Wednesday, August 27, 2014

With Last Blast, Final Chunk of Elwha Dams is Gone

Yesterday engineers blew the last remaining chunk of Glines Canyon dam on the Elwha River, completing a 2 year removal process that began in the summer of 2012. The entire length of the Elwha River, almost 100 miles, is now accessible to wild salmon and steelhead for the first time in over a century. Over the last two years, state, tribal and federal biologists have been transporting fish over the dams, allowing fish to spawn in the habitats that are finally freely accessible to migration as of yesterday. In a few short years (depending on species) adults from this first wave of colonists will be returning to a river that is entirely free of any unnatural obstruction. While the recovery of wild fish in the Elwha is far from complete, it is already well underway and yesterday was a major milestone.

Check out the video of the blast:

The final blast of Glines Canyon Dam, the Elwha is Free from John Gussman on Vimeo.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Take Action: Drought Threatens Klamath Salmon

With California gripped in one of the worst droughts in decades, concern is mounting about the stress high river temperatures are placing on that migrating salmon and steelhead in the Klamath River. The Klamath basin has numerous dams, including 4 that are eventually slated for removal on the upper river. These slow water impoundments, coupled with an already hot and arid climate mean that during the summer water temperatures commonly reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures which are lethal to wild salmon if they are exposed for very long. High temperatures also increase the incidence of disease, stressing the immune system of migrating fish and making them susceptible to a number of potentially deadly diseases.

While warm temperatures are a fact of life in the Klamath basin, federal water managers at the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) have the authority to release more cold water at Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River, cooling temperatures for migrating fish in the Klamath and potentially averting another disastrous die off like the one witnessed in 2002, when an estimated 60,000 chinook and steelhead died in the Lower Klamath.

So far they have refused to release more water into the Trinity, and 85% of water being released at Lewiston Dam is being diverted into the Sacramento Valley for irrigation. However, pressure is mounting and last week a coalition of tribes and salmon advocates rallied at the BOR offices to demand more water for salmon in the Klamath. The head of the BOR has announced that they are considering additional releases of water, and a decision is due out next week.

In the meantime, please add your name to the long list of concerned citizens calling for more water for salmon in the Klamath. You can take action here by following the link:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Record Warm Gulf of Alaska Likely to Impact Upcoming Salmon Returns. Highlights Need for Action on Climate Change

This summer temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska, the primary feeding grounds for many of the West Coast's salmon populations, have reached record high temperatures, and fisheries and climate scientists are warning that conditions in the Pacific Ocean this summer will likely severely impact survival of juvenile salmon going to sea this year and possibly next. Warm water in the ocean is often associated with stratification, layering of ocean waters, which results in low productivity in the surface waters of the Northern Pacific, producing lower growth and ultimately lower survival for juvenile salmon which enter the ocean in years of warmer than usual water. 

With water temperatures breaking previous records by 2 degrees Celsius in the Gulf of Alaska this summer, salmon returns in the coming years may provide a snapshot of what the future holds for salmon stocks across our region if we are unable to control and reduce climate warming emissions of greenhouse gases. Scientists and managers are already working hard to understand and mitigate the impacts of climate warming on the freshwater portion of salmon's habitat, however irreparable damage to the productivity of the North Pacific may undermine any attempts to recover or manage salmon populations in our region. 

Given the threat posed to the ocean ecosystem's ability to support salmon by climate change, advocates for wild salmon and steelhead must take climate change head on, making decisions within our own lives that reduce our impacts on the global climate, and calling for accountability from our business and political leaders. Over the past few years we have begun to see progress on pressing issues of hatchery reform, harvest management, and the operation of dams on the Columbia. While these are positive and encouraging steps, we need action to protect the North Pacific from ongoing climate change. Without action on climate change, the next few years may provide a chilling preview future ocean conditions and their impact on wild salmon around the region. 

More information from the Columbia Basin Bulletin:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

BC Mine Disaster Highlights Risk Posed by Mines to Watersheds Around the Northwest

An aerial view of the disaster. CBC News

British Columbians are reeling this week at the news of a failed retaining dam at the Mount Polley mine in the Quesnel Lake watershed. The catastrophic failure of the dam which held arsenic, lead, and phosphate laced tailings from a mine owned by Imperial Metals released a tidal wave of toxic sediment and water, smothering the valley of Hazeltine Creek under 1 billion litres of water and 4.5 cubic meters worth of toxic sediment slurry. The watershed is under a total water use ban, meaning no swimming, no drinking, no fishing, just in time for the arrival of the annual arrival of a million or so spawning sockeye into Quesnel Lake and its tributaries.

While the catastrophe has come as a shock to many around the province, First Nations in the area have been calling for improved oversight and caution at the site since 2011 when a report suggested the tailings dam was unsafe and in need of retrofit. Indeed, the failure of the tailings dam at the Mount Polley is the logical conclusion of a regulatory environment around mining in British Columbia that is permissive, vague, and fails to enforce its own rules. As Stephen Hume points out in a recent column the current Liberal Party government of BC has cut the number of mine inspectors by 50% since 2001, all in the name of saving tax payers money. Now taxpayers will likely get to foot a hefty portion of the bill for the cleanup. Meanwhile society, and in particular First Nations who rely on salmon in the Quesnel Lake watershed will bear the cost of an irresponsible and out of control industry that has been aided and abetted by the Provincial government.

More from CBC news:

Stephen Hume's editorial: