We Must Use Practical Rationality To Resolve Salmon Passage Up And Downstream
What We Cannot Control
Recognizing Natural Conditions
First condition: The controlling natural factors that dominate any solution.
The primary impediment appears to be the Decadal Oscillation within the northern Pacific affecting the western coastal areas of North America rather than the eastern coastal areas of Asia. Limited salmonid harvest records published, not by the Russian Government, but by the wholesale salmon marketers, “Tradex,” indicates the Russian harvest on the western side of the Pacific will exceed the U.S and Canadian harvest by 1/3 in 2020 and will exceed that in 2021. The reason for this discrepancy is identified as heated water affecting and depleting the natural food sources for the salmon in the northeastern section of the Pacific. Observation of the mapped ocean currents (see map below) within the Pacific establishes that the “Oyashio Current” flows south westerly cooling the Russian and Japanese eastern coast lines with arctic cold water from the from the Bearing Sea. Meanwhile the Border currents in the Northern Pacific carry heated water up from the tropics.
There are four main currents that circle the North Pacific forming an area, scientifically entitled a Gyre. From the equator aligned with northern Mexico a west flowing current carrying warm equatorial water flows westward toward Asia, turning north along the eastern coast of Japan and Russia, then east below the Aleutian Island chain toward the North American continent and then south joining the westward flow at the equator. Within this natural hydrological factor lies the hot spot called the Blob of periodically warmed water lying off the west coast of the U.S. and Canada. This warming sequence is entitled the “Decadal Oscillation”. When this occurs, it prevents cool nutrient filled water from coming to the surface which provides the ocean food chain and in turn reduces the number of salmon entering our rivers. The cold descending “Oyashio Current” with its upwelling nutrients is obviously the most likely scenario for the higher salmon numbers on the eastern coast of Russia and Japan.
Second condition: The natural annual solar heat in the Snake and Salmon rivers.
This natural condition has historically been monitored and recorded, prior to the construction of the Snake River Dams, not only by the USGS, but also by USACE. The heat blamed for fish death in the four (4) Snake River Dams within Washington State is a natural phenomenon reaching 23.8 C, or 75 F during the spawning months, July through September. Considering the world temperature has only increased by 1 .5 F in the last 120 years, the historic salmon runs had to be acclimated to the warmth of the water. This heat factor is consistent, and also recorded in the Snake River 300 miles upstream at the Bliss, Idaho USGS monitoring site USGS 13154500 SNAKE RIVER AT KING HILL ID. It is also true of the undammed Salmon River which is recorded at the USGS site at White Bird, Idaho USGS 13317000 SALMON RIVER AT WHITE BIRD ID. It is both puzzling and curious that during the last fifty-year period this consistently recorded and available factor was not recognized, and if so, repressed, as a prominent natural condition by the EPA when requiring a Cold-water Salmonid Spawning (CWSS) Temperature of 13.5 C, or 56.3 F during the spawning season. This designated EPA/CWA temperature, historically, was never attained during salmon spawning months within Idaho’s Salmon Rivers, excepting the Clearwater River. It is not attained in any of the water in southern Idaho other than the Eastern forks of the Snake Rivers north and east of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Those rivers were never salmon spawning rivers as they are blocked of salmon access by the natural rhyolitic cliffs forming Shoshone Falls and Twin Falls in the Magic Valley area.
Third condition: Human caused enhanced predation within the Columbia and Snake rivers.
A variety of non-native predatory fish have been introduced, either surreptitiously or as a fishery management effort. These alien fish have had a significant impact via predation on smolts. Eliminating these species, such as bass, walleye and northern pikeminnow would require poisoning the rivers which would also eliminate the salmon and steelhead smolts or spawners.
What We Can Control
Engineering, Predator Control, By-Passing The Dams And Their Lakes
USCAE, USFW, and Bonneville Power have engineered and re-engineered the fish ladders to the point that reportedly 95% of the returning spawners navigate the dams successfully. Bypassing the dam’s physical structure appears to no longer be a problem for returning Chinook spawners.
Orca predation. Prior to reaching Bonneville Dam large Chinook exceeding 40” in length suffer heavy predation from Orcas. According to a 2019 study by the University of Washington, Orcas have tripled in population and are the suspected reason there appear to be no longer any large Chinook in the ocean. Salmon recovery may require thinning these pods.
Also, at the Bonneville Dam, returning salmon face heavy predation by Sea lions. Attempting to control this condition NOAA is now allowing the Tribes and others to remove a limited number of both Steller and California Sea Lions in the river and estuary.
