On March 11 and 12, 2020, the week before COVID-19 international travel restrictions were put into place, Canadian and American negotiators reconvened in Washington, D.C. to continue discussions about a modernized Columbia River Treaty. This was the ninth round of talks since negotiations started in May 2018.
After a 20-year wait and a lawsuit that was finally decided in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a study to determine temperature limits in the Columbia and Snake rivers for the protection of salmon and steelhead was released this week by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Fisheries managers say the health of white sturgeon populations in the Columbia River is healthy, but there is a paucity of detailed abundance data from the Snake River, and that each zone – lower Columbia, Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam and the Snake River –has its own issues.
Over the past five years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working on a number of structural upgrades at Lower Snake and Columbia river dams, all designed to make passage at the dams safer for salmon and steelhead. Those projects are nearly finished – the last will be new fish friendly turbines at McNary Dam in 2025 followed by new turbines at John Day Dam – and the Corps now plans to concentrate on operational improvements at the dams, while ending the more expensive construction.
Flows from Libby Dam in Montana designed to encourage white sturgeon movement and spawning in the Kootenai River will likely begin May 21, depending on water supply.
The Washington Department of Ecology has issued final water quality certifications for the eight federal dams on the lower Columbia and lower Snake rivers, with conditions requiring federal agencies to address high water temperatures impacting salmon and steelhead.
A new system installed at Lower Granite Dam to track migrating juvenile salmon has detected more than 10 times as many juvenile fish in its first several weeks of operation as could have been tracked before, biologists say.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined 20 colleagues in the Senate Democratic caucus in sending a letter to Acting Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought calling on OMB to indefinitely extend existing public comment periods and hearings until the public can safely gather after the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic have passed.
Spring spill at Columbia and Lower Snake River dams to aid migrating juvenile salmon and steelhead has begun under an agreement that could through the season allow far more spill for fish than past years. But the Army Corps of Engineers is alerting parties that if Covid-19 restrictions interfere with required biological monitoring, spill will be reduced.