U.S. Water News Online
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 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
``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
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
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 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
``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
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