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

Leave a comment

New Report Debunks Washington’s Dam-Building Program


Sandhill cranes migrate through Lower Crab Creek, where the Office of Columbia River spent millions studying a new dam that could not be built. (Photo: Kathy Admire)

Over the past ten years the Washington Department of Ecology Office of the Columbia River (OCR) has spent $200 million financed by taxpayer-backed bonds in an attempt to build more dams and increase water supplies in eastern Washington.  OCR is quite adept at touting its achievements, particularly when the legislative budget process rolls around.

However, a new, independent report by Power Consulting of Missoula concludes that the OCR is overstating its accomplishments, and suggests that the Washington Legislature should seek a performance audit of the program before it considers shelling out any more of the public’s cash.  Specifically, the Power Report concludes that OCR has:

  • Misrepresented the amount of water that it has actually put to use in eastern Washington,
  • Failed to acknowledge the need for hundreds of millions more dollars to bring current projects to fruition, and
  • Wasted a lot of money investigating proposed new dams that it should have known could never be built.

The report, Department of Ecology Office of Columbia River: The Last Ten Years, examines OCR’s decade long agenda of studying dam sites and developing water projects, with in-depth review of the Odessa Subarea water project, the Yakima Integrated Water Plan, and the Icicle Strategy .   The conclusions are eye-opening.

For example, OCR claims credit for “developing” nearly 400,000 acre-feet of water for new supply.  Most of this is not “new” water, and instead would be re-allocated out of existing reservoirs.  Of that water, most has not been delivered to water users.  This is because of the enormous and expensive infrastructure needed to move water from the reservoirs to the farms that are the intended beneficiaries.

The Power Report also evaluates the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Plan, and concludes that assumptions about the benefits of its expensive water storage projects are speculative and implausible.  The proposed storage reservoirs could cost Washington taxpayers as much as $2 billion.

The Report builds on earlier studies that conclude the benefits of building more dams in the Yakima River watershed cannot be justified by the costs. A study by WSU’s Water Resources Research Center, “Benefit-Cost Analysis of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan Projects,” concluded that the Yakima Plan’s proposed storage projects would result in economic losses.  However, providing fish passage at existing reservoirs and utilizing water right markets, the Yakima Plan could achieve the goals of the Plan, but at a much improved benefit-cost ratio.

The Power Report also evaluated the Odessa Subarea “groundwater replacement” program which involves pumping Columbia River water into an extremely arid portion of the Columbia Plateau where the potato industry has over-pumped the groundwater system for decades (primarily to produce french fries), and is now seeking a water  bailout at public expense.  OCR claims success, but the Power Report points out that only about 3,000 acres have been switched to surface water, with massive infrastructure – and massive public subsidies – required for the remaining 80,000 acres.

(For background, see studies and reports criticizing the economics of the Odessa Subarea project.)

The Power Report also evaluates the Icicle Strategy – a proposal to pump water from lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to provide municipal water supply to the City of Leavenworth.  The Report notes the controversial nature of the project, given the extreme popularity of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and suggests that the problems of water supply be addressed through aggressive water conservation and development of regional water markets.  More information on the Icicle Strategy can be found in this blog’s 4-part series New Dams and Diversions in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and Icicle Instream IllusionsAlpine Lakes Wilderness Society (ALPS) also opposes the Icicle Strategy.

The Power Report concludes in pointing out that the OCR has spent millions on studies of dams that were infeasible from the start.  These include the Lower Crab Creek and Hawk Creek dam proposals, which would have flooded substantial amounts of wildlife habitat, and the Shankers Bend dam, which would have flooded into Canada.  The bottom line?  The Office of the Columbia River has wasted substantial amounts of public funding pursuing projects that were doomed from the start.

The Power Report was commissioned by Sierra Club, which has long opposed dam building and dam operations in the Columbia Basin.  Legislative testimony by Sierra Club and ALPS details the concerns about OCR’s 2017 budget request.


