Study Says Flow Augmentation Hurts Salmonby Dan Gallagher
Los Angeles Times, December 11, 2003
BOISE, Idaho -- A scientific study concludes drafting a huge amount of water out of upper Snake River reservoirs to boost salmon and steelhead migrations downstream would do very little to help the fish runs.
The study's conclusions backed the latest charge in an ongoing feud between irrigators and conservation groups this fall. The Snake River begins in northwest Wyoming.
The Idaho Water Users Association on Wednesday said a study by University of Washington professor James Anderson debunks any claims that the "flow augmentation" helps young salmon survive on their way to the ocean.
"The issue of flow augmentation is of critical concern to Idaho," said Norm Semanko, Water Users executive director. "There has been a wide range of reports and studies completed in the last year or two. It is of great benefit to have a credible, independent researcher take a look at all the research data and put into perspective."
Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Conservation League, American Rivers and the National Wildlife Federation recently asked a federal judge in Portland, Ore., to include operation of the upper Snake River dams in the overall legal debate over how to preserve and revitalize Northwest salmon runs.
Semanko worries grabbing that water for salmon recovery efforts would dry up two million acres of farmland and cripple the state's economy.
Anderson's study finds the upper Snake reservoirs are too far upstream of the salmon migration corridors for their storage water to have any real benefit in the downstream dams.
"Those flow objectives are arbitrary, unrealistic, and unsupported -- they exceed predevelopment flows over 90 percent of the time and could require all of the storage water in the Upper Snake projects during dry years," Semanko wrote in a Monday letter to federal dam regulators, including Anderson's conclusions.
Beginning in the early 1990s, the Bureau of Reclamation leased water from the upper Snake, providing 427,000 acre-feet to increase the river flow and help the migrating fish downstream. But with the long-running drought, the government's river flow targets have gone unmet the past three years.
Anderson looked at three government analyses of salmon survival. Those studies involved attaching electronic tags to the fish to measure their journey through the Snake and Columbia hydrosystem.
Anderson concludes releasing a huge amount of extra water upstream from the lower Snake gauntlet -- such as pouring in 1 million acre-feet from Dworshak Reservoir on the Clearwater River over 40 days -- would not significantly speed the smolts' downstream travel.
He said such augmentation would not lower water temperatures enough to really boost their survival, either. In fact, the extra water from the upper Snake could even harm the fish because it would grow too warm after sitting in the three Hells Canyon reservoirs.
Anderson said the current water policies for the Snake and Columbia dams are based on a "precautionary principle."
"In sum, it promotes acting to avoid serious or irreversible potential harm, despite lack of scientific certainty as to the likelihood, magnitude, or causation of that harm," he wrote.
"There's been a lot of studies and research and published data that run counter to that," Bert Bowler, Idaho Rivers native fisheries chief, said of Anderson's conclusions. "This is peer-reviewed data that's published. It finds incremental benefits to the salmon from augmentation.
"It's typical of how these studies often work," Bowler said. "They pay consultants and they expect a particular answer to bolster their position."
"They haven't paid me to do that," Anderson said. "It's part of my normal work for the Bonneville Power Administration. It's a topic I've been working on for years."
Anderson said he is merely interpreting those established studies. Some of his research has been peer-reviewed and some will be.
On Aug. 22, the salmon advocate groups filed their notice to sue unless the operation of 10 dams and reservoirs on the upper Snake was reevaluated to avoid harming salmon and steelhead.
A Coalition for Idaho Water was formed with Semanko as spokesman. It includes the farm groups, the associations of Idaho cities and counties, and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the state's largest business lobby.
The two sides met in October discussions with U.S. Sen. Michael Crapo. The salmon advocates put off refiling their notice, thinking more discussions could resolve the issue.
But in mid-November, the Coalition for Idaho Water filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the federal government over the water. The conservation contingent then withdrew its commitment to stay out of court.
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