"As for our fish recovery efforts, the lower Snake River dams are equipped with the most advanced fish passage systems in the world and our fish program is one of the largest fish conservation efforts in the Nation. Fish passage systems like spillway weirs are in place on all our Snake River dams.Survival rates for juvenile fish through spillway weirs range from 95-100%. The investments in fish re-covery are paying dividends. Last year brought some of the highest Fall Chinook, Coho and Sockeye salmon returns to the Lower Snake River since Snake River dam construction began in 1962. Corps scientists and engineers team with our many partners to prove dams and fish can co-exist."--Lt. Col. Vail
Benjamin Disraeli said and later Mark Twain popularized, "there are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies, and statistics."
I will give Vail the benefit of the doubt in this process. But first, here are the actual in-river survival rates for wild chinook and wild steelhead from Lower Granite Dam to Bonneville Dam according to the Fish Passage Center.
Wild Chinook Wild Steelhead
1994 20 percent
1995 41 percent
1996 44 percent
1997 51 percent 52 percent
1998 61 percent 54 percent
1999 59 percent 45 percent
2000 48 percent 30 percent
2001 23 percent 4 percent
2002 61 percent 52 percent
2003 60 percent 37 percent
2004 40 percent 18 percent
2005 48 percent 25 percent
2006 57 percent 58 percent
2007 60 percent 38 percent
2008 66 percent 49 percent
2009 56 percent 70 percent
2010 56 percent 60 percent
2011 60 percent 76 percent
2012 57 percent 59 percent
2013 55 percent 56 percent
Before I said I was going to give Lt. Col. Vail the benefit of the doubt. So, I am going to run his 95-100 percent scenario through the eight dams to see if any of his numbers are plausible. At 100 percent survival, never happened at all eight dams as the highest in-river survival for any one year is for wild steelhead in 2011 at 76 percent. So, to give Vail the benefit of the doubt, I will use his low number and for the sake of simple math I will say we have 100 salmon smolts.
Easy math, at 95 percent survival, we have 95 salmon alive as they swim by Boyer Park below Lower Granite Dam. At the next dam, we see we have 90.25 salmon alive below Little Goose Dam. By Lower Monumental Dam there are now 85.74 salmon. And at Ice Harbor Dam we are down to 81.45 salmon.
Moving into the Columbia River, McNary Dam is next and after that we have 77.38 salmon. After John Day Dam we have 73.51 salmon left. Over The Dalles and there are 69.83 salmon left and then after Bonneville Dam we have 66.34 salmon remaining.
That is how the math works out if you use Lt. Col. Vail's 95 percent survival figure, which he further parsed as being through the spillway weirs. Looking at the in-river survival numbers and Lt. Col. Vail has to be wrong in any year with less than 66 percent survival. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, so let's throw out all of those early years. Let's just look at the years when these so-called fixes were done. I believe a prototype, removable spillway weir was added to Lower Granite Dam in 2001, Ice Harbor had these new spillway weirs in place in 2005, but I believe all four lower Snake River dams had this done a little later, so let's go to 2010 when the Bonneville Power Administration was absolutely giddy about these $800 million improvements. They were paid for with $800 million in taxpayer dollars and then BPA ratepayers reimbursed the U.S. Treasury $640 million. I guess you could say some of you out there paid for these things twice. Relax, it was a joke, I'm sure you've heard of them before. The goal of these things, and they are a good idea (they don't meet their goals, but a good idea nonetheless). So, 2010 the dams are fixed according to Vail and BPA and what were the in-river survivals? Wild chinook never met Vail's 66 percent threshold that he misled you with by saying 95-100 percent survival. Wild steelhead in that short time frame only succeeded to beat Vail's survival estimate when applied to each dam in one year, 2011. Eight data points in the chart above and only one time could the numbers back up Vail's claim he made October 2 of this year.
Let's look at the whole table and see how many times these fish ever could have met this 95 percent survival threshold through the dams. Wild steelhead in 2009 could have met the threshold. Wild chinook in 2008 could have met the threshold. So, Vail is sharing a number that has absolutely no basis in fact. Or maybe he is using a very specific number that is based on a fact, but he is then obviously leaving out some very prescient facts that would actually give you a truer picture of juvenile salmon and steelhead survival through the hydrosystem. He is leaving out the juvenile salmon deaths attributable to these dams in the reservoirs. There is no doubt about that, and you can't with a straight face claim that the only survival issue with juvenile salmon or adult salmon when dealing with the dams is at those eight points along their journey upstream or down.
