Even at 96 percent survival at their dams, the eight dams Idaho salmonids have to navigate end up killing 28 percent just going from one side of the concrete to the other at eight different dams (or projects if you work for the government). At 97 percent survival at their projects (or dams) those one side of the concrete to the other transitions kill 22 percent of the Idaho fish by the time they are west of Bonneville Dam. What's the other culprit, well, primarily slackwater behind those dams kill large amounts of the fish in direct and indirect ways. One big way is the confusion of hitting slackwater after riding the freshet backwards downstream. The juvenile salmonids hit slackwater near Asotin, Washington and Lewiston, Idaho and are easy pickings for nonnative smallmouth bass and walleye and also for native northern pikeminnow.
You ever notice when we have a bad year, if dams are mentioned by some state or federal official at all, it is only in passing. It pains them to mention the 800 pound gorilla in the room. They seem to love to latch on to new threats and place far more blame than deserved on new threats or old threats that haven't been played up enough in the media. But do you often see federal or state officials pointing the blame squarely at the primary killer of salmonids? You don't, why would that be. If something kills half of something, the only way something else can be as big a threat is to be a moot conversation about an extinct species. We do get some salmonids to return, so they aren't extinct, but we have dams killing half of them when they are young and then the dams kills more directly and indirectly when they are adults meaning that the dams kill more than half of the steelhead and most likely more than half of the chinook. If you want to discuss sockeye, well the hot water behind the dams in 2015 killed 99 percent of the 500,000 strong run, in other words on the return the dams killed 495,000 sockeye out of 500,000. Of course, that was blamed on hot water, or climate change, or global warming. If dams were implicated, they typically were implicated by the phrase hot water behind the dams. You know, as if, the dams had nothing to do with the water getting hotter and hotter and reaching lethal levels for salmonids.
Do you ever wonder why that is? Maybe if you haven't, perhaps you should. Concerning yourself with sea lions, or the Blob, or fish-eating birds (all threats to salmonids) but ignoring the dams that kill more salmonids than all of those other bogeymen combined seems like the doctor who has a patient in cardiac arrest, but decides to treat the cold symptoms the patient complained of before going into arrest. If your doctor told you that some treatable disease was going to kill you in a week, and also you probably should cut down on sweets to avoid diabetes later in life and you opted to cut down on sweets rather than have the treatable disease dealt with immediately, you might work for an action agency.
Let's look at the terrible salmonid run in the Columbia/Snake in 2017.
Typically, about 2 million fish return annually to the Columbia/Snake, about 1.6 to 1.8 million go above Bonneville Dam. Before development and industrialization of the rivers about 10-16 million salmonids returned each year to the Columbia/Snake and about half of those fish went to the Snake River Basin. So how bad was 2017? Pretty terrible.
Bonneville Dam fish counts for 2017…Chinook 488,976 adults 66,459 jacks (555,435), sockeye 87,693, steelhead 117,874 wild steelhead 34,405 (152,279), coho 75,934 adults, 4,820 jacks (80,754), lamprey 82,564, chum 21, pink 42. Total=876,224 a little less than half the normal for 10-year average during the dam era counts. 49 percent.
*Bonneville 10-year average 766,815 chinook/134,036 jack (900,851), 315,613 sockeye, steelhead 332,498/wild steelhead 110,931 (443,429), coho 119,609 adult/ 7,292 jacks (126,901), 24,241 lamprey. Total number= 1,786,794
*That’s 345,416 less chinook or 62 percent of the dam era normal, 227,920 less sockeye or 28 percent of the dam era normal, 291,150 less steelhead or 34 percent of the dam era normal, 46,147 less coho or 64 percent of the dam era normal and 58,323 more lamprey.
Lower Granite Dam fish counts for 2017…Chinook 62,740 adult, 18,579 jacks (81,319), Sockeye 228, Steelhead 76,832, wild steelhead 14,852 (91,684), coho 8,180 adult, 624 jacks (8,804), lamprey 346
*10-year average Lower Granite 115,091 chinook/38,071 jacks (153,162), 1,062 sockeye, 167,093 steelhead/wild steelhead 44,181 (211,274), coho 4,371 adult/390 jacks (4,761), lamprey 16
*That’s 71,843 less chinook or 53 percent of 10-year average for chinook, 834 less sockeye or 21 percent of the 10-year average, 119,590 less steelhead or 43 percent of the 10-year average, 4,043 more coho salmon or 85 percent increase over the 10-year average.