Columbia Riverkeeper fights to protect salmon from dams, hot water, toxic pollution, and climate change.
Salmon have long been the symbol and lifeblood of the people who call the Pacific Northwest home.
Columbia River Salmon: Threats and Recovery
The Columbia once produced more salmon than any river on Earth. An estimated 16 million salmon returned to the Columbia from the ocean each year, and indigenous people sustainably harvested these salmon since time immemorial. The Columbia still supports important subsistence, commercial, and recreational salmon fisheries. Columbia River salmon are also food for critically endangered Southern Resident orcas and other wildlife.
Today, Columbia River salmon populations are a fraction of their historic size. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers eradicated salmon from many parts of the Columbia basin by constructing Grand Coulee, Hells Canyon, and many other dams. Even dams that allow fish migration can take a heavy toll on salmon by damaging habitat and making the water too hot. Despite the dams and other threats, some Columbia River salmon still survive, although many populations are close to extinction.
To ensure that future generations can catch Columbia River salmon, we need to remove four harmful dams on the Lower Snake River, fight climate change, and restore habitat throughout the Columbia basin.
Salmon have always fed a wide range of animals, including orcas, humans, sea lions, birds, and other fish. Those predators take a toll on struggling salmon runs. But the dams and reservoirs are the root cause of the predator problems: dams concentrate adult fish where sea lions can hunt them; reservoirs make the water clearer and warmer which helps predators like cormorants and smallmouth bass catch baby salmon. As the former director of EPA’s Office of Water and Watersheds explained: the predation problem for Columbia River salmon “is a symptom of managing the river solely to maximize power generation.”
CNN’s Bill Weir and Columbia Riverkeeper’s Executive Director Brett VandenHuevel discuss salmon, dam removal, and climate change.
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. Large, shallow reservoirs absorb solar radiation and retain heat. Learn how Riverkeeper is fighting heat pollution.
Strong salmon runs require healthy habitat, from spawning streams to the ocean. Riverkeeper works to protect and restore salmon habitat. This includes protecting the Columbia River estuary from new dredging and industrialization, cleaning up contaminated sites, and working with volunteers to restore riparian habitat.
Protect Salmon & Orcas
- CRITFC’s Columbia Basin Salmonids website (general information about salmon species and their life cycle).
- Fish Passage Center Home Page (real-time information on fish migrations and river conditions).
- NWPCC’s Return to the River report on salmon recovery work in the Columbia basin.
- NOAA Fisheries’ 5-year Status Review of Salmon and Steelhead populations.
- The Value of Natural Capital in the Columbia River Basin: A Comprehensive Analysis by Earth Economics.