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Water Temperature History

by Gene Spangrude
Columbia Basin Bulletin - May 23, 2003

Here are four references which provide interesting reading concerning both fisheries and water temperature issues as related to the northwestern United States:

  1. Chapman, D.W. (1986). "Salmon and Steelhead Abundance in the Columbia River in the Nineteenth Century," Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 115:662-670.
  2. Gilbert, Charles H. and Barton W. Evermann (1895). A Report Upon Investigations in the Columbia River Basin, With Descriptions of Four New Species of Fish, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.
  3. McDonald, Marshall (1894). Report of the United States Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries on Investigations in the Columbia River Basin In Regard to the Salmon Fisheries, Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.
  4. Stone, Livingston (1878). The Salmon Fisheries of the Columbia River, United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, Part IV, Report of the Commissioner for 1875-1876, Appendix A, Inquiry into the Decrease of the Food-Fishes, Appendix B, Inland Fisheries, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.

Chapman's article (Reference #1) contains an interesting graph of "Salmon Catch (Harvest) vs. time (from about 1870 to 1970) as well as a listing of numerous other interesting references.

Gilbert's and Evermann's report (Reference #2) presents various "single valued temperatures" which were measured once at discrete points along various rivers. A brief summary of some of these locations and water temperatures is:

Location Date Temperature (F)
Yakima River at North Yakima August 23, 1891 64
Toutle River near Castle Rock August 27, 1891 59.5
Snake River near President Camp August 14, 1891 62.5
Ross Fork of Snake River, near Pocatello August 4, 1891 72.5
Portneuf River near Pocatello August 2, 1891 76
Boise River near Caldwell August 8, 1891 66
Payette River near Payette August 9, 1891 63
Clearwater River near Lewiston August 15, 1891 (10AM) 63.5
Clearwater River near Lewiston August 15, 1891 (4PM) 83.5
Palouse River near Colfax August 17, 1891 74
Pataha River near Starbuck August 14, 1891 68
Upper Columbia River at Kettle Falls August 16, 1891 62
Coeur d' Alene Lake near outlet August 21, 1891 75
Walla Walla River near Wallula August 23, 1891 70
Umatilla River near Pendleton August 12, 1891 70
Yakima River near Prosser August 24, 1891 70

Marshall McDonald's 1894 report, The Salmon Fisheries of the Columbia River Basin, (Reference #3) states that "the investigations made by Professor Evermann and the parties under his direction establish conclusively the fact that there has been a very great reduction in the number of salmon frequenting the head waters of the Columbia River and its tributaries. This decrease is more notable in the main river."

Reference #3 also states that "they were abundant in the Columbia River at Kettle Falls as late as 1878. Since then there has been a great decrease. They have been scarce since 1882. Since 1890 there have been scarcely any at Kettle Falls."

In addition, Reference #3 also states that "there is no reason to doubt -- indeed the fact is beyond question -- that the number of salmon now reaching the head waters of streams in the Columbia River Basin is insignificant in comparison with the number which some years ago annually visited and spawned in these waters. It is further apparent that this decrease is not to be attributed either to the contraction of the area accessible to them or to changed conditions in the waters which would deter the salmon from entering them."

The 1878 report (Reference #4) presents two (2) daily water temperatures for the Lower Columbia River at Clifton, Oregon; for the period from May 10, 1875; through August 14, 1875; with water temperatures exceeding 68 Degrees Fahrenheit (20 Degrees Celsius) being noted after July 17, 1875.

Please investigate these references as they all provide quite interesting reading.

Gene Spangrude, Walla Walla
Water Temperature History
Columbia Basin Bulletin, May 23, 2003

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