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CRT: Toronto Globe & Mail on Salmon Restoration in British Columbia


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British Columbia News

Dream is alive to restore salmon runs; International agreement governing the management of water is up for renegotiation for the first time since it was ratified in 1964

Mark Hume

14 August 2013

©2013 The Globe and Mail Inc. All Rights Reserved.

VANCOUVER — A growing movement on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border wants to make the restoration of salmon runs in southeast British Columbia a key issue in negotiations over the Columbia River Treaty.

If the runs are revived, salmon would once again spawn in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains where they vanished nearly 70 years ago after the Grand Coulee dam was built in Washington State.

“The dream of salmon restoration is alive and well,” said Gerry Nellestijn, who is a member of a citizen group appointed by the B.C. government to provide a “sounding board” for issues related to the Columbia River Treaty.

Mr. Nellestijn said the opportunity to re-establish the runs arises because the treaty, an international agreement governing the management of water in the Columbia River, is up for renegotiation for the first time since it was ratified in 1964.

“A lot of people don’t realize what a big opportunity this is. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to restore our salmon runs,” he said.

Salmon were cut off from reaching Canada in the Columbia when the Grand Coulee was completed in 1942.

Canada and the United States began to look at joint management of the Columbia in 1944, but didn’t get around to ratifying a treaty until 1964. Under the deal, B.C. built three dams on the upper Columbia to hold back water that is released to control floods and on demand to maximize power generation south of the U.S. border. B.C. was paid $275-million up front and receives entitlement to half of the hydroelectricity generated in the U.S. by the controlled water releases.

Mr. Nellestijn, who is also the co-ordinator of the Salmo Watershed Streamkeepers Society, said the dams have caused widespread environmental damage in B.C., where river and reservoir levels fluctuate wildly.

“Fish weren’t an issue when they negotiated the treaty,” Mr. Nellestijn said.

He said 40- to 60-pound chinook salmon once spawned in the Salmo River, a tributary of the Columbia in the Kootenays, and other species spawned upstream in tributaries in the Rockies.

“We have lost our coho, chinook, burbot, steelhead and sturgeon. It’s pretty much a disgrace to think about how we allowed this to happen,” he said. “In the treaty they talk about the dollars and cents of the Canadian [power] entitlement, but we are entitled to a healthy environment too.”

John Osborn, a spokesman for the Sierra Club in Spokane, Wash., said the environmental group has written to the two U.S. federal organizations involved in the treaty, urging that “salmon and river health” be made a priority in any negotiations.

Mr. Osborn said restoring salmon runs would require building fish ladders at both the 160-metre high Grand Coulee dam and the 72-metre high Chief Joseph dam, which is located just downstream.

Fisheries experts would also then have to figure out how to reintroduce salmon runs that became locally extinct.

“If we can put a man on the moon we can return salmon to the waters of British Columbia,” said Mr. Osborn of the challenge.

In an e-mail Matt Gordon, a spokesman for the B.C. Ministry of Energy, said the provincial government is currently conducting a review of the Columbia River Treaty, as are the two U.S. agencies involved – the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Mr. Gordon said the B.C. government “will not comment on issues raised by U.S. stakeholders as part of the U.S. process.”

He also said the management of salmon is a federal issue.

A representative of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was not immediately available for comment.

The Globe and Mail Inc.

Author: naiads

Opinionated (retired) public interest water lawyer

3 thoughts on “CRT: Toronto Globe & Mail on Salmon Restoration in British Columbia

  1. Bravo Mark Hume for bringing the Columbia Salmon to national attention in Canada! Canadians take note: back in the 1930s, the federal government of Canada was asked by the United States about preserving the salmon spawning in the Columbia upstream of the proposed site of Grand Coulee Dam and Canada said there was no interest in doing so.

  2. Mark,

    Possibly, a useful piece of additional “trivia” in support of your re: 14AUG13 article

    As you stand on the outside deck of the new Chief Joseph Chinook hatchery visitors center, looking across the Columbia River at the turbines for the Chief Joseph Dam….over on the far right hand side of the turbines is a noticeable gravel based overflow channel already-in-place…

    We were told on an inspection tour/visit in July 2012, that the already-in-place overflow channel, could be converted/upgraded to an u/s & d/s fish passage “ladder”…for about $1 million or so.

    Even if that CJD fish passage “ladder” ends up costing a bit more…in my view, as a naive volunteer layperson….this, and other fish passage investments in the Columbia, seem well worth the investment.



    volunteer director & co-chair fisheries committee, Oceola Fish & Game Club, Winfield, BC
    volunteer director & co-chair, fisheries committee, BCWF Region 8 (Okanagan – Similkameen – Shuswap – Kettle basins)
    volunteer member cultural affairs committee, BCWF Region 8
    volunteer BC Interior representative, BCWF Inland Fisheries Committee

    Click to access inland_fisheries.pdf

    volunteer member Mid-Fraser/Thompson-Okanagan Local Fish Advisory Committee (SFAC)
    volunteer director Okanagan Region Wildlife Heritage Fund Society (ORWHFS)

    Rick Simpson, BA
    405 – 1938 Pandosy Street, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada V1Y 1R7
    T: 250-868-2535; C: 250-215-3171

  3. Rick, while it would be possible to provide fish passage via a ladder, at Chief Joseph Dam, it really wouldn’t be as effective a use of funds as would be an adult trap and haul system. Based on the geology around Grand Coulee, a traditional fish ladder would be next to impossible. A more effective way, and one that is currently used in other reintroduction programs above hydro facilities, would be a trap and haul at CJD, and releasing the adults above Grand Coulee. There would be little to gain in having adults swim through the 56 mile reservoir above CJD, known as Rufus Woods.

    Getting adults above Grand Coulee is actually the easier part of the solution, and the least expensive. The lion’s share of cost will be in collection and transportation of downstream migrants. Collection on this large of a scale will require multiple smolt collection facilities, at the mouth of most tributaries and at the head end of Lake Roosevelt. These facilities, or gulpers as they are affectionately called, have been installed on several river systems in Washington, and with varying success. The Cowlitz River, Lewis River, and Baker River all have these in place, and have worked through many of the challenges in design and deployment. One of the biggest challenges comes from the heavy spring flows, needed to facilitate downstream migration, but presenting difficult challenges with debris and log flow.

    Despite the many challenges and unknown obstacles, I still believe this is the right course of action and hope to see it in my lifetime. The cost will be substantial, but the potential rewards to the First Nations, the citizens of Canada, and the health of the environment are immeasurable.


    Patrick Phillips

    Chief Joseph Hatchery Manager II

    38 Half Sun Way

    Bridgeport, Wa. 98813

    Office# (509) 686-0234

    Cell# (509) 631-1870

    Fax# (509) 686-0233

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