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Snake River dredging challenged by fishing groups

FISHING — A decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin dredging a silted-in shipping channel in the Snake River near Lewiston is facing a court challenge by Northwest fishing and conservation groups and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The groups said in a media release that they're “taking legal action against costly, illegal dredging on the lower Snake River aimed at propping up an outdated, environmentally destructive, money-losing waterway.”

Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, filed a complaint Monday with Seattle’s U.S. District Court challenging the Corps’ approval of a $6.7 million lower Snake River dredging project scheduled to begin in mid-December.

The legal action is backed by Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute of Fisheries Resources, Washington Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and Friends of the Clearwater.

  • A larger group of fish and river advocacy groups had filed these comments on the Environmental Impact Statement for the Corps plan.

Following is text from the media release stating the position of the environmental groups:

Dredging behind lower Granite Dam is the centerpiece of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla district’s ill-advised plan for maintaining the little-used barging corridor between Pasco, Wash., and Lewiston, Idaho.

Though shipping on the Columbia River waterway remains robust, traffic on the lower Snake is so low that it qualifies for the Corps’ own “negligible use” project category.

The Corps’ Walla Walla District released its draft sediment management plan two years ago, asserting that dredging would provide $25 million in benefits but offering no supporting economic analysis.

Fishing and conservation groups and the Nez Perce Tribe have challenged the Corps plan because it puts salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey at serious risk, purposefully dodges any real look at alternatives to dredging, and ignores the shaky economic justification for the barge corridor created by the four lower Snake River dams.

Despite thousands of comments noting the plan’s glaring errors and omissions, the Corps last week issued a record of decision adopting the plan. The agency immediately signed a contract with a dredging contractor to begin work Dec. 15.

“The lower Snake waterway exacts an enormous price from taxpayers as well as from wild salmon, steelhead, and Pacific Lamprey”, said Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. “The Corps has failed to look at any alternatives to dredging this winter, and fails to provide an honest assessment of the fiscal and environmental costs involved in shoring up this out-of-date waterway.”

“These four dams are responsible for pushing the Snake River’s wild salmon and steelhead to the edge of extinction.” said SOS executive director Joseph Bogaard. “Climate change and other factors are making the lower Snake River dams ever more deadly to migrating fish while the economic justification for this waterway is slipping away.”

Over the past 15 years, the lower Snake waterway’s freight volume has declined 64 percent as farmers and other shippers move their products to trucks or rail. Maintenance expenses, meanwhile, have surged. Lewiston faces a chronic crisis of sedimentation and U.S. taxpayers now effectively subsidize every barge leaving Lewiston to the tune of about $18,000.

Navigation is the primary purpose of these dams. They generate significant power primarily in  the spring, when power demand and prices are low and the Northwest is awash in hydropower— so much so that wind farms are often forced to shut down.

“Every year, the federal government spends increasing amounts of tax dollars to prop up four obsolete dams on the lower Snake River,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “Our specific claims include violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Water Act.”

“Little thought has been given to the long-term economic and environmental consequences of long-term dredging,” said Gary MacFarlane of Friends of the Clearwater.

Nine Mile Reservoir drawdown to increase Monday

WATERSPORTS — Generator updating at Nine Mile Dam on the Spokane River will require a further drawdown of Nine Mile Reservoir starting Monday, Avista officials say.

The reservoir already has been lowered three feet since mid-August for the project to replace the original 1906 turbine generating units.

The reservoir must be lowered an additional three feet over two days for a total of six feet, officials said.

The Nine Mile Reservoir drawdown does not affect the water level downstream in Lake Spokane.

In addition, Avista will need to draw the reservoir down 12 feet starting the week of Oct. 27 for approximately one week. This drawdown will allow workers to replace additional equipment. 

While the reservoir is drawn down in late October, Avista will also construct the Nine Mile Boat-Take-Out, which is located upstream of the dam, and will continue its efforts toward removing invasive flowering rush plants along the shoreline.

Sign up for e-mail notifications from Avista on the water level changes related to our operations.

  • To receive notifications on Coeur d’Alene Lake and the Spokane River downstream of Post Falls Dam, please email spokanerivernews@avistacorp.com and include CDA Lake and Spokane River water level update in the subject line.
  • To receive updates about Nine Mile Reservoir and Lake Spokane, please email spokanerivernews@avistacorp.com and include Nine Mile Reservoir and Lake Spokane water level update in the subject line.

First salmon in 102 years return to Elwha River

FISHING — The Elwha River dams removal is one of the great “return-to-nature” stories to follow into the next decade….

“When dam removal began three years ago, chinook salmon were blocked far downstream by the Elwha Dam,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum.

“Today, we celebrate the return of chinook to the upper Elwha River for the first time in over a century. Thanks to the persistence and hard work of many National Park Service employees, the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe and many other partners, salmon can once again reach the pristine Elwha watershed within Olympic National Park.”

Lake Coeur d’Alene annual drawdown starts today

WATERSPORTS — The annual fall drawdown of Lake Coeur d’Alene will begin today, Avista officials say.

The lake will be gradually lowered about a foot from full pool elevation of 2,128 feet by Sept. 30.

The drawdown will continue an additional 1.5 feet a month until reaching its winter level of of 2,122 feet.

The drawdown will increase flows in the Spokane River, giving anglers a boost by perking up the fishery, but dam operators do not plan to open the dam’s spill gates. 

The river above Post Falls Dam should remain open to boating until November, Avista said.

Nine Mile Reservoir drawdown starts Friday

WATERSPORTS — The water level of Nine Mile Reservoir will be lowered 3 to 6 feet starting Friday to accommodate work underway at Nine Mile Dam.

Avista Utilities is replacing original 1906 turbine generating Units 1 and 2, and associated equipment. The project requires the reservoir to be drawn down below normal levels until the end of the year.

The reservoir will be drawn down more sharply to about 12 feet during the middle of October for approximately one week, officials said. This drawdown will allow Avista to replace additional equipment.  Avista will take two days to draw the reservoir down in an effort to minimize erosion and other effects on aquatic resources. 

Avista plans to take advantage of the extended October drawdown to construct a Nine Mile Boat-Take-Out just upstream of the dam, and will increase efforts to remove invasive flowering rush plants along the shoreline.

Landowners should secure docks and plan recreation activities with the drawdowns in mind.

Post Falls Dam gates close; Spokane River flows drop

WATERSPORTS — The Spokane River's flows have subsided enough for the spill gates at Post Falls Dam to be closed, Avista Utilities reports. That has allowed river recreation to open for the season starting today in the area between the Spokane Street Bridge and the boater safety cables that are just upstream of the Post Falls Dam. 

The City of Post Falls boat launch at Q’emiln Park is opening to the public today. The swim beach will open later this week after the parks department removes fencing, installs swim safety bouys and lifeguards are scheduled. Typically this occurs sometime between Memorial Day and the July 4 holiday, and on average about June 22.

 Upgrades underway this summer at the South Channel Dam adjacent to Q’emiln Park will require visitors to stay out of some areas near the construction.

Latest federal plan for Columbia salmon challenged

Conservation groups and salmon advocates have challenged the Obama administration's latest plan for making Columbia Basin dams safe for salmon, the AP reports. The challenge was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service, which oversees salmon protection, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operate the dams. It was the seventh challenge since the lawsuit was originally filed in 2001; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jeff Barnard in Portland.

Grand Coulee police cite angler near dam

FISHING – A Grand Coulee man has been cited by city police for fishing in an area that’s closed to public access immediately downstream from Grand Coulee Dam.

Water below the dam (flowing into the reservoir called Lake Rufus Woods) was opened to fishing last month for the first time since the 9-11 terrorist attacks, but a stretch of shore below the dam, marked by signs, remains closed for dam security.

Tyler Mellick was warned for trespassing in the closed area, but returned the next day to make a case for public access and was cited, said Capt. Chris Anderson, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife police supervisor.

“Working with the Colville Tribe, we opened this stretch of water for fishing, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t restrictions to the land and around structures,” he said.

“Mr. Mellick is a Bureau of Reclamation employee who, for some reason, is making this his cause. He’s gone to the sheriff, to WDFW, the media and last I heard he’s going to the U.S. Attorney General’s office. He’s on a mission.”

Anderson said the restricted area is clearly posted.

  • See the video Mellick's friends filmed from a distance of the arrest. 

Lake Spokane water levels to drop tonight

BOATING — Avista Utilities will start lowering the water level of Lake Spokane (Long Lake Reservoir) today by an additional one and one-half feet to facilitate work downstream of the company’s Long Lake Dam, the company has just announced.

