Welcome to Save Our wild Salmon’s Hot Water Report 2022.
During the summer, this weekly report will provide an update on real-time water temperatures in the lower Snake and Columbia River reservoirs via graphs and analyses, a summary of 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 fecundity or reproductive potential (by reducing egg viability), suffocation (warm water carries less oxygen), and in the worst case - death.
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 likely our only 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 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, and Wild Steelhead Coalition.
II. READING THE DATA - Lower Snake and Columbia River Temperatures
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 fecundity or reproductive potential, and/or death.
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 have dropped considerably below this average. This is good news for cold-water species like salmon and steelhead, though we expect these temperatures will rise considerably in these reservoirs as the summer progresses. This week, the reservoir behind the Little Goose Dam had the highest mean temperature of 63.68°F and the Ice Harbor Dam’s reservoir had the second highest mean temperature of 62.96°F.
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's 10-year average water temperature. Graphs and tables were assembled by SOS Staff.
III. WEEKLY HIGH TEMPERATURES: 6/21-7/4
On the lower Snake River this week, the reservoir behind the Little Goose Dam registered the highest temperature at 64.22°F, followed closely by the Lower Monumental reservoir with 63.32°F.
On the lower Columbia River, the reservoirs behind the Bonneville Dam registered the highest temperature at 63.14°F.
IV. Senator Murray and Governor Inslee’s ‘Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Report’
This year, the Northwest and the nation face a critical window of opportunity to decide, develop, and deliver a comprehensive regional plan to restore the lower Snake River and invest in its communities. Restoring the lower Snake River is our only realistic option for addressing its dangerously high water temperatures in the summer months. River restoration will help address other dam-caused problems created for fish by, for example, reducing predator populations, increasing current velocity, decreasing juvenile fish migration times to the estuary, and more.
July 31 deadlines loom for (i) Murray/Inslee Snake River salmon initiative and (ii) the Biden Administration’s settlement discussions: Last October, Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee announced their next steps to develop an action plan to protect and restore Snake River salmon and steelhead, and invest in the region's communities. Earlier this month, Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee released their draft “Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Report,” which confirms that the dams’ current services can be fully, feasibly, and affordably replaced. A public comment period on the Draft Report is open now through July 11. Information about the Murray/Inslee Snake River initiative and the draft ‘Lower Snake River Dams’ Benefits Replacement Report’ can be found here.
Costs & Benefits of Salmon Recovery
The findings from Senator Murray and Governor Inslee’s draft report lay the foundation for developing a comprehensive solution to restore the lower Snake River and its salmon, help critically endangered orcas, uphold our promises to Tribal Nations, create economic opportunities, and upgrade costly and aging energy, irrigation, and transportation infrastructure.
The report concludes that all of the services the dams provide can be replaced and doing so would provide tangible economic opportunities. However, the range of costs of replacing the services of the lower Snake River dams as presented in the draft report to Murray and Inslee is $10.3-$27.2 billion over 50 years. This estimate does not consider or compare that with the current costs of maintaining the aging infrastructure of the four lower Snake River dams, the future costs avoided by dam removal, nor of the monetized and non-monetary benefits of life without the lower Snake River dams.
Below, we present background information on the benefits of restoring a freely flowing lower Snake River by removing its four federal dams:
DAM REMOVAL IS A COST-EFFECTIVE SALMON RECOVERY STRATEGY
- Since 1980, Northwest electric consumers have paid $26.1 billion (in 2022 $$) on plans to recover fish and wildlife; most of this has gone to implement salmon recovery plans.
- However, these plans have not achieved recovery goals for Snake River salmon and steelhead as they are on the path to extinction. Last year, thousands of returning adult salmon died before they could spawn due to the deadly hot waters in lower Columbia and lower Snake River reservoirs. Only 4 adult sockeye salmon survived to swim into their spawning grounds in the Stanley Basin in central Idaho after struggling past eight dams and warm and stagnant reservoirs downstream and steelhead saw the lowest returns in history in 2021, forcing emergency fishing closures in Washington and Oregon.
