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Corps to Spill Water at Lower Granite Today

by Dan Hansen, Staff Writer
The Spokesman Review, April 3, 2002

Flows will be about 40 percent stronger than last year now that drought is over

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is about to wash away any doubts that the Northwest drought is over.

For the first time since 2000, the corps today will start spilling water through eight safe-passage bays at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River. Between now and late June, agencies will spill water at most dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

The spills, which are meant to help juvenile salmon and steelhead make the migration to the ocean, weren't done last year, when Northwest rivers were running at near-record low flows. Instead, river managers opted to use every possible drop for generating electricity, which was in short supply.

Snowpack for the entire four-state area drained by the Snake and Columbia rivers is about average this year, the corps reports. River flows should be 40 percent stronger than last year.

That's good news for fish, which have three ways of getting past dams: They can go through the turbines, which is dangerous; they can go through spill bays; or they can go through a series of pipes and pools called a bypass system.

Bypass systems exist so the fish can be sorted and tagged, then loaded onto barges for the trip to the Columbia River estuary.

Last year, fish managers barged as many fish as possible, to compensate for the lack of spill. Barged fish survive the trip well. However, many scientists contend they're left disoriented and susceptible to predators and other dangers.

In years of abundant water, like this one, the corps barges about half the migrating salmon and steelhead. The rest are left in the river to make the trip on their own.

Despite this year's rosy water forecast, no spills are planned for the sake of fish at Lower Monumental Dam on the Snake. Spilling will occur there only if runoff brings more water at any one time than the dam can handle through its turbines and bypass system, said corps biologist Dave Hurson.

That exception will allow the corps to repair concrete erosion caused by spills in past years. The project is expected to cost more than $3 million, Hurson said. The work couldn't be done last year because money wasn't available, he said.

The situation at "LoMo" is regrettable, said Jeff Curtis, West Coast conservation director for Trout Unlimited.

The group contends the four Snake River dams in Washington should be breached for the sake of salmon. Short of that, "we think spill is the way to go," Curtis said. "The closer it is to the way (migrating fish) used to go through the river, the better off they are."

Curtis said his group and others want the corps to spill more water at other dams to compensate for the loss at Lower Monumental.

Dan Hansen, Staff Writer
Corps to Spill Water at Lower Granite Today
Spokesman Review, April 3, 2002

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