Fighting for Cold Water

Columbia Riverkeeper is fighting to protect salmon from hot water.

This graph below shows that the Columbia River is warming. Water temperature over 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees F) is unsafe for salmon. As our climate warms, so do our rivers. On the Columbia and Snake Rivers, hydroelectric dams make the heat pollution even worse. Removing certain dams, or challenging dam operations (reducing the size of reservoirs or increasing river flow rates), could decrease river temperature and prevent salmon extinction.

bonneville dam temperature graphic 1945 to 2017

Fighting for cold water

Riverkeeper is challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) failure to complete a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for temperature pollution. TMDL is Clean Water Act jargon for a study about the cause of temperature pollution and potential solutions. EPA drafted a TMDL twenty years ago, but shelved it after dam operators balked at the conclusion that dams are the major cause of hot water. For two decades, the EPA ignored the crisis. To compel EPA action, Riverkeeper filed the nation’s first lawsuit against the newly sworn Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, in 2017. The TMDL is an important first step in reducing water temperature.

Modeling solutions

How can we reduce water temperature to allow salmon survival? Scientists can employ sophisticated modeling software to identify solutions to water temperature problems in the Columbia River. For example, computer models can evaluate the temperature benefits of lowering reservoirs or removing dams. Riverkeeper conducted initial modeling (see below) to evaluate the impact of dams on water temperature in the summer of 2015, when 96% of returning Snake River sockeye died, primarily from hot water. The model showed that the temperature of a free-flowing Snake River would quickly reform to safe conditions for salmon, even during an extremely hot and dry year. Riverkeeper seeks to evaluate multiple flow scenarios to develop a suite of solutions to protect salmon.

Washington has an exciting opportunity to tackle the orca and salmon crisis.

Why Does Climate Change Matter to the Columbia?

Riverkeeper Featured in the Seattle Times

“Washington state to regulate federal dams on Columbia, Snake to cool hot water, aid salmon”