By Thursday morning, May 1, the water level will be at an elevation of 1533.75 feet. Avista expects the lake level to return to the higher elevation of about 1535.2 feet by Thursday evening.

Property owners and lake-users need to tend or remove boats from the water and secure docks and boathouses to the lower-water conditions. Floating and removable docks are less susceptible to damage from shifting or changing water levels.

 Info: Washington call (509) 495-8043.

‘DamNation’ film scopes dam removals, river revivals

RIVERS – A new documentary about the impact of dams on rivers will be screened Wednesday, April 23, at the Lincoln Center 1316 N. Lincoln St. in Spokane.

DamNation, by Patagonia, follows the movement that started two decades ago with the removal of a dam in Maine to the more recent projects to remove dams on Washington’s Elwha and White Salmon rivers.

This screening — the first in the Northwest — is sponsored by Save Our Wild Salmon and the Spokane Falls Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

The event will feature a no-host bar and a Q & A with the film-makers and local spokespeople after the show. Doors open at 6 p.m.; show at 7.

For more information and to get your tickets online, click here

Contact: Sam Mace at sam@wildsalmon.org or (509) 747-2030

DamNation documents the growing movement in the United States to restore rivers by removing dams that can no longer justify their existence.  Produced by Patagonia, Felt Soul Media and Stoecker Ecological, the film shows how far we’ve come in the last 50 years, from assuming all dams are progress to taking out the first major dam on the Kennebec River in Maine.  Celebrating the successes on the Elwha and White Salmon River, the film turns its lens on the four lower Snake River dams in eastern Washington.  Since premiering at SXSW last month, DamNation has been playing to sold out crowds and winning awards at every film festival, including the People’s Choice Award at SXSW and Best Environmental Advocacy Film Award at the DC Environmental Film Festival.  

Trucks ready to haul salmon around Wanapum Dam

FISHING – As construction workers race against the biological clocks of salmon to make fish ladders at Wanapum Dam operational, state fishery managers say they are standing ready with an alternate plan to truck spring chinook up the Columbia River.

Shortly after discovering a 65-foot-long fracture in a spillway pier Feb. 27, dam operators lowered the water level behind the 185-foot structure by a record 26 feet, leaving the fish ladders high and dry.

Sometime this week, the first of an estimated 20,000 spring chinook salmon are expected to arrive in the area near Vantage on their upriver run to spawn. Nearly 4,000 of those fish are wild, naturally spawning fish, and the entire run is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Grant County Public Utility District, which owns the dam, has been scrambling to modify the fish ladders to make them operational by April 15, but also worked with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to develop a backup plan. Fish ladders at Rock Island Dam also are affected. Work to modify the ladders is estimated at $7 million.

“The stakes are very high, especially given the number of wild spring chinook involved,” said Jim Brown, regional WDFW director for northcentral Washington. “Grant County PUD is doing a great job, but all of us have a role to play in getting those fish upriver to spawn.”

Under the current plan, WDFW will intercept salmon at Priest Rapids Dam and truck most of them around Wanapum Dam, 19 miles upriver. Working in rotation, experienced drivers will haul the salmon in eight tanker trucks, each capable of moving up to 1,500 fish a day.

At the same time, a smaller number of hatchery-reared fish – identifiable by a clipped adipose fin – will be fitted with coded and radio tags and released from the Priest Rapids facility to negotiate the newly configured fish ladders at Wanapum Dam.

“The tags will allow us to track those salmon, and determine whether they are able to get over the dam on the reconfigured fish ladders,” Brown said. “That will tell us when it’s safe to suspend the trucking operation, and allow the fish to move past Wanapum on their own.”

That plan was unanimously approved by the Priest Rapids Coordinating Committee, a multi-jurisdictional organization established in 2004 to oversee hydroelectric projects in the mid-Columbia region.

Chelan PUD is also extending the fish ladders at Rock Island Dam, 38 miles upriver, to accommodate the drawdown in the Wanapum Pool. That work is also scheduled for completion today.

Brown said fishery managers are counting on the success of those measures to move fish upstream, because the trucking option will become less and less viable as larger runs of migrating salmon move into the area.

Starting in June, salmon managers are anticipating a run of up to 80,000 summer chinook, followed by 400,000 sockeye salmon and 300,000 fall chinook salmon.

“We can handle the spring chinook run with tanker trucks if that becomes necessary,” Brown said. “But there simply aren’t enough trucks, trained personnel, or hours in the day to move the number of salmon we’re expecting later in the year.”