Resolution To Ameliorate
Existing Geological Features:
Satellite observation of the Columbia and Snake River channels allows somewhat accurate elevations of dams, locations of the confluence of tributaries, and the geographic contours along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. River mileage is estimated to be 360+- miles and the fall in elevation from Lewiston to the Bonneville dam is shown to be 687’+- or 1.9’ per mile which indicates slowly moving water.
The approach to resolve previous legal challenges would be to use the same age old methods Mesopotamia utilized in 4,000 BC, “a canal”. This canal would need to be built with riverine attributes, placed on the river and lake side following closely to the railway right of way’s where possible on the eastern and southern sides of the Columbia and Snake Rivers from the Bonneville Dam to Lewiston, Idaho. Estimated size of the canal would be a channel 60’ wide with 45 deg. Side slopes and a depth of 14’, requiring 30 c/y of excavation per l/f, 3.5+- c/y of polypropylene fiber reinforced gunite over geocloth per l/f. It should have a flowing water capacity of 400 CFS at Lewiston and 600 CFS at Bonneville. Excavation can be minimized depending on the strata by utilizing the excavated material as shoulders/berms. Where needed this could be a cast in place or prefabricated concrete above ground structure. Considering the construction cost to be somewhere in the neighborhood of a 2-lane interstate highway the cost of construction alone should be around $900,000,000. Tributaries coming into this channel can be accommodated with flumes. Collections of Smolts will have to use the same methodology now used for barging before being placed in the Artificial River/”Canal”. The USCAE engineers are more than capable of this elementary design and engineering.
Advantages Of Using This Method
In summation: Salmon Recovery has a reported $17 billion cost as of 2020 the utilization of which has resulted in falling numbers of returning salmon to the spawning grounds. Idaho’s Rep. Simpson is attempting to spend another $33 billion to increase salmon numbers with methods that are shown above to be not only impractical but scientifically, and economically irrational. The entire placement of this channel has a similar cost to one year’s Salmon recovery at $900 Million.
This preceding suggested solution will not return the runs to historical numbers, but it will dramatically improve the numbers by eliminating the predation and the loss of returning Sockeye without harming the present conditions.
Ronald M. Harriman
Nampa, Idaho 2021
Q. Do the Dams prevent Salmon From entering the Rivers?
A. NO. From 1945, and after the 1975 completion of the Washington Snake River Dams (SRD), official records indicate highest yearly return of Salmon was in 1985 (Columbia River Fish Runs & Fisheries 1938-2000).
Q. What kills most of the Salmon?
A. 88% of fish die from predatory activity, adverse ocean conditions, and fishing. With dams in place, and normal temperatures in the ocean from 2000-2009 there was a 316% increase in returning Steelhead.
Q. Do the dams hurt all Salmon?
A. No, Chinook show a 93-95% survival rate. The fish most affected by dams are the Sockeye.
Q. Do the Dams cause the water to be too hot for Salmon.
A. No. The water is naturally warm. Before the dams were in place, the Army Corps of Engineers recorded Snake River (SR) water temperatures at 71-79 Deg. F from the first of July through mid-September from 1951-57’, this is consistent with current USGS records.
Q. Why are there fewer Salmon.
A. The real problem, Pacific Decadal Oscillation, “The Blob” (heat) in the Pacific Ocean that periodically heats the water and limits the size of Salmon runs. It is a Natural Occurrence first recognized in 1925. It also directly effects the salmon runs in the undammed rivers in British Columbia and the entire coast of North America.
Q. Why are the Dams needed.
A. Flood control, water storage (pg 3), electricity. The dams not only generate our cheapest and most reliable form of carbon free electricity, but they also provide $300 million annually for fish programs while allowing fish passage of 96% spring juvenile survival and 93% summer survival (Pg 3).
Removing the dams will not change water temperature nor increase fish numbers but will significantly impact energy availability and endanger our livelihood.
What must be considered: Global Warming (GW) forecasts significant reduction in snowpack, more flooding by frequent rainstorms, and drought in the NW U.S. The current water shortage is blamed on El-Nino and GW, factual or not. Dams prevent flood damage and store the water from floods, providing water that is used to supplement low flows. Without dams where would the water come from to provide your food, and drinking water? Water can’t be pumped from dry or low flow rivers without killing the salmon completely. Today even with normal precipitation, we are forced annually to recharge the Snake River Aquifer with 250,000 Acre feet of water from the upper Snake River to replace the water used by 300,000 people and agriculture.
Rep. Simpson’s plan is a hypothesis and is factually unsupportable. $17 Billion has already been spent with negative results and he wants to spend another $33.5 billion which will not return the fish and will endanger Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Really Mike?
