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Acoustic Tag Salmon Study Refutes Environmentalists’ Breaching Benefits Claims

A new scientific study tracking the movement and survival of juvenile salmon down the Snake and Columbia Rivers to the Pacific Ocean is clearly showing the four lower Snake River dams are not the problem opponents make them out to be,  officials with the Coalition for Idaho Water said today.

             One especially significant finding in the study shows that the four Snake River dams cause no additional mortality for juvenile salmon originating in Idaho’s Clearwater drainage.

            “This crucial new data puts a bullet in the heart of arguments that tearing out the dams will somehow become a silver bullet remedy in salmon recovery efforts,”  said Norm Semanko,  President of the Coalition for Idaho Water.

            Scientists using special acoustic tags planted in fish found that the 19 percent survival rate of Idaho juvenile salmon reaching the ocean was essential identical to migrating salmon that originate in the Yakima drainage in Washington.  In other words, juvenile salmon passing through the four Snake River dams suffered no higher mortality rates than those that did not

            “This is extremely significant to Idaho because fish from the Yakima drainage migrate through only the four lower Columbia Dams while the Idaho Clearwater fish migrate through the four lower Snake River dams as well as the lower Columbia River dams,” Semanko added.

            Even more compelling were findings showing the 19 percent survival rate of both Yakima and Clearwater fish was the same as survival measured in the Fraser River in British Columbia,  a river with no dams.

            The study,  headed by Marine biologist David Welch of Kintama Research Inc., a Canadian firm, is part of a three-year project for the Bonneville Power Administration,  part of on-going salmon recovery investigations.  This research is being conducted with acoustic tags place in juvenile salmon.  It is the first technology that has been able to track these fish into the ocean and along the coast.

            Another finding from the research revealed that juvenile salmon transported by fish barges survived from Lower Granite Dam to the northern tip of Vancouver Island at five times the rate of fish that were not barged.  This strongly contradicts claims by environmentalists that barging juvenile salmon through the four Snake River dams is ineffective.

            The researchers also noted that any proposal to breach the lower Snake River dams for salmon recovery is moot because it is simply not supported by the science. 

            They base that on reports examined that show more than 99 percent of adult fish migrating upstream survived through the lower Snake River dams at over 99 percent.  When coupled with a NOAA Fisheries’ report that juvenile fish survival moving downstream is as high as it was when there were only four dams.

            The new findings also corroborate other research that indicates salmon survival through the hydropower system has been substantially increased due to corrective measures taken by the BPA and dam operators, both in dam operations and addition of fish passage structures.

            “This new science refutes claims by environmentalists that the four lower Snake River dams need to be removed. It also makes it crystal clear that additional water from southern Idaho is not needed to produce high survival rates among the juvenile fish,”  Semanko added.

            The researchers also noted that the government is installing removable spillway weirs at the dams which will provide safe passage with far less spill than is currently required by the US Court.  That means it will be possible to provide safe in river passage with far less spill, water that then can be used for power generation.

            The Coalition for Idaho Water is formed from more than 50 different organizations representing Idaho counties, cities, chambers of commerce, industrial, municipal and commercial water users, and agricultural groups.

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              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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