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: 8/16-8/29
Harmful water temperatures in the lower Snake River reservoirs: This week, all reservoirs exceeded 68 degrees. The Little Goose Dam reservoir has spent 45 days above 68°F and similarly, the Ice Harbor Dam spent 44 consecutive days above 68°F.
The reservoir behind Ice Harbor Dam registered the highest temperature at 72.32°F on August 19th - 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 John Day Dam registered the highest temperature: 73.04°F.
IV. Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee’s Final 'Lower Snake River Dams' Benefit Replacement Report' and Recommendations
Last year Washington Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee announced a process that “evaluated the feasibility of breaching the Lower Snake River Dams as a way of protecting endangered salmon and steelhead species.” In June, they released a draft “Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Report”, which confirmed that the dams’ current services can be fully, feasibly, and affordably replaced or their loss mitigated.
On August 25, 2022, Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee released their recommendations on salmon recovery and the dams, as well as a final report on replacing the dams’ services. Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee stated they are committed to action that will make dam breaching viable, noting that the extinction of salmon and the orca that feed on them is “categorically unacceptable.” They stressed the need for prompt action to replace—or mitigate the loss of —the dams’ services in advance of breaching. In addition, the final report affirmed that Columbia/Snake salmon and steelhead are in real peril of extinction, that the lower Snake dams are a major source of their endangerment and their removal is an essential part of a larger strategy to protect and restore abundant, harvestable populations.
In a statement, Gov. Inslee said that the status quo is not an option and that saving salmon is imperative. “The state and federal governments should implement a plan to replace the benefits of the Lower Snake River Dams to enable breaching to move forward,” Inslee said. “We will not permit Washington state to lose its salmon,” the governor and senator promised in their recommendations.
The senator and governor’s recommendations emphasize three key themes:
- Status quo is not an option. Changing economic, energy, and climate conditions require leaders to plan for changing circumstances in the Columbia Basin region during the coming decades.
- Saving salmon and other iconic species in the Columbia Basin is imperative. The scientific review affirms that breaching these specific dams offers the greatest benefit to the salmon.
- The impacts and benefits of breaching the dams are significant, but they can and must be mitigated or replaced.
Information about the Murray/Inslee Snake River initiative and the final ‘Lower Snake River Dams’ Benefits Replacement Report’ and recommendations can be found here.
A Path Towards Salmon Recovery and the Removal of the Lower Snake River:
Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee’s final report and recommendations have clearly stated our region should move forward with a plan to replace the benefits of the lower Snake River dams, and implement a new comprehensive approach to protect and recover salmon and steelhead populations facing extinction today.
“The science is clear that – specific to the Lower Snake River – breach of the dams would provide the greatest benefit to the salmon. Salmon runs in the Lower Snake River are uniquely impacted by the dam structures relative to other watersheds,” stated in Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee’s final recommendations. Their findings 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.
Sen. Murray and Gov.Inslee recognized that after 20+ years of “implementing mitigation and restoration actions for Snake River salmon and steelhead species, the species are on a downward trajectory. Despite robust levels of assessment and planning, actions have not resulted in responses that would indicate adequate mitigation, let alone levels of recovery.”
“Extinction of salmon, orca, and other iconic species in the Pacific Northwest is categorically unacceptable to us, and we will not permit Washington state to lose its salmon. We must move forward in a way that restores our salmon populations and acknowledges and redresses the harms to Tribes while responsibly charting the course to an energy and economic future for Washington state and the region. It is for these reasons that we previously stated that breaching of the lower Snake River dams should be an option, and why we believe, at the conclusion of this Process, that it must be an option we strive to make viable,” they concluded.
Replacing the lower Snake River dams’ services:
We are now on a path to breaching the four lower Snake River dams and replacing their services as part of a comprehensive plan for salmon restoration in the Columbia Snake River Basin. Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee committed to developing a plan that requires building new energy, transportation, and irrigation infrastructure “in an effective and efficient manner. We can do so in a manner that is responsible and environmentally safe, that addresses the concerns of communities, and that respects the Treaty rights and cultural imperatives of Tribal sovereigns. But we must do this work.”