Army Corps to cull fish-eating birds on Snake River

WILDLIFE — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this spring plans to kill birds at some Snake and Columbia river dams to help protect juvenile salmon and steelhead, the Lewiston Tribune reports.

The agency unveiled a plan last week that will allow as many as 1,200 California gulls, 650 ring-billed gulls and 150 double-crested cormorants to be killed. The birds gather at the dams and feast on the migrating salmon and steelhead which bunch up there.

The action will occur at McNary Dam on the Columbia River and Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams on the Snake River, according to the story moved by the Associated Press.

The corps said birds are typically the single largest cause of juvenile salmon and steelhead mortality. A 2009 study estimated that between 4 percent and 21 percent of smolts passing through the dams were eaten by birds.

The corps has long used non-lethal methods to scare away birds.

The plan has critics.

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said there are better ways to protect the fish, such as removing the dams.

“The birds are fundamentally not being killed to save the salmon,” he said. “They are being killed to keep the dams in place that are endangering the salmon.”

Bruce Henrickson of the Army Corps in Walla Walla said the agency has been encouraged by the National Marine Fisheries Service to consider killing problem birds. He said hazing with water cannons, fire crackers and wires strung above the river that disrupt flight paths will continue to be used.

Read on for more details.

State restricts access to beach and water near Wanapum Dam

BOATING — The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has closed five water access sites along the Columbia River behind Wanapum Dam, where the water level has been drawn down in response to a cracked spillway.

The closures affect the Yo Yo, Old Vantage Highway, Sunland Estates, Buckshot and Frenchman Coulee/Climbing Rocks water access sites plus roads from nearby wildlife areas.

WDFW officials said they closed the sites and are preventing access to the beach and exposed riverbed in WDFW wildlife areas along the river to protect public safety, fish habitat, and archeological and cultural resources. 

The reservoir behind the dam was lowered by about 26 feet after divers discovered a 65-foot-long fracture Feb. 27 along one of the dam's spillways. As a result, the water level behind the dam is at its lowest point since the Grant County Public Utility District facility began operating in 1964.

Jim Brown, WDFW regional director for north-central Washington, said the reservoir level is so low that boaters can't reach the water with their trailers, and some newly uncovered areas near the shoreline present quicksand-like conditions.

WDFW also has closed the lower ends of roads that lead into the reservoir at the Colockum and L.T. Murray wildlife areas in Kittitas and Chelan counties, and at the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area in Grant County.  The upland portions of the wildlife areas above the ordinary high-water level remain open to the public, Brown said.

“For their own safety, we're asking people to please stay off the beaches and any other areas that were under water before the drawdown,” he said.

Brown said the closures will be in effect until further notice and are being coordinated with the Grant County PUD. He said signs are being installed to inform the public, and WDFW law enforcement officers will be enforcing the closures in cooperation with local sheriff's offices.  Grant County PUD is restricting access to the river on other nearby lands.

When the closures are lifted, information will be posted on the WDFW website:  wdfw.wa.gov .  Further information about the incident is available from the Grant County PUD at www.grantpud.org/your-pud/media-room/news .  

Revised plan is status quo for Columbia salmon

FISHING — The federal government’s management plan for protecting salmon and steelhead populations imperiled by federal dams in the Columbia River basin differs little from its earlier version and continues to rely heavily on habitat improvement.

Click continue reading for a report by the Associated Press.

Lake Spokane drawdown to begin Monday

RESERVOIRS — The annual drawdown of Lake Spokane, the Spokane River reservoir also known as Long Lake, is set to begin on Monday (Jan. 6), Avista Utilities announced today in a media release.

In 2013, the drawdown started on Jan. 23.

Once the drawdown begins, operators expect to lower the reservoir up to one foot a day for two or three weeks until it reaches its winter elevation of 13-14 feet below maximum summer elevation of 1,536 feet.

Under the right weather conditions, which include sustained periods of single-digit temperatures and little or no snow on the exposed lakebed, the drawdown is expected to help control Eurasian watermilfoil and other invasive aquatic weeds found in Lake Spokane. The drawdown also allows property owners to complete state and locally permitted repair and construction projects along the lake shoreline.

The lower winter elevation will be maintained until runoff conditions begin. Water levels can change with weather conditions in the upper Spokane River drainage.

For updates on changes at Lake Spokane, the Spokane River and Coeur d’ Alene Lake, check the Avista website or call: Washington (509) 495-8043; Idaho, call (208) 769-1357.

