Monday, July 11, 2011
When Dam Removal Isn't Enough
In the last decade we've seen an unprecedented push for dam removal throughout the Pacific Northwest. Dams have long been a primary culprit in the decline of wild salmon in the region and with dam removal finally outpacing construction there is hope that we may finally be reversing the tide and beginning an era of recovery for wild salmon. While dam removal projects have been a major success in many watersheds some of the more regionally significant dam removal proposals continue to be mired in uncertainty. In these cases the dams may be removed but without major changes in the management of the watershed it may not pay dividends for wild salmon.
An independent panel of scientists assigned to review the Klamath Basin accords recently unleashed a fury when they concluded that the landmark agreement which would remove several dams in the Klamath basin may fail. Their conclusions were based on lingering concerns over water quality. They come as an alarming reminder of the degree to which water issues, both quantity and quality remain a major factor limiting the recovery of Klamath Basin salmon. Dam removal in the basin would open hundreds of miles of habitat for spawning fish but until upstream dewatering and nutrient pollution are curtailed it may be all for naught. More information in the Oregonian:
In Washington State the Elwha dams are scheduled for removal this year. Unlike the Klamath 90% of the Elwha basin is protected within a national park. With Elwha and Glines canyon dams gone fish will have access to 90 miles of pristine river. In the Elwha the pollution comes from downstream, in the form of massive hatchery programs; more hatchery fish are released into the Elwha each year than the entire Oregon Coast. These hatcheries release millions of salmon and steelhead annually and have long supported harvest in the 6 miles of river below the dams. With access to the upper watershed finally restored these programs have run their course. A five year fishing moratorium means they will no longer provide fishing opportunity, yet they may profoundly hinder the ability of wild fish to recover in the watershed.
The push for dam removal is a hopeful change of course but with dams coming down around the region it is critical that we not view it as a cure all. We've come too far to squander these opportunities, with the dams gone we must seek to address the wide variety of impacts from agriculture to hatcheries that may potentially hinder wild salmon recovery.