Leave a comment

Water Law News: Juliana v. United States

climate-change-graphic-hand-holding-globeIt’s been a difficult week for people who care about climate change. It appears that U.S. climate policy will soon reverse course, and that the administration-elect may steal the planet from future generations. It is therefore very welcome news to see a court squarely ruling that U.S. citizens – children in particular – have a fundamental constitutional right to a planet that is capable of supporting human life.

Our Children’s Trust is a non-profit organization in Eugene, Oregon, that has been bringing climate change litigation around the nation. In these lawsuits, children are the plaintiffs and they are suing the government for failure to take action to secure a healthy environment for their future.   The U.S. Constitutional right to “life, liberty and happiness,” and the Public Trust Doctrine are central arguments in these lawsuits.

One such lawsuit is Kelsey Juliana v. United States, and is pending in the Oregon federal court, Judge Ann Aiken presiding.   Yesterday Judge Aiken made a major ruling in the case.

Juliana v. U.S. is an important case. It’s a lawsuit brought by 21 children against the President, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Departments of Interior, Energy, Agriculture, Transportation, Commerce, Defense, and State, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The National Assn. of Manufacturers, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the American Petroleum Institute have intervened on the side of the federal government.

The Juliana plaintiffs allege claims that get at the heart of federal climate policy and actions. The lawsuit challenges

decisions like whether and to what extent to regulate CO2 emissions from power plants and vehicles, whether to permit fossil fuel extraction and development to take place on federal lands, how much to charge for use of those lands, whether to give tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry, whether to subsidize or directly fund that industry, whether to fund the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure such as natural gas pipelines at home and abroad, whether to permit the import and export of fossil fuels from and to the United States, and whether to authorize new marine coal terminal projects. Plaintiffs assert defendants’ decisions on these topics have substantially caused the planet to warm and the oceans to rise.

The Juliana lawsuit is at the first stage of the proceedings. The U.S. defendants and intervenors filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiffs have failed to state the kind of claim that the court can decide. Because the Court denied the motion to dismiss, the case will now proceed to trial.

First, the Court held that the Juliana claims are not simply “political questions” that courts should refrain from deciding. Rather, the plaintiffs

ask the Court to declare the United States’ current environmental policy infringes their fundamental rights, direct the agencies to conduct a consumption-based inventory of the United States CO2 emissions, and use that inventory to ‘prepare and implement an enforceable national remedial plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric CO2 so as to stabilize the climate system and protect the vital resources on which Plaintiffs now and in the future will depend.’

The Court ruled that plaintiffs have standing to sue based on specific harms they are experiencing as a result of climate change. One plaintiff has asthma that is aggravated by forest fires. Another’s family had to install an irrigation system because of drought. One of the plaintiffs lives in Louisiana and her home was inundated in the recent floods in that area.

On the merits, Judge Aiken ruled that citizens have a “right to a climate that is capable of sustaining human life” and that this is a fundamental due process right that emanates from the U.S. Constitution. “A stable climate system is quite literally the foundation of society, without which there would be neither civilization or progress.”   The Court ruled that where a lawsuit alleges that:

Governmental action is affirmatively and substantially damaging the climate system in a way that will cause human deaths, shorten human lifespans, result in widespread damage to property, threaten human food sources, and dramatically alter the planet’s ecosystem, it states a claim for a due process violation.

Finally, with respect to the Public Trust Doctrine, Judge Aiken first reviewed the history of the doctrine, from ancient Roman law to the present. The Institutes of Justinian first codified the Public Trust in 530 CE (AD):

The following things are by natural law common to all: the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the seashore.

Government has a duty to protect these common resources for the benefit of future generations.

With respect to core resources, the sovereign’s public trust obligations prevent it from depriving a future legislature of the natural resources necessary to provide for the well-being and survival of its citizens. . . . The [] trust operates according to basic trust principles, which impose upon the trustee a fiduciary duty to protect the trust property from damage or destruction. The trustee owes this duty equally to both current and future beneficiaries of the trust.’