Oregon’s Crooked River is year-round trout fishing gem

FISHING — Solid winter trout fisheries are hot items.

Check out this report from Mark Morical of the Bend Bulletin about Central Oregon's Crooked River, a trout stream that lures fly fishers from far and wide, especially to the 7-mile stretch below Bowman Dam. 

Report: Kootenai River changes impact sturgeon

FISHERIES — The eggs of endangered Kootenai River white sturgeon in Idaho and Montana are less likely to hatch in the river because of flow changes caused by Libby Dam and other human actions, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Associated Press reporter Nicholas K. Geranios says the report issued this week concluded that sturgeon eggs hatch best in places where rocks are washed clean of algae by river flow.

Read on for the rest of the AP story.

Update on fall chinook salmon record run

FISHING — Although steelhead fishing has opened in the Ringold area of the Columbia River's Hanford Reach, most angling pressure has been focused on the record run of chinook salmon packing into the area.

Anglers last week AVERAGED 2.5 chinooks per boat as they set sportfishing records for chinook caught in the free-flowing stretch between the Tri Cities and Priest Rapids Dam.  Awesome.

The chinooks also are setting records on the Snake River.

The total count at Bonneville Dam this year through Monday is 904,855 adult fall chinook, already far beyond the previous seasonal record count of 610,244 set in 2003. Bonneville is the first hydro project the fish encounter on their way upstream to the mid-Columbia and the Snake River. 
 
The count as of Monday at Lower Granite on the Snake River was 52,277, well past the previous record of 41,815 set in 2010. Fish continue to move over Lower Granite at the rate of 400-500 a day.
 
The Snake River fish pass over four Columbia River dams before turning into the Snake. Lower Granite is the last of four passable dams on the lower Snake before the fish head into the Lewiston-Clarkston area, the Clearwater and up the Snake farther to the Salmon River.
 
The counts at the lower Snake River’s Lower Granite Dam include wild Snake River fall chinook that are listed under the Endangered Species Act. 

Surprise! Disagreement on new plan for dams, salmon

USFWS releases new plan for NW dams to save salmon

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service is again opposing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's plan to increase releases of water from eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers to help salmon make the trek to the Pacific Ocean because the agency disagrees with the goal of the plan and the basic science on which it is premised.
—Idaho Statesman

Latest salmon recovery plan offers no major change in strategy

The AP reports that the Obama administration has released its latest plan for making 14 hydroelectric dams in the Northwest safe for salmon; the 751-page draft supplemental biological opinion is online here. The last plan was struck down in 2011 for depending too much on habitat improvements and failing to consider the possibility of breaching four dams on the Snake River in Eastern Washington, but the new plan says that current dam operations are working fine, and habitat improvements are on track to be fully implemented by 2018; it also doesn't call for breaching the dams. A final version of the supplemental biological opinion is due out Jan. 1; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jeff Barnard.

Canoe journey spotlights plight of Columbia salmon

Episode 1: The Fish Ladder from Voyages of Rediscovery on Vimeo.

RIVERS — An expedition of canoeists and Native American students is leading an upstream effort to advocate construction of a fish ladder to reintroduce chinook salmon runs in the Columbia River above Grand Coulee Dam.

On Aug. 2, five salmon-inspired dugout canoes started their journey up the Columbia River to pay tribute to the salmon no longer able to reach their historic spawning grounds of the Upper Columbia River since the construction of Grand Coulee Dam.

The boats have made it past Chief Joseph Dam last week, paddled up Lake Rufus Woods and completed the portage around Grand Coulee Dam on Saturday. They expected to paddle up Lake Roosevelt to Keller Ferry by Saturday night and then leave there today, headed for Two Rivers at the mouth of the Spokane River by Monday night.

From the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia Rivers, the paddlers will head up the Spokane River to Little Falls — the first dam that blocked salmon from migrating up to Spokane Falls in 1910.  Spokane Tribe schoolkids (who helped build one of the dugout canoes) will join the paddle. A public event of some sort is planned at the end of the week. See blog updates here.

The “Sea to the Source” expedition left Astoria, Ore., in an upstream voyage toward Canal Flats, the source of the Columbia River in British Columbia. 

The crew consists of five river guides who oversee a river-based environmental education program called Voyages of Rediscovery. They are enlisting the muscle power of Indian Tribes, youths and other supporters along the way.

