Naiads

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


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My letter on behalf of the Spokane River

November 6, 2014

To the Washington Department of Ecology

These are my personal comments on the Spokane River instream flow rule.

Spokane River Sunset 11-6-14I live in the West Central neighborhood of Spokane, and walk along the north shore of the Spokane River between the Monroe dam and TJ Meenach bridge most days of the year, usually on the Centennial Trail. I also frequently walk the river in Riverside State Park on a south-side trail between Bowl & Pitcher and Devil’s Toenail.

The Spokane is an exquisitely beautiful river as it runs through the Spokane Gorge and through the state park. It is geologically unique, and much of this reach is free flowing.

My primary use and appreciation of the Spokane River is of its scenic qualities.   These qualities very much include how much water is flowing in the river.   The river in the reach between Monroe dam and Nine Mile pool is exceptionally beautiful when it runs between 2,500 and 3,500 cfs.  At these flows, riparian vegetation emerges at the edges and on the willow-strewn sandbars, and at the confluence of Hangman Creek.   The river looks full, but not overflowing or flooding.  Peering down from the Westlink pedestrian bridge at these flows we often see fish in the river.  Many people are boating, especially when the weather is hot (as in July-August of 2014).   Many people are fishing.

I have walked this stretch of the Spokane River for 15 years, since I moved to my home in 1999. Every year, I observe the flows drop during late summer.  I often look at USGS gage information on the web, showing instantaneous flows at the Spokane gage. As the flows drop below 2500 cfs, the rocks emerge, pools are created and isolated, and fewer people are boating.   Fishing, however, doesn’t change much, presumably because the fish become easier to catch as they are crowded into smaller spaces – something I worry about.

I am troubled that the proposed flows for the Spokane River will not protect these many instream uses. One can observe that 850 cfs is an extremely low flow for the river, and does not look healthy.

I’ve included a photo of the river that I took during my walk this evening, during sunset. The flow is approximately 2100 cfs.   You can see the outline of rocks along the shoreline.   You can also see the wild beauty of the river, just one mile from downtown Spokane.

Beyond my concerns for the aesthetic values, I know the Spokane River is a critical ecological resource.  Sandra Postel and Brian Richter have said it well in their book “Rivers for Life – Managing Water for People and Nature”:

“We need and value rivers for a host of reasons – some spiritual, some aesthetic, some practical. Yet only recently has scientific understanding of what constitutes a healthy river enabled us to grasp just how critical intact rivers are to the functioning of the natural world around us.  Rivers are more than conduits for water.  They are complex systems that do complicated work. They include not just the water flowing in their channels, but the food webs and nutrient cycles that operate within their beds and banks, the pools and wetlands that form on their floodplains, the sediment loads they carry, the rich deltas they form near their terminus, and even parts of the coastal or inland seas into which they empty. Along with their physical structures, river systems include countless plant and animal species that together keep them healthy and functioning.”

The Spokane River provides an enormous array of social, economic and ecological benefits to our community, which the draft instream flow rule does not respect. I ask that you please study all of the values of the Spokane River for all of the people and species and processes that depend on it.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments.

~ Rachael Paschal Osborn


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Washington State Proposes “Water Right” for the Spokane River

Spokane River at Low Flow

As reported in a previous post, the Washington Department of Ecology commenced formal rulemaking to create an instream flow rule for the Spokane River.  Public comments are needed by November 7th, and a public workshop and hearing will be held on October 22nd.

As with many of the Department of Ecology’s efforts, the Spokane River rule is both good news and bad news.   Instream flow rules create a “water right for the river” that prevents allocation of future water rights that harm streamflows.   It is important and necessary that Washington state create such a water right for the Spokane River.

But Ecology has low-balled the proposed instream flow numbers, proposing to protect no more than 850 cfs below Monroe St. dam in summer months.   This proposal fails to give the Spokane River the real protections that it needs.

