PORTLAND, Ore. – Salmon in the Columbia River Basin have felt the heat – and experts say it’s pushing fish species to the brink of extinction.
Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Sentry, said temperatures in Colombia this summer have been above 68 degrees, a critical threshold for cold-water salmon that can lead to mass deaths.
“If we had an oil spill that killed 90% of a salmon run, people would be angry,” VandenHeuvel said. “But it’s happening silently because the hot water flies under the radar.”
VandenHeuvel said dams in the basin are the main cause of the warming water. The Washington State Department of Ecology has informed federal managers that the dams violate water quality standards for temperature.
Jay Julius is a commercial fisherman and member of the Lummi Nation. He said high water temperatures have devastated salmon runs in the past.
Fish is also an important source of nutrition for the Northwestern tribes, and Julius noted that it had deep meaning for members of the Lummi Nation.
“We have been farmers of the rivers and farmers of the sea since, for us, the dawn of time,” said Julius. “It’s really who we are, and it’s who we are. Culture is fish and fish is culture.”
Julius said rivers were not created to be turned into lakes from dams. He said he believed it was important to listen to the indigenous peoples of this region.
“You don’t have to be a sorcerer to find solutions to right the wrongs we have done and have witnessed,” Julius said. “I think we all need to come together and use common sense.”
VandenHeuvel added that hot water is an urgent situation, especially on the Snake River.
“The Snake River sockeye are hanging on for life right now,” VandenHeuvel said. “And the removal of the four lower dams on the Snake River is necessary to save this species from extinction.”
But a corps of army engineers Environmental impact statement released this summer does not recommend removing four dams on the lower Snake River to help endangered fish species.
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