The Juliana plaintiffs asked the Court to recognize that the Public Trust Doctrine protects the atmosphere – the first natural resource profoundly affected by climate change. The Court ruled that it need not reach that question, because climate change is clearly affecting a more traditional public trust resource, the territorial seas of the United States.

Time and again, the Supreme Court has held that the public trust doctrine applies to lands beneath tidal waters. . . . [U.S.] authority over the [sea] can no more be abdicated than any of the other great powers of the Federal Government. . . . Because a number of the plaintiffs’ injuries relate to the effects of ocean acidification and rising ocean temperatures, they have adequately alleged harm to public trust assets.

In declining to rule on the more novel question of an atmospheric trust, the Court noted that there is authority for the idea that the Public Trust Doctrine applies to protect the atmosphere. One such authority is the Nov. 2015 decision of King County Judge Hollis Hill, who ruled in case brought by Seattle-area children (Foster v. WA Dept. of Ecology) that:

It misses the point to mechanically rely on what has been identified as a public trust asset in the past because ‘the navigable waters and the atmosphere are intertwined and to argue a separation of the two, or to argue that [greenhouse gas] emissions do not affect navigable waters is nonsensical.’

Judge Aiken also cited a recent ruling from the Pennsylvania court (Robinson Township v. Pennsylvania) that:

The concept of public natural resources includes not only state-owned lands, waterways, and mineral reserves, but also resources that implicate the public interest, such as ambient air, surface and ground water, wild flora and fauna (including fish) that are outside the scope of purely private property.

The judge went on to rule that the Public Trust Doctrine applies to the federal government, that it is not displaced by federal statutes, and that rights under the public trust are enforceable by federal courts. The judge concluded:

This action is of a different order than the typical environmental case. It alleges that defendants’ actions and inactions . . . have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiffs’ fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty. . . .

Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it. . . .

“A strong and independent judiciary is the cornerstone of our liberties.” [Quoting Sen. Mark Hatfield]. Even when a case implicates hotly contested political issues, the judiciary must not shrink from its role as a coequal branch of government.

Trial will likely be scheduled for 2017.

Leave a comment

Blockbuster Court Decision Protects Instream Flows and May Slow Rural Sprawl

Nooksack watershed (WRIA 1) map (Dept. of Ecology)

In 1985, the Department of Ecology adopted an instream flow rule for the Nooksack watershed in Whatcom County.  The rule establishes instream flows for 28 tributaries or points along the mainstem of the Nooksack River.  The rule also establishes partial or full closures of about 50 rivers, streams, and lakes throughout Whatcom County, meaning that new water rights can no longer be appropriated for part or all of the year where these waterbodies are closed.

Nooksack River percent days flows unmet (ECY 2015)Because of these closures, the Department of Ecology no longer issues water rights in Whatcom County unless those rights are conditioned to be interrupted when instream flows are not met.  This happens often in the Nooksack watershed.*  For example, the graph at left shows that instream flows on the mainstem of the Nooksack River are not met up to 80% of the time during summer months.  This low flow problem is evident in many of the tributaries in the watershed (and throughout the state, as discussed below).

Despite these low flow problems and stream closures, Whatcom County has for many years issued building permits for new rural development that relies on permit exempt wells for water supply.  It has long been understood that groundwater is connected to surface waters in the basin, and that pumping from wells captures water that would otherwise discharge to the Nooksack River and its tributaries.  This hydraulic connection between ground and surface waters has important ecological consequences because groundwater inputs create cool water refugia in streams and rivers for endangered salmon and other aquatic species.   Moreover, as climate change alters stream temperatures, groundwater inputs become even more important.  Despite an enormous amount of scientific data showing that groundwater connects to and enhances surface waters, the County did not evaluate the impact of is rural growth practices on Nooksack instream flows.

