MANAGING THE COLUMBIA RIVER
INSTREAM FLOWS, WATER WITHDRAWALS, AND SALMON SURVIVAL
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
Support for this project was provided by the Washington State Department of Ecology under Contract No. SLOC C0300043. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
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COMMITTEE ON WATER RESOURCES MANAGEMENT, INSTREAM FLOWS, AND SALMON SURVIVAL IN THE COLUMBIA RIVER BASIN*
ERNEST T. SMERDON, Chair,
University of Arizona (Emeritus), Tucson
RICHARD M. ADAMS,
Oregon State University, Corvallis
DONALD W. CHAPMAN, Consultant,
DARRELL G. FONTANE,
Colorado State University, Fort Collins
ALBERT E. GIORGI,
BioAnalysts, Inc., Redmond, Washington
HELEN M. INGRAM,
University of California, Irvine
W. CARTER JOHNSON,
South Dakota State University, Brookings
JOHN J. MAGNUSON,
University of Wisconsin, Madison
STUART W. McKENZIE,
U.S. Geological Survey (Retired), Gresham, Oregon
DIANE M. McKNIGHT,
University of Colorado, Boulder
TAMMY J. NEWCOMB,
Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Lansing
KENNETH K. TANJI,
University of California (Emeritus), Davis
JOHN E. THORSON,
Attorney-at-Law, Oakland, California
National Research Council Staff
JEFFREY W. JACOBS, Study Director,
Water Science and Technology Board
DAVID POLICANSKY, Associate Director,
Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology
ELLEN A. DE GUZMAN, Research Associate,
Water Science and Technology Board
The Columbia River and its basin have long comprised one of the great natural resources of the United States. For thousands of years, salmon from the river provided an important food resource for Native Americans, as the river dependably produced vast amounts of salmon to be eaten fresh or dried, which ensured adequate levels of dietary protein. As the United States was developing and expanding westward in the early nineteenth century, President Thomas Jefferson promoted exploration of the recently-acquired lands of the Louisiana Purchase. This led to the 1804-1806 expedition of Lewis and Clark to explore and chronicle the American West and to pursue Jefferson’s goal of finding the fabled water route to the Pacific. The expedition’s voyage to the Pacific Ocean took them upstream on one of the nation’s great rivers, the Missouri, then downstream on another of the nation’s great rivers, the Columbia. Since then, the vast and diverse resources of the Columbia River basin have been utilized and have contributed to the region’s economic and population growth, which gained momentum many years ago and continues today.
Efforts at harvesting the resources of the Columbia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries including irrigated agriculture on the basin’s arid, but fertile, lands, as well as a commercial fishing industry. Low-cost hydroelectric power attended and aided agricultural development, which included cities beyond the Columbia’s drainage basin. The urban corridor from north of Seattle to south of Portland and beyond continues to grow, and this human population growth puts ever-increasing social, political, and economic pressures on the resources of the Columbia River. It also increases tensions among the various enterprises that desire a greater portion of the river’s largesse.
In the meantime, the salmon populations of the Columbia
River have been steadily declining since the first dam was built on the river. In fact, several species of salmon are now listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. By law, efforts must be made to protect these species from further degradation and to start the process of recovery. The dilemma is how to protect the salmon and the Columbia River’s natural resources and still enable those resources to be used to further enrich the region’s economy. A key issue in this study was the pending applications for additional water rights permits from the mainstem Columbia River in the State of Washington, applications which have been on hold for some time. Our committee’s charge was to consider the implications for potential additional withdrawals for Columbia River salmon and to comment on the body of scientific knowledge related to this issue and its implications. The committee was not charged to review all ecological issues (of which there are many) across the basin which affect salmon but rather to conduct a more focused investigation regarding conditions in a stretch of the mainstem Columbia River in the State of Washington. Nor was the committee charged with recommending policy decisions but rather was requested to review the scientific information available by decision makers and to comment on it.
