LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - Transport program saved the fish

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Federal dam operators have reluctantly agreed to follow Judge Redden's mandate to spill water for fish in spite of predictions that 2010 will be a drought year exceeded in recent history only by 1977 and 2001. The Independent Scientific Advisory Board does not feel there is sufficient evidence to maximize fish transportation around the dams.

They are like the blind men describing an elephant. One touched the tail and said the elephant was like a paint brush. Another touched the side and said it was like a leather chair. A third touched the trunk and said it was like a large snake. The fourth touched a leg and said it was like a tree.

There is little chance that the highly educated, highly intelligent ISAB members have reviewed the hundreds of research reports on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fish transportation program generated by almost continuous research since 1965. Had they taken the time to synthesize the mountains of information that have been generated by the fishery agencies, universities, and consultants about transporting fish around the dams, they might have concluded there are some truisms that have persisted over the decades.

Transporting Snake River fish around the seven downstream dams has consistently provided over 98 percent survival. Transport/in-river ratios vary year to year based on in-river survival that fluctuates widely depending on the flow year. Last year steelhead in-river survival was 69 percent.

The highest spring chinook survival in recent years was about 65 percent. In 2001, steelhead survival was less than 5 percent and spring chinook was less than 8 percent.

Knowing this, NOAA Fisheries, which has done more transport research than any other agency, recommended stopping spill and maximizing transport in 2010 like it did in 2001. When the dire figures on in-river survival came out in 2001, alarmists declared a fisheries emergency. Then it remembered that 90 percent of the Snake River fish had been transported. Transport had saved the fish runs.

Despite years of trying to discredit the transport program, and years of jerking around the experimental designs to minimize the benefits of transport, in 55 years, opponents have not come up with a concrete reason to abandon the program. Those who call it a techno fix and the judge who listens to them and not the true experts in the subject are the biggest threat to fish runs on the river this year. Is Redden's decision arbitrary and capricious?

John McKern
Walla Walla

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