To my environmental friends out there who are going off on this increased spill tangent. I have always been of the mind that you should always pick your battles. And to me, a good battle to pick is a direct approach on dam breaching. The other side is loaded for bear on this increased spill and they have enough "talking points" for this thing to swing wrong PR wise for you in a long protracted span of time my wild salmon from the South Fork of the Salmon, East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon, Secesh, Middle Fork of the Salmon, Big Creek, mainstem Salmon River, Redfish Lake and points below, between and above just don't have the time to wait for a clear cut winner in this sideshow increased spill battle. Court orders will do, let's get to the real issue and solve it. Because if you keep talking about how increased spill buys our salmon time, then you get Butch Otter types all over the place looking to dust off old dam plans to back up some water to help with your increased spill. You could win this battle and lose every war environmentalists ever had worth fighting. Imagine tens to hundreds more reservoirs people don't recreate on in the west. Utopia it would not be.
There are several ways of looking at this and I admit that it may seem attractive to increase spill to give juvenile salmon a fairly constant and higher than previous survival rate (while we do adversely affect the adults upon their returns) and in the meantime diminish the monetary return on those mainstem dams. Yes, that is an attractive strategy, but pardon me while I point out to you that 1) the wild salmon and steelhead of central and west central Idaho do not have that kind of time 2) those dams from a monetary value in the electricity they produce, in the goods transported they allow, in irrigation and in recreation are and have been running in the red of any honest audit.
Another problem with spill, and I have to hand it to the opposition when they complain about this as well, is that it does send more adult fish right back over a dam upon their return soon after they swam up a fish ladder. That increases their time in river and increases the chances that those fish that do the ole one step forward, two steps back routine will not make it to their spawning grounds and die without spawning. I remember walking the banks of the South Fork of the Salmon observing a spawning study and coming upon a dead female Chinook. The bio-aide cut the fish open and there lay inside her thousands of eggs that did not get released and obviously the South Fork was all the poorer (by about 5,000) in natural Chinook offspring. I also remember that day was one of those days where I observed some bio aides and fisheries biologists cutting off the snouts or noses of spawned Chinook either natural or hatchery (no matter, a rather macabre scene). When I think of increased spill, which possibly aids in the increased survival of juvenile salmon and steelhead, but decreases the amount of adults making it back to successfully spawn (and how valuable high fecundity rates are for the next generation) and I wonder if we are cutting off the nose to save the face here?
The fight is and always has been getting Congress to authorize and a president to sign a bill breaching the four lower Snake River dams. Wild salmon and steelhead smolts will have increased survival rates and wild salmon and steelhead adults will have increased survival rates back to their natal streams where they can successfully spawn in free flowing rivers, the way it was meant to be. Don't lose sight of the only picture that matters here. We need to have something like eight straight years with SARs of 2-6 percent. Breach the four lower Snake River dams and you will see those return rates that you see today on streams below those four dams.
Look, you can't beat a government or government agencies that have been created and bloated by incrementalism by employing an incremental strategy that in the end is a huge gamble with possibly no payoff whatsoever. The castle door is over there people, you guys are lobbing small boulders up against a wall built of bigger, harder boulders when you should be ramming a battery ram into the castle door. The job you have before you is to convince Congress and a president to authorize and see through the breaching of those four dams. That's the only job you should be focused on. If you focus on anything else, I promise you the wild salmon and steelhead of the Snake River Basin will be gone before you ever get anything meaningful accomplished on that ruse of a tangent you are all hot about currently.
This is a game of distance, my South Fork salmon (who do not travel as far as Middle Fork salmon or upper Salmon River salmon or Redfish Lake sockeye) travel some 716.5 miles or roughly 1,153 kilometers. As a juvenile salmon they have a survival rate of 99.8 percent per kilometer (Americans think mile, but shorter), which is fantastic for all those juvenile salmon hatched 1 kilometer from the ocean or just west of Sand Island in the Columbia River estuary. Work that survival rate out on a spreadsheet (no seriously, go do it) and when the McCall Hatchery sends 1,000,000 of its smolts down the tube 'o' fun there at Knox Bridge on Warm Lake Highway (and remember hatchery fish don't count but since the numbers are known they serve a purpose) only about 99,600 of those fish enter the ocean and using the same study that came up with that devilishly deceiving 99.8 percent survival rate per kilometer, increased flow didn't affect survival, but distance had an almost constant affect on the survival rate. Each year, the McCall Fish Hatchery releases smolts, about 1 million each year, that's the goal and they generally make that goal with plenty to spare, and before those fish make the ocean they already have lost 90 percent. If they were a company that operated on $500,000 and they lost 90 percent of their product over a short span, it would sort of be like they wasted $450,000 and now have to wait years to see if that $50,000 they didn't waste will reap them a reward. It's not a perfect or fair analogy. Those aren't wild fish and those aren't the important fish, but we lose wild smolts just the same.
Spill advocates, If you can't get your increased spill locked down by say September, drop it, go for the jugular. Our wild salmon and steelhead deserve their advocates working together toward one common, obtainable goal before they disappear from this earth. And the only obtainable goal that will definitely allow our wild salmon and steelhead to recover is the breaching of those four lower Snake River dams. Believe me, I wish there were an easier way to save the wild salmon and steelhead, but there is not and we haven't got a lot of time.
Besides, increase the spill all you want, the Corps of Engineers is still going to continue to barge 40-70 percent of the smolts making them 10 percent more likely to stray from their natal streams as adults. I'm saying it's damn near a moot point and certainly a moment where my friends in the fight to save the wild salmon and steelhead of the Snake River Basin have definitely taken their eye off the ball and that leads to errors. Saving the wild salmon and steelhead of the Snake requires we play error free ball from here on out. I leave you with the cruise ship for juvenile salmon photo, public transit for a species that truly wants to be left alone in the environment it was made for, a free flowing river rather than helped along at every possible stage in its life by people involved in actions that on their face would seem insane to any casual observer.