There are several issues around the numbers Ecology has picked.  First, these flows (which change with the seasons) are not sufficiently protective of the important redband trout fish that live in the river.   Ecology and the Dept of Fish & Wildlife have offered some excuses along the lines of “fish need less water.”  Don’t believe it.

These flows also fail to recognize the Spokane River’s popularity as a recreational resources for boaters.   Ecology engaged in zero research or outreach as to what kind of flows boaters and paddlers need.

Second, Washington and Idaho are slowly building toward an interstate dispute over how much water each state is entitled to use (both instream and out of stream).  By picking low numbers, Ecology is giving away the barn, the horses, the tractors, and the hay.   It is not clear why our state public servants feel they have the authority to make such a giveaway.  Who’s in charge here?  This is an important interstate sovereignty issue that has received no attention whatsoever from Governor Inslee’s office.

Finally, Ecology’s instream flow scientists recently reported on the methods they use to establish instream flow numbers.  The bottom line – in all other watersheds in Washington, Ecology is using very conservative numbers that protect flows in rivers nine years out of ten.   Not the Spokane though, where the flows give 50% or less protection.   Why, particularly given the interstate issues, is the Spokane singled out for LESS protection than other rivers around the state?

Citizens who care about the Spokane River need to get involved.  Keep an eye on this blog and www.celp.org for more information about how to comment and act to protect the Spokane River.

 

 

 

 


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Columbia River Treaty – 50th Anniversary

The Columbia River Basin Image Courtesy of Bill Layman

September 16 marks the 50th anniversary of the Columbia River Treaty coming into force, and is the first date by which the U.S. or Canada could inform the other nation that it intends to terminate the Treaty in 2024.   Many activities have been undertaken to review and consider Treaty updates, none of them contemplating termination.  Rather many parties have focused on how to update the Treaty to include modern principles of ecosystem and justice for all affected communities and peoples.

In the past year, both countries have undertaken concerted review of the Treaty.  In December 2013, the two U.S. agencies in charge of managing the Columbia River dams (BPA and ACOE) issued a cover letter and recommendation for updating the Treaty.

Last spring, British Columbia issued its “decision” on the CRT including 14 principles.  B.C.’s bottom line is “do not terminate but seek improvements within the existing Treaty framework.”  The B.C. view is informed by its June 2013 evaluation of the benefits that the U.S. receives from the Treaty, many of which are not recognized.

In December 2013 the B.C. Local Governments Committee issued its recommendations on both international and domestic issues associated with the Treaty.

The Columbia Basin Tribes Coalition has provided great leadership in moving Treaty modernization toward a new model of ecosystem restoration and shared governance, starting with 2010 issuance of the Common Views document.   The Tribes are pushing the Corps of Engineers to re-evaluate flood risk management of the Columbia River, and seek consultation as sovereigns with the U.S. Department of State, reportedly the only U.S. agency that lacks a formal policy to implement its trust relationship with U.S. Tribes.

In February 2014, all of the Tribes and First Nations jointly issued a policy paper and sponsored two conferences to discuss how to bring salmon and other migratory fish species back to the Upper Columbia River, which would benefit watersheds and people in both countries.

Sierra Club and CELP are jointly pursuing the Ethics & Treaty Project working with religious and indigenous leaders and communities.  The goal is to ensure that changes to the Treaty have a foundation in stewardship and justice.  The Declaration on Ethics and Modernizing the Treaty is circulating for signature by all interested parties.

With the 50th anniversary at hand, and in the face of climate change impacts on water, it is time for the governments of Canada and the United States to work with the people of the Columbia River Basin to usher in a new era of principled river management.

 


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When Will Salmon Return to the Spokane?

Salmon Chief Spokane Falls (Luke Wiley photo)

Salmon Chief sculpture at Spokane Falls. Artist Smoker Marchand. Photo by Luke Wiley Photography, http://law.aminus3.com/

Not just sockeye, but wild sockeye, are returning to the Washington and British Columbia Okanogan country in record-breaking numbers, right now.  Lynda Mapes tells the wonderful story in yesterday’s Seattle Times, “On Columbia, ‘just add water’ seems to be working.”

Water flows are critical to salmon’s ability to get up the river, around the dams, and home to natal spawning grounds.  For Okanogan sockeye, the water spills at Columbia River dams ordered by Judge Redden, as part of the epic Columbia hydropower system Endangered Species Act lawsuits, are proving their merit this year with sockeye’s return.  And just as critical, the Native Nations of the Okanogan Nation Alliance have been the leaders in calling the salmon home — through hard work, collaboration, negotiation, and faith.

When will salmon — in this case Chinook and steelhead — return to the Spokane River?  The “calling home” has begun, with official discussions of fish passage at Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams, with the Spokane City Council’s endorsement of the NW Power Council’s proposal for return of salmon to the Upper Columbia, and even with the Salmon Chief sculpture installed at the base of the Spokane Falls in May.

And maybe, just maybe, the Washington Department of Ecology will come to understand its role to ensure enough water in a critical spawning and rearing area for our future salmon, when it adopts an instream flow for the Spokane River later this year.   So far, Ecology has not seen its place in this calling of the salmon home.

But it’s not too late.

Salmon will return to the Spokane.  People with vision, please visit here.

 

 

 


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Washington State Odessa Water Project Threatens Columbia River Treaty

Image

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

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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.


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Water and an Open Door Will Bring Wild Salmon Home

Elwha River salmon range map (Nat'l Park Service)

Seven salmonid species will return to Elwha River headwaters now that the dams are out.
(National Park Service graphic)

The time has arrived to restore healthy population of wild salmon to the Columbia River watershed.   Four articles published in newspapers around the region in recent days discuss essential ingredients for salmon restoration throughout the Columbia River watershed (including in Canada):  water and passage.

Tom Stuart, chair of the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition, explains why water spills at dams are needed in order to bring wild salmon back to Idaho in meaningful numbers.  Failure to breach the 4 lower Snake dams has created a crisis, and more flow over the dams is essential to push the juvenile salmon downstream.  See “Idaho and its chinook deserve an expansion of water spills” (Idaho Statesman, Jan. 27, 2014).

Dan Chasan at Crosscut.com analyzes the federal government’s latest salmon recovery opinion for the Columbia River’s gauntlet of dams.   The last 4 versions of this plan have been struck down by the courts, and the latest draft doesn’t cut the mustard either.   At issue is the competition between putting water through hydropower turbines versus spilling it over the top to speed juvenile salmon on their way to the ocean.  Under the federal plan, once again, hydropower wins and salmon lose.  “Fed’s latest Columbia River plan: play me an old-fashioned melody,” (Daniel Jack Chasan, Crosscut.com, Jan. 27, 2014).   Why have the courts let the feds off the hook for nearly 20 years?

From British Columbia, a recent interview with tribal fisheries policy experts Bill Green and Paul Lumley examines how an updated Columbia River Treaty could help get salmon up and over Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams into Canada (past the Canadian dams) and on to the headwaters.  As Green notes, the smashingly successful return of sockeye to the B.C. Okanagan “is a testament to the power of salmon when you give them an opportunity to do wonderful things.”  See “Canadian Columbia River salmon reintroduction emerges as Columbia River Treaty review issue” (Aaron Orlando, Revelstoke Times Review, Dec. 27, 2013).

And if that’s not enough positive salmon thinking for you, consider that the last chunk of Glines Canyon dam was blasted out of the Elwha River yesterday, freeing up passage for Chinook and steelhead to migrate into Olympic National Park. “Demolition blast expected at Glines Canyon Dam” (Jeremy Schwartz, Peninsula Daily News, Jan. 26, 2014).  (You can watch John Gussman’s video of the blast if you’re into that sort of thing.)

The fish are there, just waiting for the water and an open door to push on through . . . .

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