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Group Presses for Colder Columbia

by Erik Robinson
The Columbian, October 23, 2009

A salmon and steelhead swim upstream through Bonneville Dam's fish ladder, past writhing lamprey clinging to the viewing glass. (The Columbian) Persistently warm water might please human swimmers, but it can be deadly for fish.

Water temperature measured in the Columbia River has been well beyond the comfort zone for endangered salmon during the past four years, according to Columbia Riverkeeper, an environmental group based in Hood River, Ore.

Now the group is using the test results to press the Obama administration into taking action.

The Environmental Protection Agency has put on hold the development of a strategy to cool down the overly warm river. The Clean Water Act compels the EPA, along with state environmental regulators, to figure out a way to lower water temperatures below the threshold of 68 degrees.

"There isn't any movement on it at the moment, and there needs to be," said Lauren Goldberg, Columbia Riverkeeper's staff attorney.

Cooling the temperature in smaller tributaries typically involves planting trees along banks to shade the water. Another strategy involves encouraging irrigators to leave water in streams, rather than allowing creeks to heat up with a meager flow.

On the Columbia itself, those measures don't work as well.

Andrew Kolosseus, Columbia River water quality specialist for the Washington Department of Ecology, said lowering water temperature in the Columbia requires significant changes in the operation of hydroelectric dams. Rather than allowing water to flow quickly through to the Pacific Ocean, warm summertime water lingers in the stair-stepping series of reservoirs.

"Now, it's sitting there behind the dam and it's released in October or September instead of flowing down in August," Kolosseus said.

Columbia Riverkeeper has been monitoring river temperatures in the Columbia between The Dalles, Ore., and Vancouver since 2006.

Goldberg said the group anchored 38 gauges in 3 to 4 feet of water at several locations between Vancouver and The Dalles during each of the past four years. They were placed in the spring and removed each autumn, to avoid being swept away. The automated gauges took a measurement every 30 minutes.

Average temperatures routinely exceeded the standard of 68 degrees.

"It exceeded the water quality standard almost every day between July and September," Goldberg said.

The test results reveal nothing new -- the federal government first acknowledged that the river is too warm in 1996 -- but Columbia Riverkeeper is using the latest measurements to press the Obama administration to act.

Erik Robinson
Group Presses for Colder Columbia
The Columbian, October 23, 2009

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