- If the lower Snake dams remain, these costs not only continue, but almost certainly increase as more extensive and expensive measures are introduced. The cheaper option, by far, is to do what salmon scientists call for—restore a free-flowing lower Snake River and invest in comprehensive, science-based salmon recovery plans.
REPLACING THE DAMS’ POWER PRODUCTION ADDS VALUE
- The dams’ cost of operation, maintenance, and capital, which is currently about $151 million annually, will only increase over time. Additional capital investments will be required to keep the dams operating, e.g., the replacement of costly items like 21 of their 24 aging turbine generators is estimated to cost more than $600 million.
- At the same time, the power output of the dams is likely to decrease as a result of changes in hydro operations to benefit fish and, potentially, the impacts of climate change on the amount of water in the river.
- Investing in clean energy resources would provide more value than the output of the lower Snake dams. Renewable energy technology costs are expected to continue declining, meaning replacement of the energy services of the dams will be less costly than today’s projections. Modeling of renewable energy technology costs from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows declining costs for solar, wind, and battery systems through 2030 and beyond. A recent Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory analysis found that current supply chain and inflation issues shouldn’t change that outlook.
OTHER BENEFITS OF A FREE-FLOWING SNAKE RIVER
- The draft report estimates that recovery of these stocks would boost annual tribal harvest by at least 29%. Tribal fishing—commercial and subsistence—has been gravely impacted by declines in salmon and steelhead (and lamprey and other species).
- More fish will support more fishermen. 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.
- A restored salmon fishery could generate an additional $1 billion annually in income for recreational fishing industries and support up to 25,000 more jobs, according to the draft report. Opportunities for recreational fishing, jobs, and economic activity they generate, have likewise been limited by the dearth of salmon.
SALMON ARE CRITICAL TO OUR ECOSYSTEM
As salmon, a keystone species, disappear–our Pacific Northwest ecosystems, culture and economies are hugely impacted. Our ocean, rivers, forests, and at least 137 wildlife species in the Pacific Northwest, including Southern Resident Orcas, who rely on vital nutrients from salmon. The enormous benefit that salmon provides for countless species and the overall health and function of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem is irreplaceable and incalculable.
WE CAN AFFORD SALMON RECOVERY
We can, economically speaking, afford a salmon recovery path that protects salmon and orca from extinction. This is a historic opportunity to lead the largest salmon recovery by developing and investing in new, comprehensive, science-based solutions that restore the Snake River; save salmon, steelhead, and orca from extinction; honor tribal treaty rights and uphold our promises to Northwest Tribes; creates jobs and economic opportunities; and upgrades the aging energy, irrigation, and transportation infrastructure.
LINKS TO RECENT NEWS:
- The Herald Letters to the Editor: Snake River dams’ energy is replaceable; salmon species isn’t (June 19, 2022)
- Seattle Times Letters to the Editor: Snake River Dams ‘Status quo is not an option’ (June 24, 2022)
- Public News Service: Public Comment Encouraged on Snake River Dams Removal Plan (June 24, 2022)
- Oregonian: Several hundred take to Willamette River, Willamette Park to protest 4 Snake River dams (June 25, 2022)
- Seattle Times: Dam politics: Why public power utilities are pouring cash into the campaign to support Lower Snake River dams (June 26, 2022)
- The Herald Letters to the Editor: Snake River dams aren’t worth loss of salmon species (June 26, 2022)
- The Herald Letters to the Editor: Saving salmon requires a break from status quo (June 26, 2022)
- Northwest Sportsman Magazine: Rally Held For Salmon, Breaching Lower Snake Dams (June 27, 2022)
- Idaho Statesman: Making ourselves whole by breaching Lower Snake River Dams, restoring salmon to Idaho (July, 1, 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, non-binary person of color with ancestral roots in Mexico.