February 4, 2019
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State Department of Ecology wades into Columbia-Snake river dam debate, proposing more water spill



The state Department of Ecology (DOE) announced last week it plans to pursue action to address survival of juvenile salmon through increased water spill over the eight Columbia and Snake river hydroelectric dams. The agency points to Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed 2019-21 operating budget as its authority to move ahead with the proposal as part of the orca recovery efforts. This announcement comes despite the fact that the dams are overseen by the federal government.

The DOE will hold two hearings on the proposal. The first takes place Feb. 13 at the Washington State School for the Blind, Fries Auditorium, 2214 East 13th Street in Vancouver, Wash. The other takes place via webinar on Feb.19.

“This is a big deal,” said Heather Bartlett, head of Ecology’s water-quality division, told The Seattle Times. “We want for the first time to have parity at federal dams with the nonfederal dams. They are either meeting state standards, or they have set up a strategy to meet them.”

The agency calls the proposal a “short-term modification” to cool the water temperatures.

However, Ritchie Graves, head of the hydropower division for the West Coast region at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the Snake River historically hits temperatures nearing 79 degrees in the summer at its confluence with the Columbia. “What can be done with the dams in place today to modify temperature already is being done,” he told the newspaper.

Dam advocates criticized DOE’s proposal, saying more gas bubbles in the water from the increased spill will do more harm than good for juvenile salmon.

“The fish would get no rest in the amount of exposure (to total dissolved gas),” Jim Litchfield, with Northwest RiverPartners, which represents agriculture and commerce groups that support dam operations, told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

More information on the proposal can be found on DOE’s blog.

For more information on this issue, contact AWB Government Affairs Director Peter Godlewski at 360.943.1600.



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