Dworshak Reservoir deserves a break this summer, says Idaho Gov. Phil Batt, who is enlisting help from his counterparts across the Northwest.
The reservoir has been hit hard in past summers to supply water to help flush migrating salmon downstream. Orofino-area merchants say they have lost millions because the reservoir is too low for recreation.
“In fairness, it should benefit from a winter of abundant snow and high water in the Snake River since,” Batt said Monday in North Idaho. “It seems like if it can’t be done this year, I don’t know when it could be done.”
He seeks a meeting with Govs. Mike Lowry of Washington, John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Marc Racicot of Montana.
Dworshak has been full for much of the past month and is at its best for recreation.
High water in the Snake this spring provided ample water to flush young smolts. In mid-July, however, the natural decline in the Snake’s runoff is expected to drop the river below the National Marine Fisheries Service target for migrating fall chinook.
When that happens, the agency’s biological opinion calls for releasing water from Dworshak to make up the difference.
Current estimates are that will happen between July 15 and 21, said Cindy Henriksen, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoir Control Center chief in Portland.
But a plan envisioned by Idaho officials could soften the demand on Dworshak, Henriksen said, by tapping Brownlee Reservoir in Hells Canyon to help boost the river’s flow downstream.
Fisheries Service biologists still believe the Snake’s flow at Lower Granite Dam downstream from Lewiston must remain at least 50,000 cubic feet per second to keep the chinook migrating, said Donna Darm, environmental policy office manager in Seattle.
“I think what they we’re looking at was not starting flow augmentation from Dworshak until the middle of August,” she said.
Under a proposal floated by Idaho officials earlier, Dworshak would still be tapped for water but its level would drop 20 feet or less.