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Finally, there has been a recent report factually identifying the reason there are low numbers of Chinook Salmon returning to the Columbia drainage, and the Snake and Salmon Rivers. It is not new data, but now compiled and assembled from recorded historical data by top Salmonid ichthyology Scientists. Our group of researchers have been reporting for two years that the free running rivers through Canada and Alaska were experiencing the same depleted numbers of Salmon. The data of fish numbers within Canada are recorded and posted by Pacific Salmon and Steelhead Trout Watch located here.
The Ocean condition:
The problem in the ocean, as all of the rivers on the North American Pacific Coast, are experiencing the same loss. There is an interesting caveat herein, it appears that the bemoaned Snake River Chinook have the highest rate of return of all of the coastal rivers. Dam removal will not increase Chinook numbers, however the warm water in the reservoirs will and does take a heavy toll on the Sockeye. The water 300 river miles above the dams is naturally warm, in the 70’s during the summer months and USGS records as far back as the 1950 show this as a natural phenomenon. The salmon of the Snake River drainage, which includes the free running Salmon river, have evidently adjusted to these natural conditions.
Bonneville Power financed a study developed by the Kintama Research Services, Nanaimo, BC, Canada, A synthesis of the coast-wide decline in survival of West Coast Chinook Salmon. The study conclusion: The policy implications of Chinook salmon SARs falling to about 1/3rd of early levels and converging to similar levels nearly everywhere along the west coast of North America are profound. current efforts to conserve salmon populations assume that restoring habitats modified by anthropogenic factors (e.g. dams, dykes, forestry, road culverts, salmon farms in the coastal ocean) will improve salmon returns and at least partially compensate for worsening ocean conditions (Roni, 2019). However, if survival also falls by roughly the same amount in regions with nearly pristine freshwater habitats (SE Alaska, north-central British Columbia), it is difficult to argue for a major role of regional factors in causing the decline.
The Washington Farm Bureau conducted a review and Northwest River Partners issued a press release on the Kintama study. On this same site you will find numerous reports with solutions that are data driven. It is our intent to present unbiased factual based data with the intent to step beyond the multitude of reports, none of which actually developed the entire picture of the Salmon dilemma, we need to stop spending money on opinion and solve the problem in the river. We can do little to resolve the problem in the ocean.
This is for publication and you may use it for any purpose. More information on this subject is locate here.
The water in the dams on the Snake during the spawning season is too hot for the fish. “When temperatures get above 68 degrees, salmon have problems", states Dennis McLerran, former regional administrator for the EPA in the Northwest. However, the river water filling the dams naturally exceeds 68F during the spawning season.
It’s time to drop the myths, pseudo-scientific suppositions, and incomplete studies that have prevented effectively solving Salmon passage from the ocean to the spawning grounds. The dams are in place and the culture of the Northwest has developed around them. Without hydro-power and irrigation water from dams agricultural and development of Southern Idaho would be limited including the Treasure Valley. It’s been 60 years and $17Billion wasted paying experts and attorneys with negative results. This debacle is a matter of reliance on and failure to research previous flawed reports. The conservation and environmental groups in a pretense of saving the Salmon, are aiding in their annihilation.
The water temperatures of the Columbia, Snake, and Salmon Rivers appear to be a natural condition that apparently existed prior to settlement. Frankly, not even the EPA has understood the fact that water temperatures of the rivers above the dams exceeds 70-75F or 15.56C during the spawning periods. The EPA has set an unsupportable temperature for Cold Water Salmonid Spawning at 13.5C or 56.3F. This temperature is not attained during anadromous fish spawning times south of the Clearwater Rivers or in Stanley Basin. Red Fish Lake averages 17.8C or 64F during spawning.
Backpacking trip along the Boise River shows the extent of water pollution in Idaho.
Supporting this, USGS monitoring sites have been recording these temperatures prior to global warming. Two chosen recording sites operated by the USGS above the dams are posted below and clearly show the temperatures during the summer months when the salmon spawn. (July 15-October 15)
The first, records temperatures for 20 years at King Hill, Idaho on the Snake River at 23C and 73F. This site was chosen, as it is 12 miles downstream from the Bliss Dam, and 300 miles above the Dams in question. It represents the temperature of the major tributary springs flowing into the Snake from the Snake River Plain Aquifer. They are recorded at 59F or 15C year around on the sites of the Niagara Springs Steelhead Hatchery, the Clear Springs Private Fish Hatchery, and the Federal Hatchery in Hagerman Valley.
The second at White Bird on the Salmon River 23C and 75F. Also 20years. This clearly identifies the natural temperature as there are no dams on the free-flowing Salmon.
No amount of work or expenditure will lower the water temperature of these rivers to 56.3F during spawning and supporting this, the atmospheric temperature worldwide has only risen 2.1F in the last 120 years. As the fish exist, they obviously have adapted to these temperatures, but not the slack water of the dams. The answer appears to be the moving water of a river.
A solution saving the existing economies allowed by the Snake River dams and Salmon recovery would be to reconstruct a river around the dams that would allow the salmon to reach their historical spawning grounds unimpeded. The design should provide shade, pools and riffles to cool the water similar to a natural riverine environment. This would provide a continuous flow of water by-passing the slack water of the dams from the spawning grounds to the ocean. The water required is 400-600 CFS and is less than Idaho’s required annual allocation of 487,000 acre feet used for spilling water over the dams to move smolt down river. Without this the Sockeye are doomed.
Research and assembly by Ronald M. Harriman
A New method
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is well aware that achieving salmon recovery with the opinions and codification of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Clean Water Act (CWA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ), and activist groups, that with flood control and the agriculture and industry sectors, salmon recovery is a multidisciplinary enigma. Fortunately, there is an answer that will not be achieved by the included consortium of activists within these groups. Twenty some years ago a Morrison Knudsen (MK) Constructors engineer by the name of Brolin, designed a 4’ clear fish tube that would return all Salmon to their natural spawning grounds by guiding them through the slack water of the numerous dams. They never finished testing the tube.
The resolution to the Salmon problem has been prevented as it concerns many aspects of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington laws; Tribal treaties; foreign governments; federal laws within the CWA, EPA, IDEQ, and the federal and state Departments of Agriculture; Water Users; Irrigation Districts; Idaho Power; Bonneville Power Administration (BPA); and the USACE.
With a little ingenuity and the insight of Brolin, the salmon runs can return to the full extent of their historical range.
Recovery does not require Dam removal within the Columbia or Snake River drainage. The solution is a logical expansion of the Brolin Theory, not a tube, but a natural solution by recreating rivers through or around the dams. His work indicated the entire salmon run could be recovered with the stated 4’ clear tube, but MK never ran the final tests to allow testing of adequate oxygen content within the tube over a long span. Recreating a canal like artificial river with surface exposure would satisfy the oxygen problem.
THE PASSAGE DOWNSTREAM
Collecting the Salmon Parr migrating down river to the ocean can be accomplished by mechanical and electrical means, which are now used to collect the smolt for barging, or by a diversion structure at the upper end of each dam before the flowing water mixes with the slack water, guiding the salmon Smolt into the artificial river channel or canal flowing at 1-1/2 MPH with 200-400 cubic feet seconds (CFS) at the upper reaches of the rivers, and 600 CFS of water at the lower reaches ending at the Bonneville Dam. The constructed “New River” would guide the smolt downstream as the natural river did before the dams were built, carrying them past or through the dams, avoiding the still/slack and warm water, the turbines, the nitrogen narcosis caused by spilling water over the dams, and into the natural river channel below the dams. It would then begin again at the start of the slack water of the lakes behind the next dam.
Predation of the smolt by the Pike minnows and other predatory fish can be controlled with removable gill nets at the channel’s re-entry into the river below the dams. This is where the majority of predation by fish is reported to be the most intense and should also be placed at the entry point above the lakes formed by the dams. These removable gill nets can be big enough to catch the predators but allow the salmon Parr to pass through. During the season of downriver passage of the Smolt, the nets would be lifted and cleaned of the predatory fish caught as needed. When the Parr finish moving downstream the gill nets can be removed until the following season.
THE PASSAGE UPSTREAM
The channel of these artificial rivers will also allow Salmon to pass upstream past the dams while avoiding the heat of the slack water from the ocean to the spawning grounds. This is critical for the recovery of the Sockeye and prevents their eventual extinction. The heat of the stagnate water stored behind the dams is shown to exceed 21.1 (70F) during the spawning run and kills over 75% of those returning to their spawning areas.
THE DESIGN AND FUNCTION
This canal is approximately the size needed to allow for full passage of the salmon to their spawning grounds which would require a 60’ width at the top and a depth of 14’.
Fencing, trees, and shrubbery could be planted on both sides for cooling by shading and security from poaching. Solar panels could be placed on poles at intervals to run small compressors to aerate the water providing needed oxygen for the fish in warm periods. Cobbles and boulders could be placed in the channel to provide a natural riverbed.
Placing gates on the upper part of the channel would allow cleaning and maintenance of the artificial channel during times when there is minimal upstream movement by salmon and allowing temporary water diversion into the Dams.
It would help if we stop wasting U.S. tax dollars trying to satisfy groups that are actually profiting from the problem. The four dams of concern are the John Day, McNary, Dalles, and Bonneville, with a total of 213 miles of slack water. Cost of the project should be $788-800 million. This cost is near the present yearly salmon mitigation cost. The construction could be on site or prefabricated, constructed in a plant or on a dry site, then set in place on the proper foundation.
Biologists complain of warm water killing the Salmon, but IDEQ has erroneously listed, under EPA guidance, the proper temperature for Cold Water Salmonid Spawning at 13.5C, even in irrigation water. Their concern is water temperatures exceeding 20C (68F) in the Columbia and Snake Rivers during the summer months But, existing data from the USGS and other water monitoring stations indicate this is a historically natural condition. Recorded temperatures in the Snake and Salmon Rivers reach or exceed those temperature every year prior to entering the dams at or near the spawning times. Snake River tributaries through the Twin Falls area and Thousand Springs flowing into the Snake River aquifer throughout the year have a recorded temperature of 15C (59F). Each of these temperatures is recorded on fish hatchery sites. The USGS recording stations on the Salmon River above the dams and confluence with the Snake clearly show the temperatures during the summer months in the 21.1C (70F) range, making the temperature requirement moot and unachievable as this is now, and historically, the natural condition prior to the European settlement of this region.
If the run is recovered the financial benefit would be substantial as the costs of mitigation, suits by environmental groups, and the EPA would end.
In 1998 the inter-Columbia basin tribe’s annual mitigation payment for loss of fishery was $53 million from BPA, the accumulated total of annual payments reached $933 million in 2017. Salmon remediation in the 2019 BPA budget is $755 million. BPA estimated future costs for fish and wildlife are roughly $200 million in forgone revenue for a total cost of $735 million. This is 31 percent of $2.348 billion budget, or approximately one-third of the budget, which is the approximate impact to rates. These estimates assume the 2014 Biological Opinion operations and include the portion of costs allocated to non-power uses of the dams (Northwest Power Act Section 4(h)10(C)).
By recovering the runs, remediation costs should be minimal or no longer applicable, and incrementally reduced annually as the salmon runs recover. If the runs are not recovered the increased payments will become substantial.
The background establishing the cost of failing to recover the runs:
The history of the salmon runs on the Columbia are recorded. The highest harvest rates on the Columbia and tributaries are in the 1986 Schalk report. Quoting Schalk: “using newer and more refined archaeological, ethnohistoric and ethnographic data, Schalk estimated the annual aboriginal harvest to be 41,754,800 LBS for the Columbia River.” Removing the Dams would have a devastating effect on the economy of Idaho, Oregon and Washington, and would leave the downstream cities subject to yearly flooding.
Economic benefits and costs
According to the federal Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) the yearly value of the Columbia Basin Project (CBP) is $630 million in irrigated crops, $950 million in power production, $20 million in flood damage prevention, and $50 million in recreation. The project itself involves costs that are difficult to determine. Farms receiving irrigation water must pay for it, but due to insufficient BOR data it is not possible to compare the total cost paid by the Bureau to the payments received. Nevertheless, the farm payments account for only a small fraction of the total cost to the government, resulting in the project's agricultural corporations receiving large water subsidies from the government. Critics describe the CBP as a classical example of federal money being used to subsidize a relatively small group of farmers in the American West in places where it would never be economically viable under other circumstances.
Water chemical and physical quality is a concern of the EPA, CWA, and USACE. Cleaning rivers of chemicals, processed sewer water from the cities, and irrigation spillage are necessary. This responsibility in Idaho is with the IDEQ, but the IDEQ and EPA have a conflict with Idaho Law which Idaho, unfortunately, has backed away from concerning irrigation and the jurisdiction over irrigation. The USACE claims jurisdiction over tributaries and a considerable amount of these tributaries are not naturally sourced but are actually irrigation spillage.
Environmental concerns for Salmon Recovery need to be rationally applicable to the pre settlement natural conditions. Siltage and turbidity are natural to the rivers running to the Pacific from North America.
Finally, considering dam removal: Removing the dams would devastate the economy of the Columbia basin, but would not affect the temperature of the water. If this proposed artificial river is installed the temperature, turbidity, proper aeration, and pollution perceived to be the source of salmon survival prior to spawning will cease and would allow the return of all the Salmon Runs that historically existed.
Let us lay aside the bureaucratic and political infighting and resolve the Salmon problem by recreating the river/s! The cost to do this is comparative to the cost of remediation per year today.