Spilling Water at Snake River Dam
by Joe Rojas-Burke
Adult salmon at one dam are thrown off course by the water,
adding to the debate about how to protect fish
Spilling of river water over federal hydropower dams -- intended to help young salmon move downriver -- caused unintentional problems this week for returning adult salmon at one Snake River dam.
Conservation groups and tribes that won a court order requiring the spills downplayed the problem, and industry groups that opposed the spill plan said it could seriously impede salmon runs.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said swirling currents generated by the spill were interfering with the ability of migrating adult salmon to sense and follow the guiding flow of water over fish ladders at Little Goose Dam. Spokesman Joe Saxon said spill has not hampered adult salmon at the other dams subject to the court order.
To minimize the problem, Saxon said, dam operators have decided to cut the volume of spill in half at Little Goose Dam for now.
But even before the problem emerged, federal agencies had appealed the court order, arguing that the additional spill could worsen survival of young salmon in a drought year with slower and hotter river conditions. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week denied the government's motion for an immediate stay, but promised a quick decision on the appeal.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency responsible for threatened and endangered salmon, argued against the spills and instead endorsed a plan to collect most of the summer-migrating Snake River salmon and transport them by barge and truck past the dams.
Electric utilities and industry groups said the spills would unnecessarily drive up energy costs. Flows over spillways bypass power-generating turbines. According to the federal government, lost revenues could cost the region $57 million to $81 million.
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