Water: law/policy/politics/ethics/art/science

CRT: Ecosystem Function Defined

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Columbia Plateau Seasonal Round, from Prof. Eugene Hunn (Em.), Univ. of Washington

Fifteen Native American Tribes inhabit, own reservations, exercise treaty and executive order rights, and manage natural resources in the Columbia River watershed in the United States.  The Tribes understood the opportunities presented by upcoming changes to the Columbia River Treaty.  In response, they adopted a consensus statement of goals and sought and obtained equal participation as part of the U.S. Entity’s Sovereign Review Team, which is tasked with making recommendations to the U.S. Department of State regarding modernizing the Treaty.  Reporter Jack McNeel’s July 25, 2013 Indian Country Today article describes the role of the Tribes in this process.

One of the chief goals of the Tribes is to update the Treaty by adding a third purpose:  ecosystem-based function.  This goal goes far beyond simply operating the Columbia hydropower system to meet Endangered Species Act requirements.  More than a dozen major environmental, clean energy and good government groups endorsed these concepts in comments submitted to the U.S. Entity last week.  See post of August 14 (updated Aug. 18) “Conservation Groups Weigh In.”

With permission, the Columbia River Tribes’ definition of “ecosystem-based function” is re-printed here.  This statement gives insight into just how badly the Columbia River ecosystem is damaged, and what is needed to bring it back to health.  Actions such as improved instream flows, flood plain reconnection and fish passage are essential to achieve river restoration.  (Each of these activities is a big topic in its own right, and will be addressed in detail in future Naiads posts.)

Columbia Basin Tribes’ Definition of Ecosystem-based Function

Since time immemorial, the rivers of the Columbia Basin have been, and continue to be, the life blood of the Columbia Basin tribes.  Columbia Basin Tribes view ecosystem-based function of the Columbia Basin watershed as its ability to provide, protect and nurture cultural resources, traditions, values and landscapes throughout its length and breadth.  Clean and abundant water that is sufficient to sustain healthy populations of fish, wildlife, and plants is vital to holistic ecosystem-based function and life itself.  A restored, resilient and healthy watershed will include ecosystem-based function such as:

  • Increased spring and summer flows resulting in a more natural hydrograph;
  • Higher and more stable headwater reservoir levels;
  • Restoring and maintaining fish passage to historical habitats;
  • Higher river flows during dry years;
  • Lower late summer water temperature;
  • Reconnected floodplains throughout the river including a reconnected lower river estuary ecosystem as well as reduced salt water intrusion during summer and fall;
  • Columbia River plume and near shore ocean enhanced through higher spring and summer flows and lessened duration of hypoxia;
  • An adaptive and flexible suite of river operations responsive to a great variety of changing environmental conditions, such as climate change.

Improved ecosystem-based function in the Columbia Basin Watershed is expected to result in at least:

  • Increased recognition, protection and preservation of tribal first foods and cultural/sacred sites and activities.  First foods includes water, salmon, other fish, wildlife, berries, roots, and other native medicinal plants.
  • An estuary with an enhanced food web and increased juvenile fish survival;
  • Increases in juvenile and adult salmon survival;
  • Decreased mainstem travel time for migrating juvenile salmon;
  • Increased resident fish productivity that provides stable, resilient populations;
  • Increased wildlife productivity that provides stable, resilient populations;
  • Salmon and other juvenile and adult fish passage to historical habitats in the Upper Columbia and Snake River basins, and into other currently blocked parts of the Columbia River Basin.

From Initial Perspectives of the Columbia Basin Tribes for the Recommendations to the Department of State Regarding the Columbia River Treaty Review,” Appendix A, May 29, 2013

Author: naiads

Opinionated (retired) public interest water lawyer

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