“The idea behind the canoes and the river expedition is to bring the salmon back to the upper reaches of the Columbia River,” said Adam Wicks-Arshack a guide with Voyages of Rediscovery and environmental educator.  “We carved these canoes with thousands of students who’ve had the salmon removed from their culture by Grand Coulee Dam.”

The five dugout canoes were carved at various schools over the past year.  For most of the trip they have been paddling two canoes, the “Salmon Savior” a 21-foot ponderosa pine, carved at the Wellpinit Middle and High School on the Spokane Reservation and a larger 33-foot cedar canoe, the “Crying Salmon,” which was carved by the students of Inchelium School on the Colville Reservation.


As the expedition arrives at each school that carved a canoe, Inchelium, Wellpinit, Kettle Falls, and Medicine Wheel Academy of the Community School in Spokane, the canoes will be gifted back to the school and young people who carved them. 

“These canoes represent the Salmon,” said Xander Demetrios, a river guide with the expedition. “They have traveled through many hardships from the Pacific Ocean and are nearing their former Spawning Grounds.  These will be the first salmon to pass Chief Joe and Grand Coulee in a long time.”

The expedition has canoed more than 545 miles up the Columbia River to Chief Joseph Dam, the first dam without a fish ladder and is approaching Grand Coulee Dam. 

The river guides and environmental educators anticipate another 1-2 weeks of paddling to reach the international border between the United States and Canada.

John Zinser,  boat builder and river guide, proudly praises the young carvers (see video above). “The students worked every day on these canoes and it is an honor to paddle these salmon canoes which were created with so much energy from so many young people,” he said.  

When the expedition arrives at each school the crew is giving presentations about their journey and the importance of salmon and the Columbia River.  Most importantly each student will have the opportunity to paddle in the canoes they carved.

This expedition comes in the midst of preparations by the United States and Canada to renegotiate the Columbia River Treaty that governs one of the great rivers of the world.  The 1964 Treaty failed to consult with Tribes, First Nations, and the residents of southern British Columbia.  The Treaty built 3 treaty dams in British Columbia and the Libby Dam in northwestern Montana, forcing 2000 people from their homes.  The Treaty contains only the two purposes of hydropower and flood control.  

Tribes and conservationists want a third purpose added to the Treaty:  restoring the Columbia River to ecological health including bringing salmon home to waters blocked by dams.

“The Grand Coulee Dam was once considered to be the greatest engineering project the world had ever seen,” noted Wicks-Arshack. “Now let's get started with the greatest eco-engineering project—a fish ladder at the Grand Coulee Dam.”

Voyages of Rediscovery is a program of The River School, a non-profit river based environmental education not for profit.  They have been offering educational canoe trips and canoe building opportunities on the Columbia River for the past five years. If you would like to follow the Sea2Source expedition, you can follow their blog and/or facebook page.

Chinook run stalls at Lower Granite

FISHING — An unusually lengthy warm season in the interior Columbia Basin, combined with low water volumes, has apparently given, first sockeye salmon and then fall chinook salmon, reason to pause before they jump an eighth and final hydro hurdle — the lower Snake River’s Lower Granite Dam— on their spawning journey.

Read a detailed update on the sistuation from the Columbia Basin Bulletin.

In a nutshell, if you don't hold the dam at fault, it's the weather's fault.

Lake Coeur d’Alene fall drawdown begins today

LAKES — The slow annual fall drawdown of Lake Coeur d’Alene is beginning today.

The lake level will be gradually lowered through Post Falls Dam about a foot by the end of September, giving property owners time to secure boats and docks for the winter season, Avista officials said today in a media release.

After September, the drawdown rate will increase to about 1.5 feet a month until reaching the winter elevation of 2,122 feet. The summer level of the lake behind Post Falls Dam is about 2,128 feet.

The drawdown will increase flows in the Spokane River, giving anglers a boost by perking up the fishery, but dam operators do not plan to open the dam’s spill gates. 

The river above Post Falls Dam should remain open to boating until November, Avista said.

Fish, wildlife recreation to get boost from Boundary Dam license approval

UPDATE:  State fish managers say the small fish hatchery to be built under this licensing agreement will be devoted to restoring native cutthroat and bull trout.  Fish for stocking in northeast Washington lakes under the agreement will come from existing hatcheries under a contract between the utility and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

RIVERS — The license for Boundary Dam has met the requirements for approval with no appeals submitted, according to Seattle City Light, and that spells the beginning of projects to improve wildlife habitat, recreational facilities and fisheries along the Pend Oreille River.