Whatcom County is required to prepare a comprehensive plan and zoning regulations under the Growth Management Act (GMA).  The GMA contains several provisos that require counties to administer their land use laws in a way that protects water resources.**  In a 2011 case involving Kittitas County, the Washington Supreme Court held that counties must ensure that water is both physically and legally available when implementing land use laws that will result in development that relies on permit exempt wells for water supply.

On October 6, 2016, the Washington Supreme Court followed up the Kittitas County decision, ruling in Whatcom County vs. Growth Management Hearings Board (also known as the “Hirst” case) that Whatcom County’s land use laws do not fulfill GMA requirements to protect water resources.  Instream flow rules represent water rights for the river that enjoy protection from more recent water diversions and withdrawals, such as those allowed under Whatcom County’s comprehensive land use plan and zoning regulations.  Such withdrawals cause impairment of instream flows that is forbidden under Washington law.

The Court further held that, when issuing building permits that plan to rely on permit exempt wells for water supply, it does not matter that the Department of Ecology has not closed a waterbody by instream flow rule.  Ecology’s inaction cannot serve as a basis for counties to evade their duty to protect water resources and uphold water resource laws.  As discussed below, this is a critical point given that a number of Washington’s instream flow rules are outdated and do not reflect the status of water availability.


Washington Instream Flow Rules (Dept. of Ecology April 2015)

As shown in the map at right, Ecology has adopted instream flows in about half the watersheds in Washington.  Many of the streams and rivers protected under these rules are not meeting their designated instream flows, especially during summer months.  However, with few exceptions, most counties do not evaluate whether rural development that is reliant on permit exempt wells is causing depletion of instream flows.  Many counties in Washington are presently issuing building permits that are in direct contradiction to the requirements set forth in the Whatcom County and Kittitas County decisions.  (Real estate purchasers, beware.)

Hue and cry is expected from the development community and local land use agencies regarding the Whatcom County decision.  The Court’s ruling calls into question existing practices of many counties that are doing exactly what the Court held illegal :  issuing building permits without proper analysis of water availability.   County land use practices are causing impairment of instream flows throughout the state.

Exempt well growth in Mason County (NWIFC 2016)

The use of exempt wells to fuel Washington’s rural sprawl has been going on since at least the real estate boom of the early 1990’s, much to the detriment of the state’s rivers and streams and the fish that need adequate flow for survival.  A new report from the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 2016 State of Our Watersheds, documents how permit exempt wells are directly harming treaty salmon fisheries in multiple watersheds in western Washington.  As an example, 259 exempt wells were drilled in the Squaxin Island Tribe’s territories between 2010 and 2104 (adding to a total of nearly 6,000 such wells in the basin), damaging important coho and chum fisheries in Johns Creek, where the instream flow rule was adopted set in 1984.

little-spokane-river-water-well-logs-1922-2008A Spokane County report documents that, in the Little Spokane River watershed, 8,900 exempt wells were drilled between 1976 and 2008, after the LSR instream flow rule was adopted, even though the river does not meet instream flows about 80% of the time.  In fact, LSR surface water rights are frequently ordered to curtail in summer months, thus elevating junior permit exempt wells over senior out-of-stream water rights, as well as the regulatory instream flows.

These are but two examples of situations that are virtually identical to Whatcom County.  In reality, this problem is proliferating all over the state.

The Court recognized that instream flows set by rule are protected as senior water rights, but held also that counties cannot rely on these rules to determine legal water availability.  The Court’s decision on this point is important, because Washington’s instream flow regulations are woefully out of date.  In the 1970’s and early 80’s the methods for identifying the quantities of water needed to protect instream values was very crude, the science of hydraulic continuity was not fully understood, and the problem of inchoate (paper) water rights was nowhere on the radar screen, nor were the treaty-based instream water rights of Washington’s tribes.   Instream flow rules are simply not a reliable indicator of how much water is in a stream or aquifer, and how much is available for new appropriations, including exempt wells.