Notably, Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee affirmed that, “The clean energy provided by the Lower Snake River Dams constitutes only a small fraction of the new generating and transmission capacity that our region must build – just over 3.4% according to the most recent E3 report. As such, replacing that capacity does not meaningfully alter what we must already accomplish.”
Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee further concluded that to make dam removal a “realistic and actionable option, we must focus on short- and medium-term actions to invest in the region’s transportation network and electrical grid….Importantly, we must also aggressively pursue projects and initiatives to restore habitat and support salmon recovery throughout the Columbia River Basin and the Puget Sound.”
Senator Murray and Governor Inslee’s commitments to Salmon Recovery:
Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee have both committed to develop and “implement a plan to replace the benefits of the Lower Snake River Dams to enable breaching to move forward."
For example, Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee have committed to:
- Work with Tribes, co-managers, and impacted stakeholders to determine a plan to more efficiently and effectively distribute salmon funding.
- Leverage the historic investments made in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act to support energy replacement, infrastructure enhancement, and salmon recovery and habitat restoration.
- Governor Inslee’s 2023 legislative agenda will include new, robust salmon recovery investments, legislation, and other actions to improve the health of our oceans, coastal areas, and rivers, including the Snake.
- The Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Report identifies the need for further detailed transportation analysis, focusing primarily on potential highway and road impacts that would result from the elimination of barging on the lower Snake River. Governor Inslee will seek such an analysis from the Washington State Department of Transportation.
The Urgency to Restore Salmon and Steelhead:
As salmon and steelhead (keystone species) decline, 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, 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.
But salmon and steelhead are running out of time. The federal hydro-system creates conditions that harm and kill juvenile and adult fish, including elevating water temperatures in large, stagnant reservoirs in the summer months. This summer, the lower Snake River have reached temperatures between 68°F - 72.32°F – causing dangerous conditions for salmon and steelhead. In addition, the Nez Perce Tribe’s Quasi-Extinction Threshold Analysis indicates that wild spring Chinook and steelhead populations in the Snake River Basin have crossed a critical threshold known as the Quasi-Extinction Threshold, signaling they are nearing extinction, and without intervention within the next 3-4 years, many may not persist.
Our region and nation must work together to develop and implement a plan to restore the lower Snake River, honor the treaty rights and other promises made to Northwest tribes, invest in clean energy and upgrade aging infrastructure, and create new economic opportunities for communities across our state and region.
LINKS TO RECENT NEWS AND INFORMATION:
- Press Release: Inslee statement regarding final report for Join Federal-State Process for salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin
- Press Release: Senator Murray Statement on Finding of Murray-Inslee Joint Federal-State Process
- Press Release: Governor Kate Brown Commends Washington Leaders for Supporting Collaborative Solution for Columbia Basin Salmon, Steelhead Restoration
- Press Release: Yakama Nation Responds to Final Murray and Inslee Salmon Report
- Press Release: SNAKE RIVER: Energy, fishing, conservation groups respond to Sen. Murray’s & Gov. Inslee’s presumptive plan for dam replacement
- The New York Times: Breaching Dams ‘Must Be an Option’ to Save Salmon, Washington Democrats Say (August 31, 2022)
- OPB: Benefits of Snake River dams must be replaced before breaching to save salmon, report says (August 25, 2022)
- Spokesman-Review: Murray and Inslee conclude breaching Snake River dams ‘not an option right now,’ while calling status quo unsustainable for salmon (August 25, 2022)
- Seattle Times: Inslee, Murray say Snake River dam removal possible, but not yet (August 25, 2022)
- KREM 2: Inslee, Murray recommend taking action to make breaching Snake River dams a 'viable option' (August 25, 2022)
- Spokesman-Review: Snake River spring Chinook struggling like never before, feds decide against classifying them as ‘endangered’ (August 25, 2022)
- AP News: Columbia River's Salmon Are at the Core of Ancient Religion (August 15, 2022)
- Lewiston Morning Tribune: Guest Opinion: Dugger ‘gas lights’ fish recovery and dam breaching (August 14, 2022)
- My Edmonds News: Activists demonstrate in Edmonds for Snake River dam removal (August 20, 2022)
- Past Hot Water Reports are archived here: Hot Water Reports - Compiled
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.