Lower Snake Dams Will Spill for Fishby Associated Press
Capital Press, April 11, 2003
LEWISTON, Idaho -- A lot of late snow in Central Idaho means water can be spilled at the lower Snake River dams to help juvenile salmon and steelhead reach the ocean.
A panel of state, federal and tribal officials has approved a spread-the-risk approach where some water is released through spillways at the dams this spring.
The fish are not destroyed by turbines.
"I think we need to start spilling right away," said Bob Heinith of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission in Portland. "I am thoroughly convinced it is time, and we need to spread the risk."
Spreading the risk also means collecting some fish at the dams and barging them downriver to the Columbia River estuary.
There is an ongoing debate about the best way to help fish pass dams during normal flows.
Early this spring, when snowpacks in the Snake, Clearwater and Salmon rivers were ailing from a lack of storms, most salmon managers assumed flows would be low and there would not be enough water to spill. All the smolts would have been barged.
But late storms boosted the Clearwater and Salmon basin snowpacks to about normal.
A federal salmon recovery plan recommends spilling when flows from April to July are predicted to average 85,000 cubic feet per second on the lower Snake River.
Several forecasts have predicted flows will be about that mark.
The salmon managers have asked the U.S. Army Corps of engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to spill water at the dams.
They cited a record number of 1.7 million juvenile wild spring and summer chinook leaving the Snake river basin this year as justification. The wild fish are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Spilling the water means it does not pass through turbines and make electricity.
Bonneville and the Army Corps agreed to the spill, which will be monitored on a weekly basis. If river flow forecasts turn out to be overly optimistic, it could be ended.
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