The license was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in March, but utility officials said today that the final hurdles had been cleared. 

Under the new 42-year license, City Light will be required to mitigate the impacts of the dam to the surrounding environment in Pend Oreille County. These measures include long-term water quality monitoring programs, terrestrial habitat improvements, and wildlife monitoring programs for bald eagles, peregrine falcons and other species.

For example, Mill Pond Dam on Sullivan Creek will be removed under the agreement, clearing the way for fish passage — and kayakers — for the first time since 1909.

A native trout conservation hatchery is planned to raise cutthroats and bull trout that will be planted to help restore the native species in tributaries to the Boundary Reservoir. Required habitat restoration in these tributaries will benefit westslope cutthroat trout, bull trout and mountain whitefish.

Contracts will be signed with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to provide fish of various species from other hatcheries to stock in area lakes.

The utility is required to make avariety of recreational improvements in the Boundary project area including:

  • New recreational trails on the east side of the reservoir.
  • New non-motorized boat access with parking and facilities at the Metaline Falls Portage.
  • Upgrading six dispersed recreation sites along the Boundary reservoir, including sanitation systems, picnic tables, fire rings and watercraft land and tie-up areas.
  • Improvements to Metaline Park boat launch in the town of Metaline.
  • New interpretation and education sites throughout the Boundary project area.

“This has been a long and carefully managed process, drawing input from many stakeholders and taking into account wildlife protection, recreational and cultural amenities, and the water quality of the Pend Oreille River,” said City Light General Manager Jorge Carrasco.

Approval of the 42-year license is a critical economic benefit to City Light’s customers and to Pend Oreille PUD customers whose primary source of electricity is low-cost Boundary power, he said

Read on for details about the conclusion of the license renewal process, according to a Seattle City Light media release:

Salmon group alarmed by high water temps in Snake, Columbia

FISHING — Warming water temperatures in the Snake and Columbia rivers is catching the attention of fish scientists, especially those who support the removal of Snake River dams for the benefit of wild salmon and steelhead.

Following is the third memo in a series calling attention to the warming waters of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and the impacts of those high water temperatures on migrating salmon and steelhead provided by Joseph Bogaard, deputy director, Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, 206-286-4455 x103; joseph@wildsalmon.org

Summer 2013 - Hot Water Alert No. 3

Columbia and Snake River temperatures over 70 degrees for third straight week

Memo to Northwest writers, reporters, editorialists, and columnists – August 7, 2013

For the week July 29 through August 4, water temperatures were 70 degrees or higher 45 times at Columbia and Snake River federal dams passable to salmon – up from 35 readings the previous week. At three dams – The Dalles and John Day on the Columbia, and Ice Harbor on the Snake – temperatures were above 70 degrees all seven days both above and below the dams. At Ice Harbor Dam, temperatures have now been above 70 degrees for 17 consecutive days; at The Dalles and John Day, for 11 consecutive days.

The Dalles Dam(first reading = forebay/above dam; second reading = tailrace/below dam)         

July 29

70.1 F     70.2 F

July 30

70.7 F 70.7 F

July 31

70.8 F 70.9 F

Aug 1   70.6 F

70.8 F

Aug 2 70.1 F

70.3 F

Aug 3 70.2 F

70.2 F

Aug 4 71.1 F

71.1 F

John Day Dam (first reading = forebay/above dam; second reading = tailrace/below dam)

July 29 70.9 F

70.9 F

July 30 70.9 F

70.9 F

July 31 71 F     

70.9 F

Aug 1 70.8 F

70.8 F

Aug 2 70.6 F

70.6 F

Aug 3 70.9 F

70.9 F

Aug 4 71.5 F

71.5 F

Ice Harbor Dam  (first reading = forebay/above dam; second reading = tailrace/below dam)

July 29 71 F

71.1 F

July 30 70.8 F

71.5 F

July 31 70.8 F

71.2 F

Aug 1 70.6 F

70.9 F

Aug 2 70.4 F

70.2 F

Aug 3 71 F

71 F

Aug 4 70.2 F

70.6 F

Bonneville Dam (first reading = forebay/above dam; second reading = tailrace/below dam)

Aug 1 70 F

Aug 4 70.3 F

70.3 F

The Idaho Statesman reported August 3 that hundreds of endangered sockeye and chinook salmon were trapped in July by warm water at the base of the Lower Granite Dam fish ladder on the lower Snake. Turbine adjustments and auxiliary pumps finally got the fish moving up the ladder, but the situation could be a harbinger for days and years ahead.