For many years, there has been wholesale failure by the Department of Ecology, state lawmakers, and local authorities to rein in uncontrolled use of exempt wells.  State economic policy has promoted growth at any cost, causing great harm to Washington’s waterways.  By failing to step up and control groundwater use, the state and counties have left themselves open to lawsuits and adverse court decisions.  This trend will continue until a more enlightened approach to water management prevails.

Fundamentally, water managers must recognize that Washington’s water resources were over-appropriated many years ago.  We have come to the end of the water frontier.  Indeed, with climate change baying at the door, we must find ways to use less water and restore water to streams and aquifers that are even now in sharp decline.  A paradigm shift is needed and, with the help of the Washington Supreme Court, is getting underway.

Here are a few pertinent quotes from the Court’s decision in Whatcom County vs. WWGMHB (Oct. 6, 2016):

The GMA places an independent responsibility to ensure water availability on counties, not on Ecology. To the extent that there is a conflict between the GMA and the Nooksack Rule, the later-enacted GMA controls. Slip Op. at 10.

The GMA requires that an applicant for a building permit for a single family residence or a development must produce proof that water is both legally available and actually available. But [Whatcom] County does not require any showing that water is available for a building permit when the applicant is relying on permit-exempt water appropriation. This failure by the County is the crux of this case. Slip Op. at 19.

The Board found that [Whatcom County’s land use] provisions result in water withdrawals from closed basins and senior instream flows – flows that the record indicated drop below the minimum levels 100 days out of the year. The Board properly held that this conflicts with the requirement placed on counties to protect water availability under the GMA, as well as our holding in Postema, 142 Wn.2d 68.  Slip Op. at 25.

Counties may not rely on Ecology’s inaction in failing to close a basin as a determination that water is presumptively available for appropriation. Such inaction fails to provide any assurance that a new permit-exempt well will not infringe on senior water rights, and thus fails to satisfy the obligation the GMA places on counties to ensure that water is legally available before issuing a building permit.  Slip Op. at 34, note 13.



*Naiads has previously reported on Ecology’s shocking decision to issue interruptible water rights to illegal water users in the Nooksack watershed.  See our posts: The Tale of the Nooksack Nine and Nooksack Water Thievery Redux.

**For example, the GMA establishes a goal to “protect the environment and enhance the state’s high quality of life, including air and water quality, and the availability of water.”  RCW 36.70A.020(10). Comprehensive plans must include a land use element that “shall provide for protection of the quality and quantity of groundwater used for public water supplies.”  RCW 36.70A.070(1).  The rural element of comprehensive plans shall protect “critical areas, as provided in RCW 36.70A.060, and surface water and groundwater resources.”  RCW 36.70A.070(5)(c)(iv).  Applicants for building and subdivision permits must demonstrate adequate water supply for their developments.  RCW 19.27.097 and 58.17.110.

Leave a comment

Alpine Lakes Wilderness Comment Deadline: May 11

colchuck-lake (USDA-FS)

Colchuck Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness (USDA)

After spending more than three years and a million taxpayer bucks, Chelan County and the Washington Department of Ecology have finally put out an environmental scoping request for the Icicle Work Group’s “Icicle Strategy.”   This document identifies our government’s plan to further dam and drain several lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area for future consumption by Wenatchee Valley developers and irrigators.

Complete details about the impact of the project can be found in the Alpine Lakes Protection Society’s (ALPS) latest newsletter.

People who care about the Alpine Lakes Wilderness –  one of America’s most beautiful and popular wilderness areas – need to speak up.  Comments regarding the scope of the environmental impact statement must be received by May 11, 2016:

  • Mike Kaputa, Director, Chelan Co. Natural Resources Dep’t
  • Via e-mail:
  • Via snail mail:  411 Washington St., Suite 201, Wenatchee, WA

The SEPA checklist and various descriptions of the Icicle Work Group’s proposal are posted on Chelan County’s website.  Here are a few observations that may guide comments.

