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Draft Assessment Looks At Habitat Above Grand Coulee To Support Salmon/Steelhead Reintroduction
Posted on Friday, May 11, 2018 (PST)

If tribes pursue a salmon and steelhead reintroduction program upstream of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, some 1,160 miles of tributary habitat would be available for steelhead and 355 miles of tributary habitat would be available for spring chinook salmon, according to an overview of a draft assessment of potential habitat in the blocked areas presented at the Lake Roosevelt Forum, April 24 - 25.


For adult returns, potential habitat would accommodate up to 4,168 steelhead, up to 13,339 spring/summer chinook, and 34,066 to more than 1 million sockeye salmon, the draft assessment says.


Furthermore, Lake Rufus Woods, the reservoir behind Chief Joseph Dam, has the habitat capacity to support around 600 to 20,000 summer/fall chinook and Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee could support between 12 million and 48.5 million sockeye juveniles.


Conor Giorgi, anadromous program manager with the Spokane Tribe, and Casey Baldwin, senior research scientist with the Colville Confederated Tribes, outlined preliminary data of the potential for reintroducing salmon and steelhead in the blocked areas upstream of the two dams at the Forum. Their presentation is at


The two-year habitat assessment began in June 2016 after the Northwest Power and Conservation Council approved a $200,000 contract for the work with the Spokane Tribe of Indians in March of the same year. The study assesses whether reintroducing salmon and steelhead into waters upstream of Grand Coulee Dam is feasible by researching the potential habitat available to support adult spawning and juvenile rearing. The study is nearly complete and the Council’s Fish and Wildlife committee is expecting to see a near-final product at one of its meetings in June or July 2018.


The habitat assessment is phase one of a three-phase process that eventually could lead to actual reintroduction efforts. Phase two would begin experimental reintroductions. Both of the first phases are intended to inform the reintroduction decision in the future. The Council’s 2014 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program calls for the three-phase investigation of reintroducing anadromous fish upstream of the two dams.


However, the Council has yet to vote on whether reintroduction should proceed and at least two Council members have already expressed their opposition to the effort – Jim Yost and Bill Booth of Idaho.


(For background, see CBB, April 15, 2016, “Council Votes To Move Forward On Salmon/Steelhead Habitat Assessment Above Grand Coulee”


For spring chinook, the 355 miles of potential habitat includes 82 miles in the Sanpoil River subbasin, 214 miles in the Spokane River subbasin and 59 miles in the upper Columbia River subbasin, all in the U.S.


The 1,161 miles of potential habitat for steelhead includes 187 miles in the Sanpoil subbasin, 662 miles in the Spokane subbasin and 312 miles in the upper Columbia subbasin.


Assuming this is all potential habitat, preliminary estimates of returning adults are 1,201 spring chinook, 12,138 summer/fall chinook and 4,168 steelhead for a total of 17,507 fish. By river, that breaks down to: 498 spring chinook, 2,206 summer/fall chinook and 1,709 steelhead to the Sanpoil; 543 spring chinook, 9,535 summer/fall chinook and 2,064 steelhead to the Spokane; and 160 spring chinook, 397 summer/fall chinook and 385 steelhead to the upper Columbia.


Using 25 percent of the available habitat in the Sanpoil River, sockeye returns could be 70,585 to 252,091 fish: if using 100 percent of available habitat, returns could be as high as 1,008,362 sockeye. Sockeye smolt rearing capacity in Lake Roosevelt ranges from about 12 million to 48,584,000.


Both U.S. tribes and Canadian First nations are identifying stocks of fish that could be used for reintroduction. Some 40 stocks have been identified and ranked for their reintroduction feasibility based on criteria such as the least impact on downstream stocks and resident fish, disease history of the species, and compatibility with the upper Columbia environment, Baldwin said. Those stocks include seven sockeye, 10 summer/fall chinook, 10 spring chinook, seven steelhead, seven sockeye, and six coho populations. While some of these populations are ESA-listed, he said the tribes are committed to reintroduction with fish that are not listed.


Recognizing that reintroducing salmon to the blocked areas upstream of Grand Coulee is likely an international issue (the area has been blocked to salmon migration since the 1930s), U.S. tribes have been working with Canadian First Nations on the habitat feasibility assessment. The Ktunaxa Nation Council of Cranbrook has undertaken its own similar studies in British Columbia, finding that the transboundary reach of the river is predicted to have suitable habitat for at least hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of chinook spawning pairs, Bill Green of the Ktunaxa Nation said at the Forum.


He added that suitable donor stocks available for this reach are most likely a species of summer/fall chinook. The studies to date are not comprehensive regarding whether reintroduction is feasible, “but they provide encouraging support of the feasibility and the approach,” he said. The work to date also does not address the potential cost of reintroduction, but that experimental releases of fish, with risk assessment and careful monitoring, “will be far more informative” regarding cost. Green’s report is at


According to John Harrison of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, who attended the Forum and reported this week to the Council, there is also other encouraging news. Harrison’s May memorandum to the Council is at


“For example, the Columbia Basin Trust, the Council’s closest counterpart agency in British Columbia, hosted a ‘Collaborative Salmon Dialogue’ in Vancouver in April and plans a follow-up. The three First Nations in the Canadian Columbia Basin attended the first session as did federal and provincial fish agencies and dam operators,” Harrison reported. “Environment and Climate Change Canada, the federal environmental agency, created an environmental damages fund that Green said provides a major, multiyear funding opportunity for reintroduction work and that the agency ‘has a strong interest in proposals from indigenous nations and dealing with salmon restoration.’”


Both federal and provincial governments “seem prepared to discuss salmon restoration in the context of the Columbia River Treaty renewal process,” Green said.


Also see:


--CBB, September 22, 2017, “Council Updated On Assessing Stock, Habitat For Potential Salmonid Reintroduction Above Grand Coulee,”


-- CBB, July 22, 2016, “Council Evaluates Fish Passage Systems That Might Be Used At High-Head Dams Blocking Salmonids,”


-- CBB, April 15, 2016, “Council Votes To Move Forward On Salmon/Steelhead Habitat Assessment Above Grand Coulee”


--CBB, March 11, 2016, “Council FW Committee Moves Forward On Salmon Reintroduction Study Above Grand Coulee,”


-- CBB, Feb. 5, 2016, “Washington Legislature Considers Memorial For Salmon Re-Introduction In Upper Columbia Blocked Areas,”


-- CBB, December 18, 2015, “Council Moves Proposal For Evaluating Salmon Habitat Above Grand Coulee To Science Review,”


-- CBB, October 16, 2015, “Can Salmon, Steelhead Survive Above Grand Coulee Dam? Council Investigation May Provide Answer,”


-- CBB, September 18, 2015, “Council Moves Ahead With Plan To Assess Potential Salmon Habitat Blocked By Grand Coulee,”


-- CBB, Jan. 16, 2015, “Tribes Lay Out Process For Investigating Feasibility Of Salmon Reintroduction Above Grand Coulee Dam”


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