industry in Oregon. However, the growing trend of fishing season closures in order to protect steadily declining salmon and steelhead populations threatens our industry and livelihoods, including those of our vendors and affiliates who count on seasonal fish returns. Restoring rivers and recovering native fish populations, in contrast, promises both new economic opportunities and improved quality of life.”3
Restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River will help support and revitalize towns across the region. The ECONorthwest economic analysis found that dam removal could result in an increase of almost 100,000 recreational river trips to the Lower Snake River by 2026, and up to 1,000,000 by 2039.
Coastal communities, especially in the San Juan Islands and the Salish Sea, also depend on salmon – that feed a major tourist attraction – the Southern Resident orcas. The whale watching industry brings in over tens of millions of dollars in tourism revenue to many small, coastal communities. The presence of this industry delivers important benefits to these towns, as tourists who come for these adventures also visit local shops, museums, hotels, and restaurants.
An economic analysis by Earth Economics found that “whale watching participants who whale watch from boat-based tours or from terrestrial viewing points in San Juan County support over $216 million worth of economic activity in the Puget Sound Region every year. This activity generates more than $12 million in state and local tax revenue annually and support s over 1,800 jobs.”4
In addition, Earth Economics surveyed whale watcher participants to predict their behavior “if orcas decrease in proportion that is expected if the orcas become extinct. In this alternative scenario, 33% of non-local, boat-based whale watching participants said they would no longer choose to visit the Puget Sound Region, equating to an annual loss of $34 million in economic activity, $2.2 million in state and local tax revenue, and 330 jobs.”4
The whale watching industry is a powerful way for both locals and tourists to become acquainted with the whales, the threats they face, and the ways that each individual can become an advocate working towards greater protections for these magnificent mammals and other wildlife. Unless chinook salmon populations rebound quickly, we will likely lose the Southern Resident orcas.
Restoring this river and its native fish populations would create new outdoor recreation opportunities, rebuild sport and commercial fisheries, and help to significantly expand tourism opportunities to benefit small-town economies and local businesses throughout the region.
Let’s take a more detailed look at new opportunities in river rafting and kayaking, and in recreational, tribal, and commercial fishing.
A Destination River
A free-flowing lower Snake will provide a destination river for multi-day rafting and kayaking trips, something Washington does not now have. As Senator Murray and Governor Inslee’s draft “Lower Snake River Dams: Benefit Replacement Report” notes, “Stakeholders interviewed for this effort noted that demand for recreation and rafting opportunities through free-flowing rivers is steadily increasing, with the odds of securing a permit to float the Snake River through Hells Canyon decreasing from one in six in 2010 to one in 17 in 2020, and for the Salmon River, the odds have decreased from one in 17 in 2010 to one in 43 in 2020.”5
According to Senator Murray and Governor Inslee’s draft “Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Report,” restoring salmon and steelhead will provide over $1 billion annually in income for recreational fishing industries and support up to 25,000 more jobs.
According to that same draft report, the recovery of these salmon and steelhead stocks would boost annual tribal harvest by at least 29%. Tribal fishing—commercial and subsistence—relied heavily on fisheries for livelihood and economic development but have been gravely impacted by the declines in salmon, steelhead, lamprey, and other native fish species, constrained fishing opportunities, closed seasons, reduced incomes, and eliminated jobs.
Speaking of eliminated jobs, as late as 1978, there were more than 3,000 Washington-based commercial salmon trollers. Today, with depressed salmon populations, there are barely 100—a loss of 6,000 jobs in the fishing fleet and more in onshore businesses providing services, supplies, and equipment to fishermen. Recovery of endangered Snake River salmon would also lead to recovery of our endangered commercial fishing industry.
With salmon and steelhead populations on the brink of extinction, Northwest communities are missing economic and other opportunities that healthy, sustainable salmon populations provide. Restoring the river provides overall economic and environmental benefits to communities across the region.
1. ECONorthwest: Lower Snake River Dams: Economic Tradeoffs of Removal (July 29, 2019)
2. American Rivers: Our Vision for the Snake River
3. Snake River Outdoor Recreation Letter (February 23, 2021)
4. Earth Economics: The whales in our waters: The economic contribution of whale watching in San Juan County (February 15, 2019)
5. Senator Murray and Governor Inslee's draft "Lower Snake River Dams: Benefit Replacement Report" (June 9, 2021)
LINKS TO RECENT NEWS:
- The New York Times: Plaintiffs in Long Fight Over Endangered Salmon Hope a Resoluion is Near (August 15, 2022)
- Phys.org: 'If they can't make it, none of them will.' These Idaho salmon may hold key to survival (August 15, 2022)
- The Lewiston Tribune: Guest Opinion: Dugger 'gas lights' fish recovery and dam breaching (August 14, 2022)
- The Everett Herald: Case is well made for removal of Snake River dams (August 11, 2022)
Martha Campos is the Hot Water Report Coordinator with Save Our wild Salmon this summer while she resides on Kizh/Tongva ancestral lands in California. Martha holds a BA from the University of California, Davis in Native American Studies (and two minors: Environmental Policy, Analysis, and Planning and Climate Science and Policy) and is a queer, nonbinary person of color with ancestral roots in Mexico.