The Icicle Work Group is a self-appointed conglomeration of government agencies (federal, state, local, tribal), water resource users (irrigators and municipal water suppliers), and a couple of environmental groups interested in getting contracts to do projects.   The IWG has no members who are advocating to protect the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.*

The IWG’s “guiding principles” establish that whatever comes out of the process must be a “quid pro quo” deal.   Thus, any benefit to the environment will be accomplished only if new water rights are created to fuel development and sprawl in and around the City of Leavenworth, Cashmere, Dryden, etc.   These water rights will extract water from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness: Eightmile, Colchuck, Klonaqua, Nada, Snow, and Square Lakes.  To obtain this water, the cities will have to build dams and other infrastructure, and will inundate Wilderness lands as well as draw down the Wilderness lakes.  You can read the details in the Alpine Lakes Optimization & Automation Study (Table 6, p. 62 provides a handy summary.)

The Icicle Work Group asserts that this plan is environmentally beneficial because it will improve instream flows in Icicle Creek.  This assertion is (largely) false.   There will be minor improvements to streamflow, but most of the water promised to Icicle Creek is interruptible – that is – in water-short years the cities and irrigators will be able to take their full allotments of water regardless of how little is flowing in the creek.  There will not be enough water to protect the endangered steelhead and bull trout that inhabit Icicle Creek.

More analysis of these problems may be found in prior Naiads posts, such as Icicle Instream Illusions, and New Dams and Diversions in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Here’s what the IWG needs to hear:

  • The EIS must consider a Wilderness Protection Alternative.  This alternative would promote wilderness values as set forth in the Wilderness Act of 1964, would not allow new water infrastructure or diversions inside the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and would require all new water supply to be obtained outside the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
  • The EIS must consider a Water Conservation Alternative.  This alternative would assess using aggressive water conservation measures by Wenatchee Valley cities, including restrictions on lawn watering (as the citizens of Seattle have learned to do).  This alternative should also assess transfer of water rights from irrigation districts to cities, where orchards have already been torn out and replaced with residential subdivisions.  This alternative should also assess agricultural irrigation efficiency, such as replacing open gravity canals with pipes and pumps and other 21st century concepts.  A proposed Conservation Alternative is linked here.
  • The EIS must consider an Irrigation District Water Right Change Alternative, which would fix Icicle Creek’s low flow problem.  This alternative would evaluate moving the Icicle-Peshastin Irrigation District’s water right diversion, which presently takes 100 cubic feet per second out of Icicle Creek, to the Wenatchee River downstream about 3 miles.  This measure, which would permanently fix Icicle Creek’s low flow problem, would convert the IPID diversion from gravity flow to pumping (requiring electrical power). The Icicle Work Group should therefore analyze renewable energy options to supply that power, including solar, wind and in-canal hydroelectric.
  • The EIS must consider a Water Right Relinquishment Alternative.  Removal of water from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is on the table only because IPID holds water rights that were grandfathered when the Wilderness was created.  And – as IPID will tell anyone who will listen – every year they use what they need.  When the dam at Eightmile Lake fell down decades ago they didn’t fix it because they did not need more water.  When a party doesn’t use their rights, they lose them.  “Use It Or Lose It” – the basic rule of western water law – is controlling.   The EIS needs to analyze this.

The IWG’s plan to exploit the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is a camel’s-nose-under-the-tent proposal.  As climate change alters the hydrology of the western U.S., we can expect to see many attempts to expand water projects that were grandfathered into wilderness areas. Wilderness advocates need to weigh in by May 11, for the sake of Alpine Lakes and for wilderness values in general.


*The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Society (ALPS) was invited and declined to participate.  The Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) participated in IWG meetings for two-plus years and then resigned when the operating procedures were changed to gag CELP’s objection to wilderness water projects.


