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EPA Claims Dams Cause Overheating

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, September 26, 2002

Agency says slack water, not industry and municipalities, is main cause of warm river

The early draft of a water quality improvement plan for the Columbia and lower Snake rivers fingers dams as the major culprit responsible for water that exceeds temperature standards.

The plan is more lenient when it comes to municipal and industrial sources of thermal pollution, known as point sources. "Point sources seem to be having a relatively small effect and the dams are having a rather large effect," said Rick Parkin of the Environmental Protection Agency at Seattle.

According to the agency's analysis and computer modeling, drastically reducing or even eliminating non-dam sources of heat would not fix the temperature problems in the two rivers. Dams slow the rivers' flow, which allows the sun to warm the water.

Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency along with state and tribal agencies from Oregon, Idaho and Washington held a workshop at Lewiston Wednesday to explain their progress on a plan that aims to keep water temperatures within state standards and safe for salmon and steelhead.

During the summer months, the rivers often exceed state standards of 68 degrees. Temperatures above 68 are considered harmful to salmon and steelhead.

In the plan, the EPA attempts to determine what water temperatures in the Snake River, below its confluence with the Salmon River and the Columbia River, would be without human activity.

The plan uses this theoretical temperature to determine how much various sources of heat can add to the overall river temperature.

The four lower Snake River dams that remain in the gun sights of environmentalists are some of the biggest contributors to the warm water problem, according to Parkin. He said the purpose of the preliminary plan is to find what is causing the problems in the river and define goals for improving water temperatures.

Others, such as Congress, may have to determine if meeting the goals is worth the cost, he said. If not, state water temperature standards will have to be raised.

"The first step is to determine how much needs to be done," he said.

Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were not at the workshop, but said they are generally familiar with the plan that was released earlier this month. Witt Anderson, chief of the corps' fisheries bureau in the Northwest division at Portland questioned the methods used by EPA officials to reach their findings.

He went on to say it's the existence of the dams that causes the rivers to warm and not the way they are operated. Because of that he said there are few remedies to the problem.

"We just don't see the kinds of things we might do operationally to help get within this standard," he said.

Anderson said the corps would continue to use cold water releases from Dworshak Reservoir to help cool the Snake River and also work with EPA officials on the problem.

Jerry Myers, environmental director for Potlatch Corp. at Lewiston, said the approach validates what the company has been saying about the affect of its wastewater on the overall temperature of the Snake River. However, he noted it is still up to the federal fisheries agencies to determine if the company's release of warm water in the Snake River can continue.

EPA Officials will continue to determine what can be done to improve water quality, according to Parkin. The next step is for the agency along with states and tribes to develop an implementation plan. That plan may take years to put together.

"It's going to take a while for us to sort some of this out," said Parkin.

Eric Barker
EPA Claims Dams Cause Overheating
Lewiston Tribune, September 26, 2002

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