To address these issues, the Washington State Department of Ecology requested the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct a study addressing specific issues given in the Statement of Task provided in the body of this report. The committee avoided the temptation to go beyond the tasks assigned—although each member, while not encumbered by biases or personal gain from any direction the study might take, nonetheless had personal views, some strongly held. All members had experience that related to one or more aspects of the issues at hand. The committee strove to ensure that the many viewpoints expressed by committee members were heard before coming to a consensus on what should be included in the report. The resulting report represents the collective view of the committee. In some cases it may differ from what individual members might have written. The composition of the committee was such that most disciplines related to the issues contained in the charge to the committee
were represented by experienced and knowledgeable people. I thank the committee members, all of whom volunteered many hours of personal time without financial compensation. Their reward is the sense of satisfaction in objectively addressing a problem of importance to all citizens of the Columbia River basin, the larger Pacific Northwest, and the nation.
The committee devoted a great deal of time at its meetings listening to interest group representatives, scientists, as well as private citizens, to learn more about the broad range of interests and concerns regarding the Columbia River and its salmon. Still, one group central to the committee’s task did not speak—the various species of salmon, whose populations have been in general decline since the introduction of an industrial-based economy. But several people we visited with spoke on behalf of the salmon and on related environmental issues.
Our committee is grateful to the Washington State Department of Ecology for its insight regarding the need for an objective, independent look at issues related to survival of the various salmon species and how water management decisions in the Columbia River basin might affect the fate of salmonids. We thank Tom Fitzsimmons, Gerry O’Keefe, and their colleagues at the Department of Ecology who provided support and assistance before and during our study. We also thank all members of a “Resources Group,” which consisted of several experienced expert scientists from the region. The Department of Ecology invited these experts to provide input to this study. The committee found the presentations from these experts, which were provided in open public meetings in early 2003, extremely useful and informative.
The committee held four meetings in 2003, the first three in the State of Washington and the last at the NRC in Washington, D.C. The process involved presentations at the first two meetings from the Department of Ecology and its staff, the Resources Group, and others with specific interests or expertise. All information-gathering meetings were open and publicly announced. The committee sought to hear from as many groups and individuals as was possible within the time constraints, and all speakers and guests were invited to provide written extensions of
their comments at the meeting or subsequent to it. All presentations and written comments were carefully considered by the committee. The committee thanks all individuals who provided oral and/or written information, as that information was very helpful. The committee’s final two meetings were held in closed session without guest speakers or other visitors so that the committee could focus on its deliberations related to its Statement of Task and its draft report.
The committee and particularly I as committee chair thanks the NRC staff members for their dedication and diligent work in making this report highly professional. I particularly thank Jeffrey Jacobs, senior staff officer with the Water Science and Technology Board, who laboriously pored over lengthy and often too verbose input to put together a concise and coherent report. Jeff and the committee were ably assisted by Ellen de Guzman, research associate with the board, who handled administrative details for the meetings and ably assisted in all phases of report preparation. Finally, David Policansky, associate director of Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology, provided input and guidance, attending all meetings and contributing to the committee’s deliberations. This report is the work of the committee in terms of scientific input, but the final professional product is due to the efforts of the NRC staff.
This report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diversity of perspectives and technical expertise in accordance with procedures approved by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review was to provide candid and critical comments to assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We thank the following reviewers for their helpful suggestions, all of which were considered and many of which were wholly or partly added to the final report: Ellis Cowling, North Carolina State University (emeritus); William Kirby, U.S. Geological Survey; Ronald Lacewell, Texas A&M University; Pamela Matson, Stanford University;
Willis McConnaha, Mobrand Biometrics; Kathleen Miller, National Center for Atmospheric Research; William Pearcy, Oregon State University; Brian Richter, The Nature Conservancy; Will Stelle, Preston Gates; John Williams, NOAA Fisheries; Robert Wissmar, University of Washington; and Ellen Wohl, Colorado State University. Although these reviewers provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or the recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Robert Beschta, Oregon State University, appointed by the NRC’s Division on Earth and Life Studies, and Stephen Berry of the University of Chicago, appointed by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. They were responsible for ensuring that an independent examination of the report was carefully carried out in accordance with NRC institutional procedures and that all review comments were considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the NRC.
The Department of Ecology faces great challenges in addressing the complex issues of managing Columbia River resources in the State of Washington. It must work with the other basin states, one Canadian province, several Native American tribes, and other interested entities. It will face many political pressures. But we are sure of its sincerity in finding a balance so that no interest is ignored, even if compromise is required by all. We wish the department the best of luck as it faces these challenges, and we hope this report is useful in formulating future Columbia River basin decisions and policies.
Ernest T. Smerdon,