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Fish Pipe may End Run Dam Breaching

by Phillip J. Gomez
Wood River Journal - August 21, 2002

For millennia, newly-hatched smolts emerged from their "redds," or gravelbed hatcheries in shallow waters of the lakes and rivers named for them.

From these headwaters in the Sawtooth Valley they would return to the Pacific, swim to Arctic latitudes and then rebound every few years up the "River of No Return," as explorers Lewis and Clark called the raging Salmon, but not applying the tag to the steelhead, chinook, coho, sockeye or other now endangered fish species.

But in 1985, coho salmon, the No. 1 sport fish, were declared extinct, never to return.

By 1991, the sockeye were "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act, meaning likely to disappear. In 1992, Snake River chinook salmon were listed as "threatened," meaning that extinction is expected in the near future.

Also that year, only one sockeye returned to its spawning ground in Redfish Lake, where from time immemorial the fish have instinctively remembered their home waters, imprinting the stream in their guidance system.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the eight dams that impede the smolts' progress downstream, have for years delayed fixing them to allow the fish egress. Most salmon die in the effort to pass through to the ocean. The stalemate forced the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in 1990 to seek protection for their totem ancestral fish through the Endangered Species Act, to prevent extinction of the Snake River salmon. In 1992, the watchdog group American Rivers declared the Columbia and Snake rivers the most endangered river system in the nation.

Now, both Republican U.S. Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo have given support to a bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California called The Pacific Salmon Recovery Act. The act would give federal financial assistance to Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and California as well as the Indian tribes of the region to bring back the salmon. Every fiscal year for the next five years $350 million would be appropriated, to be divided among the entities.

Cindy Woodworth Gardner is hoping she'll get lucky with some of that money, assuming the bill passes. Her non-profit organization, SMOLT Inc., is her late father's plan to save the salmon without going to the extreme of breaching dams that provide hydroelectricity to residents of the Pacific Northwest. She is currently trying to raise money for her father's experimental model of his "fish transit system," a pipeline for the salmon around and through the dams and reservoirs of the Snake-Columbia River system. Washington Group International has been designing the plans for the past decade, waiting for SMOLT to come up with the $200,000 initially, and $1.5 million ultimately necessary, to get underway construction of the test model at Hagerman on the Snake River.

The University of Idaho's Aquaculture Research Institute will lead the study. The Idaho Fish & Game Department will provide the test fish, the site and help with the biological assessment. Washington Group will provide the engineering, construction and program management.

The working pipeline test model will replicate transport conditions in a one-third scale model with a mile-long loop to test fingerling and smolt response to pipeline conditions. A transducer sonar device will direct the fish through the pipeline. Viewing and feeding portals will be built in.

The hope is that the pipeline will allow migration to occur at or near each species' historic rate and timing, reducing smolt mortality associated with spillway and turbine passage.

The plan would also eliminate the need for river flow augmentation and reservoir drawdown to flush smolts through to the ocean.

It would allow the fish to imprint the subtle changes in water chemistry in their journey downstream, thereby improving their ability to return. Likewise, it would eliminate the environmental impact from the rivers' business operations, reducing overall costs of shipping, irrigation and hydropower operations.

If the fish transit plan is successful, Gardner said it has potential application around the world. Scotland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Canada are places where it's being promoted, she said.

Gardner's hope for her own country is that Democrats get behind her program. So far, it's been Republican politicians who have lined up in support. "Democrats should make this their issue," she said. The fund-raising quest she is on would also provide on-site educational museum displays of the pipeline for school children on field trips to the site. She wants to leave a legacy: "If the wild salmon go away completely, only hatchery salmon will be left," she said. "The whole goal is to restore what nature provide originally. We want their nature restored as wild."

Gardner has pitched her pipeline idea to Democratic candidate for governor Jerry Brady and recently to former Gov. Cecil Andrus. She regrets that Idaho politics no longer allow the easy kind of bipartisan interest in what used to be called the great outdoors, but is now a hot-button issue for the minority Democrats, who tend to steer clear of environmental issues because of their impacts on Idaho jobs.

"The rapport was wonderful in the 1960s," Gardner recalled. Later, in the early 1980s, a group of convivial sportsmen organized a wildlife conservation group called "The Poacher's Club." the group included her father, Andrus, Idaho Supreme Court Justice Byron Johnson, Sun Valley environmentalist Ted Troubled, assistant Fish & Game director Bob Salter and others. Former Idaho Gov. Bob Smylie, former Idaho Sen. Frank Church and former Fish & Game director and sportsman Jack Hemingway, all now deceased, were allied with the group.

Gardner said her father, a former Idaho Fish & Game director, always said it would take a long time for the pipeline idea to be accepted by the powers that be. Politics were an inherent part of his long-term strategy. He died last summer before seeing any breakthrough. Gardner anticipates that in the years ahead federally employed scientists and engineers will want to see comparison studies of the pipeline plan with dam breaching, reservoir drawdown and barging of salmon, before making a recommendation.

As for the pipeline's workability, Gardner said, "I don't have any doubt at all. Until this is completed I'm not going to stop."

Gardner will be answering questions about her "pipe dream" Friday, August 30, from 6-9 p.m. during the Gallery Walk in Ketchum at Images of Nature Gallery on Main Street.

Joining her will be former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Byron J. Johnson, who will present his "Remarks, Reflections and Poetry on Restoration of Wild Salmon." She will also have a booth to promote SMOLT Inc. at the Antique Peddlers' Fair in Ketchum over the Labor Day weekend. The local contact for the organization is Phil Van Zeipel in Hailey at 788-1000.

by Phillip J. Gomez, Idaho Women in Timber
Fish Pipe may End Run Dam Breaching
Wood River Journal, August 21, 2002

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