Leave a comment

Grand Coulee Fish Passage Getting Attention

Salmon Chief Spokane Falls (Luke Wiley photo)The idea of salmon above Grand Coulee dam is getting a lot of attention these days, both artistic and scientific.  Naiads readers are encouraged take two actions:  (1) view the movie and (2) comment on the proposal.  Details below.

Naiads has previously reported on the intrepid Columbia River paddlers who traveled from Astoria, Oregon to Canal Flats, B.C. in the summer and fall of 2014.  They have just released a new film that examines the potential for salmon restoration through the lens of their journey.  The 35-minute movie, Treaty Talks: Paddling Up the Columbia River for People and Salmon, takes the viewer up the river and into the lives of the Spokane and Colville Tribes kids who carved the dugout canoes, along with many others who dream about and are dedicated to salmon restoration.

The Columbia Canoe Journey was undertaken by Voyages of Rediscovery, aka Adam Wicks-Arshack, Xander Demetrios, John Malik, and Jay Callahan.  It’s an inspiring and beautiful film.

The film was sponsored by Upper Columbia United Tribes or UCUT, a consortium of five tribes in the Upper Columbia basin that serves to protect and restore the natural resources of those tribes – covering 2 million acres and lands and waters located within the states of Washington and Idaho.

UCUT has been instrumental in promoting a serious policy discussion about salmon reintroduction above Grand Coulee dam.  See related posts on this blog discussing the Columbia River Treaty recommendations and other documents.

UCUT has now released for public comment the Phase 1 Plan for the Upper Columbia Basin Fish Passage and Reintroduction Project.  Comments on the plan are welcome and due to UCUT on February 27, 2015.   It’s a well-constructed plan that will

UCUT’s Phase 1 Plan follows on the NW Power & Conservation Council’s October 2014 adoption of the Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Program. The program plan calls for a phased approach to study and implement reintroduction of anadromous fish (salmon, steelhead, eels and other species) to areas where fish migrated historically, but which are now blocked due to dams and etc.



Leave a comment

Washington State Odessa Water Project Threatens Columbia River Treaty


Grand Coulee dam and the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project, where Odessa diversions will take water from the river. Photo: National Park Service

Continue reading


Tribes & First Nations Issue Columbia Fish Passage Paper

Fish Passage White Paper (2-14-14) Cover Page

Fish Passage & Reintroduction Into the U.S. & Canadian Upper Columbia River (2014)

A new analysis issued by Columbia Basin Tribes and First Nations surveys historic salmon migration to the Upper Columbia and proposes a four-step process to study reintroducing salmon via fish passage at Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams in the U.S., and Keenleyside, Brilliant and Waneta dams in British Columbia.

The study, “Fish Passage and Reintroduction Into the U.S. and Canadian Upper Columbia River” is authored by several intertribal organizations representing 15 Native American Tribes in the U.S. Columbia basin, and several First Nations in British Columbia.   The study provides a brief history of the construction and management of Columbia River dams and the consequent devastating impact on salmon populations and the native peoples who depended on salmon for food, trade, and culture.

Prior to dam construction, 1.1 million sockeye, Chinook, steelhead and coho salmon returned to the rivers above Grand Coulee, of which about 644,000 fish were harvested by tribal members.  Total salmon consumption ranged from 6.8 to 13.1 million pounds per year.  Salmon was a key component of the diet of Upper Columbia Tribes and First Nations prior to extirpation.

The survey of rivers and lakes that once supported salmon species is impressive. In the U.S. that list includes the Spokane, Little Spokane, Hangman, Sanpoil, Kettle, Colville, Pend Oreille, and Kootenai Rivers.  In British Columbia, salmon inhabited the Kootenay, Slocan, and Salmo Rivers, and the Columbia River lakes all the way to the headwaters, including the Lower and Upper Arrow, Windermere and Columbia  Lakes, and others.