For those of you who are questioning that, dams create slack water reservoirs. As we saw with adult sockeye salmon this summer and other adult salmon, the temperatures in those reservoirs became lethal to salmon and we lost 80-90 percent of the sockeye salmon run in the Columbia/Snake river basins. Those same slack water reservoirs wreak havoc on juvenile salmon. Quickly, a life history summation, if you will, when salmon smolts go to sea they use the current to carry them to sea. Many use the freshets of spring runoff to accomplish their migration to the sea. They actually face upstream and ride the current backwards to the sea. Now they have eight slack water reservoirs to contend with. And in those reservoirs are walleye, smallmouth bass (invasive species) and native northern pikeminnow waiting to dine on salmon and steelhead smolts. Those smolts (from the Salmon River Basin) start to lose the current near Asotin, Washington on the Snake River, or upstream of the paper mill in Lewiston if they are coming from the Clearwater drainage. They have to turn around and continue their journey downstream. This confuses them and they are easy prey for predators. Lots of gulls and cormorants and other predatory birds to contend with as well in that Lewiston/Clarkston Asotin area.
As an aside, one of our "solutions" to all this predation going on in these reservoirs is to pack up as many of these juvenile salmon smolts on a Corps operated barge and ship them through the hydrosystem to below Bonneville Dam where they are released to continue their journey to the sea.
Even when I give Vail the benefit of the doubt, his numbers are at the very least misleading and quite frankly just about impossible to verify in any plausible way. In short, this is the kind of obfuscation that has led salmon advocates to court over and over, where they have won over and over again.
It is frustrating, but it has to be a good sign when the other side of the debate is afraid to be open and honest, instead choosing to manipulate public opinion by simply not telling the truth and by using misleading statistics that were cherry-picked for the purpose of placating those who do not pay enough attention to issues that matter.
I've already mentioned that it was telling to me that he did not even broach the subject of smolt-to-adult return rates, which if you are paying attention, you would know that this is the most important number to the restoration of these fish and to the delisting of these fish. So, the leader of one of the so-called action agencies, I dub them the inaction agencies here, doesn't mention the most important number. The number that would give you the clearest picture of whether or not we are succeeding in restoring our wild salmon and steelhead runs. I assume, because I have to fill in the gaps, that he does this because he doesn't trust you with the truth. Well, I do trust you with the truth and here are all the smolt-to-adult return rates (SARs) except the Snake River sockeye, because those would be a lot of zeroes behind the decimal point. Actually Sawtooth sockeye SARs ranged from 0.10 percent to 1.15 percent between 2009-2013, below the threshold for recovery and don't forget these are hatchery fish.
Snake River Wild Spring/Summer, Wild Steelhead, Wild Fall Chinook SARs
Year Wild Spring/Summer Chinook Wild Steelhead Wild Fall Chinook
1994 0.43 percent
1995 0.35 percent
1996 0.42 percent
1997 1.73 percent 1.16 percent
1998 1.21 percent 0.30 percent
1999 2.39 percent 2.84 percent
2000 1.71 percent 2.66 percent
2001 1.27 percent 2.47 percent
2002 0.92 percent 2.14 percent
2003 0.34 percent 1.57 percent
2004 0.52 percent 0.85 percent
2005 0.22 percent 0.80 percent
2006 0.70 percent 1.14 percent 0.28 percent
2007 0.98 percent 2.57 percent
2008 2.74 percent 3.21 percent 0.99 percent
2009 1.45 percent 2.46 percent 0.60 percent
2010 0.74 percent 1.71 percent
2011 0.33 percent 1.26 percent 0.68 percent
2012 0.95 percent
Essentially, the 2014 Comparative Survival Study Annual Report concluded the average SAR for Snake River wild chinook to be 0.87 percent between 1994-2008, with a range of 0.24 percent to 3.24 percent if you include jacks. The SARs failed to meet the "avoid extinction" threshold of 1 percent in seven of those years. SARs were between 1-2 percent in six of those years for wild chinook and in only two years did wild chinook meet the 2 percent threshold.
Ocean survival because we don't often go into that here, but I like you to have as much information as possible.
Wild Snake River chinook between 1964-1969 had an average survival rate back to the mouth of the Columbia of 9.9 percent, wild steelhead during those years had a 17.5 percent survival rate in the ocean. During the years 1994-2011 for wild chinook the survival in the ocean was 1.8 percent. During the years 1997-2011 for wild steelhead the survival rate in the ocean was 2.7 percent.
Yes, there are more factors out there that are killing our wild salmon than the dams, but the removal of those four lower Snake River dams provide the wild Snake River runs of chinook and steelhead the best chance at recovery and judging by the level of obfuscation on the other side (pro-dam side) I believe they know that too and desperately don't want you to know, because you might decide to do something about it. These are the same people who lie about "record runs" of fish. You can look this up if you so choose, but I've gone over this more than once, it takes about 10 years to get back 16 million hatchery and wild salmon and steelhead to the Columbia/Snake river basins these days. We used to get back 16 million wild chinook, sockeye, coho and steelhead each year in the Columbia/Snake before all the dams and all the other things we did to disrupt the greatest salmon run in the lower 48.
I'm sure you have questions, I'm not sure the action agencies or NOAA are going to provide you with complete answers. Please research this and verify the information you see on this and come to your own conclusions. And have a nice day.