See Columbia-Snake temperatures.

Program, book document Elwha River restoration

RIVERS — The author of “Elwha: A River Reborn,” will be in Spokane on Tuesday for a free presentation on the people, places, fish and history behind the world's largest dam removal effort.

Lynda Mapes, a Seattle Times reporter, will speak at 7 p.m. in the Community Building Lobby, 35 W. Main Ave.

The program is sponsored by Save Our Wild Salmon and the Spokane Falls Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Mapes joined Times photographer Steve Ringman to document what’s led to this monumental $325 million environmental restoration project.

Two antiquated dams are being removed to allow the Elwha to run freely for 45 miles from its headwaters in Olympic National Park to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The effort is opening more than 70 miles of spawning habitat to steelhead and all five species of Pacific salmon

Scientists, tribes, elected officials, local communities, agency officials and anglers are putting stock in the power of nature to turn back the clock on an Olympic Peninsula river once known for hosting runs of 100-pound chinook.

  • For more info on the Tuesday program, contact Sam Mace at sam@wildsalmon.org, (509) 747-2030.  

BUMPY ROAD TO RECOVERY: Fish hatchery losses

A pump failure at the Elwha Klallam fish hatcher last weekend led to the deaths of at least 200,000 coho salmon, spawned last fall, and roughly 2,000 year-old steelhead trout — about 50 percent of this year's crop of the fish destined for restoring runs in the Elwha River.  See the story.

SR: Old Law Protects Idaho River

A federal administrative law judge has ruled that the recreational and cultural uses of the North Fork of the Clearwater River are a former dam site more valuable than the gold placer miners might have dredged from the bottom. What irony. And what a relief. The great dams that block flows on the Northwest’s largest rivers are lamented by many who regret the damage done to wild fish runs, and the loss of land and communities submerged beneath reservoirs. Other watersheds, such as the Coeur d’Alene River basin, were despoiled by mining. But thanks to an obscure law that surrendered the rights to future federal hydroelectric dam development, those basins where the water still flowed freely were granted special protections/Spokesman-Review Editorial Board. More here.

Question: Are you thankful for federal laws that protect public lands?

BPA paid $644 million for fish-wildlife in 2012

RIVERS — In Fiscal Year 2012, the Bonneville Power Administration reported $644.1 million in total costs for its federally mandated actions to mitigate the impacts Columbia River Basin hydroelectric development has had on fish and wildlife.

The costs are listed an annual report released last week by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council to the governors of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. 

The Northwest Power passed by Congress in 1980 requires BPA, which markets power generated at federal dams in the region, to fund the NPCC programs undertaken by state and federal agencies and some tribes.

Bonneville estimates the grand total expended since 1978, when the costs began, through 2012, is about $13 billion, not including $2.27 billion in capital investments for fish hatcheries and fish passage facilities at dams.

Read on for a summary of the 2012 costs, compiled by the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

American Whitewater advocate updates river issues, dam removal

RIVERS – Thomas O’Keefe of American Whitewater will update paddlers on the approval for removing Mill Pond Dam on Sullivan Creek and other river-liberating projects in a program for the Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club Monday, april 22 7 p.m., at Mountain Gear Corporate Headquarters, 6021 E. Mansfield Ave. in Spokane Valley.

O'Keefe, AW’s Pacific Northwest stewardship director, will discuss the national group’s regional river conservation efforts, including recent dam removal success stories, revision of national forest plans and the future of river management for the Lochsa River and the rest of the Clearwater drainage.

WDFW needs angler input on Snake spring chinook rules

FISHING — Anglers have until Monday to comment on proposals geared to helping them get the most out of a very limited spring chinook salmon fishing season being planned for the Snake River in late April and May.

“The 2013 run forecast is low, and following the restrictions of federal Endangered Species Act, the harvest allocation available for the Snake River is just 360 adipose-fin-clipped hatchery adults, at least until the in-season run update is available the first week of May,” says John Whalen, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional fisheries manager.

The agency is asking anglers to choose one of three options and let biologists know by email to help them make a decision that will please the most anglers.

Read on for details and the options from WDFW: