Salmon to benefit from new 2018 spill regime

A dam operations regime adopted yesterday by a federal court in Portland will help future generations of salmon and steelhead survive.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon approved the plan for increased spill at eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The plan was developed in response to the court’s April 2017 order requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spill more water through spillways (as opposed to through turbines) to boost survival of endangered salmon and steelhead.

“This past year’s salmon returns were the worst we’ve seen in decades,” said IRU Executive Director Kevin Lewis. “Our salmon need help immediately. We know that the more a river works like a river the better it is for salmon and steelhead. That’s the basic premise behind spill. 

“Dam removal is the surest way to restore our salmon and steelhead, but letting water pour over spillways better emulates the way a natural river would work. Science has proved that it boosts salmon survival.”

Voluntary spill was first required during the spring and summer months at eight federal dams in 2006. The new spill plan requires as much spill as is allowed under current state water quality rules for total dissolved gas. Higher spill helps juvenile salmon migrate past the dams more quickly and safely. It’s proved to result in higher adult returns in the years that follow. 

“There is no real scientific dispute that voluntary spill to the level required by the court will avoid harm to juvenile salmon,” said Earthjustice attorney Todd True, the lead attorney for IRU and allied organizations. “In addition this spill order has been carefully crafted to avoid any unintended negative consequences to navigation and other resources. In fact, it is very likely that spill at higher levels would afford additional salmon survival improvements.”

The irony to the spill plan developed jointly by federal agencies is that the federal government is has simultaneously filed an appeal of Simon’s ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal is on an expedited schedule and is expected to be resolved before the official beginning of the 2018 salmon migration season.

Banner photo by Neil Ever Osborne