The Tribes propose a multi-step process to evaluate fish passage technology, donor fish stocks,  the quantity and quality of habitat, and hydrosystem operating changes that would be necessary to accommodate salmon reintroduction.   Studies would also evaluate the socio-economic benefits of returning salmon to the Upper Columbia basin, for Tribes and First Nations, and non-native peoples, including recreational, subsistence and commercial fishers.

The study was prepared as part of the preparation for negotiations over the Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada, expected to get underway this year.


Return Salmon to Upper Columbia River

October 27, 2013

Opinion: Include salmon, climate provisions in river treaty

John Osborn And Suzanne Skinner
 These falls are that place where ghosts of salmon jump, where ghosts of women mourn their children who will never find their way back home.

From “The Place where the Ghosts of Salmon Jump,” by Sherman Alexie (inscribed at the Spokane Falls overlook).

Canada and the United States are preparing to renegotiate the Columbia River Treaty. The treaty, first signed in 1961, governs management of the Columbia, once the richest salmon river on Earth, but now converted by dams into the world’s largest integrated hydropower system.

Reconsideration of the treaty will profoundly impact the future economies, environment and quality of life of people on both sides of the border. That’s why last August, thousands of Pacific Northwest citizens wrote to urge the federal government to include ecosystem restoration as a core component of a renegotiated treaty. They also called for opening the Upper Columbia Basin to the salmon that once thrived above Grand Coulee Dam, including in the Spokane River.

The federal government listened.

The current U.S. position recommends the U.S. State Department make managing the health and environment of the Columbia watershed a central purpose of a modernized treaty – as important as power generation and flood control. This is a wise and farsighted recommendation that will not only enhance the lives and economies of future generations in the Columbia basin, but also provide some recompense to the Columbia River tribes whose economies, culture and spirituality remains intertwined with salmon despite terrible damage wrought by dams.

Managing the Columbia for its environmental health must mean more than current efforts to comply with the Endangered Species Act. Current recovery efforts fail to meet the life-cycle needs of the Northwest’s most iconic species. Most wild populations are maintaining or declining, despite coming under the protection of the act between 14 and 22 years ago. Present management of Columbia dams remains unsustainable for salmon and other native species.

Climate change is also aggravating existing river-management challenges. This summer, temperatures from McNary Dam to Bonneville Dam on the Columbia were 70 degrees or above for 41 straight days, and for 56 straight days in the middle and longest part of that reach. This previews coming years, when this year’s highest temperature, 73.2 degrees at John Day Dam on Sept. 11, will be a new norm that portends an unhealthy river pushing salmon to extinction.

Washington will suffer impacts of climate change more acutely than British Columbia. In the decades ahead, as much as 60 percent of summer flows in the Columbia will come from our neighbor to the north. We must renegotiate the treaty to include ecosystem restoration so that our two nations have a framework to respond effectively to climate changes already unfolding in the basin.

Northwest utilities currently oppose adding “ecosystem” and “environment” to the treaty, even seeking to terminate the treaty if they don’t get their way. We believe this position overlooks that, for today’s Northwest, ecosystem function is economic function. Both Northwest power production and flood risk management will improve with ecosystem function as the treaty’s third purpose. So will other river-based economic sectors, including salmon. All economic activities in the Columbia River Basin will be damaged by the hotter, unhealthier waters that climate change is creating. All will benefit by urgent, creative bilateral responses.

Indeed, a much-needed creative response that would benefit both the U.S. and Canada is to jointly plan how to open up miles of habitat now closed to salmon in British Columbia and the U.S., including the Spokane River.

We do not have to settle for ghost fish. Restoring the ecosystem of the Columbia holds the promise of healthy salmon returning to the headwaters and someday jumping once again at Spokane Falls.

Decisions made now will have an enormous impact on our region’s economy, environment, and quality of life for the next 50 years.

Help restore the Columbia to health.

Help bring the salmon home.

Help make restoring the Columbia’s ecosystem a core purpose of a modernized Columbia River Treaty.

John Osborn, M.D., Columbia River Future Project, Sierra Club

Suzanne Skinner, executive director of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy