Dam releases are killing hundreds of thousands of fish, farmers say
Fish farmers say nitrogen gas generated by the Grand Coulee Dam’s increased water flow is killing their crop downstream.
May 27th, 2011
11:04 AM ET

Dam releases are killing hundreds of thousands of fish, farmers say

Hundreds of thousands of fish in the Columbia River are dying from the bends.

That's the layman's explanation. Here's the detailed one.

A large winter snow melt is forcing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which runs the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia in Washington state, to increase water flows through the dam. The turbulent water is releasing gases, including nitrogen gas, which is what causes the bends in scuba divers when they surface too quickly. Gas levels have been more than 130% of normal recently, the Seattle Times reports.

"We've easily got hundreds of thousands of dead fish," Bill Clark told the Seattle paper. He works for Pacific Aquaculture, which farms steelhead trout in nets in the river.

Pacific Aquaculture's parent company, Pacific Seafood, says it is losing 100,000 fish a day from the 2.7 million still living on the farm in the river 20 miles south of the Grand Coulee, according to a report on SeattlePI.com.

Bureau officials concede the gas problem is likely to get worse, but they say wild fish shouldn't have the problems that farmed ones do because they can dive deeper into the river to escape the gases, according to the Times report.

Pacific Aquaculture manager John Bielka doesn't see it that way.

"They're basically sterilizing this entire stretch of river," Bielka told the Times. "That's going to wipe out not only the fish in our farm, but also the bull trout, the lamprey, the sturgeon and every other wild thing."

Bureau officials told the Times they have no alternative - there's simply too much melting snow that would cause flooding if the dam flow were lessened.

"In a normal year, this wouldn't be a big problem. But Mother Nature is running the Columbia River right now," the Times quoted Charles Hudson of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission as saying.

The increased water flow is having at least one positive effect, according to the SeattlePI report. It's helping juvenile salmon get downstream to the Pacific Ocean quicker.

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Filed under: Aquaculture • Fish • Washington state
soundoff (105 Responses)
  1. jon

    Correction-37 species have already become extinct. And many more are on their way to extinction.

    May 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Prometheus

    Then do something about it Corps of Engineers and introduce measures to lessen the nitrogen content. I KNOW there are ways to do that. Get with it.

    May 28, 2011 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
  3. Levi

    We need to "revisit" the Endangered Species Act. We don't recover species like Bald Eagles so we can kill them and eat them. Species that are still commerically harvested and are recreationally killed should not be included in ESA. Heck...I get advertisements from Canadian outfitters to "Fish the Wes Coast of Vancouver Island while the Columbia River fish are travelling past". We waste a bunch of money that on salmon recovery.

    May 28, 2011 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  4. Bob M

    It is not water through he dam but water spilling over the dam that entraps the nitrogen. Not much can be done about high flows except not have fish farms

    May 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. gung ho

    Seems to me they could open the dams more so as to lower the water like everywhere else does when they have high water

    May 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Iowa Mama

    How about talking about all the misplaced people and talking about them and w get a fish article.

    June 16, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
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