May 26, 2011
For Immediate Release
NESPELEM, WA--Recent water releases through large discharge tubes on Grand Coulee Dam have likely killed tens of thousands of Colville Tribes’ Redband Trout broodstock, along with hundreds of thousands of other fish in the Lake Rufus Woods Pool below the Dam, and must be stopped, Colville Chairman Michael O. Finley said today.
“These releases, of well over 55,000 cubic feet per second through the discharge tubes, push enormous amounts of nitrogen in the water, and if fish can’t escape this nitrogen gas, they die,” Finley said. “These elevated gas levels are lethal for our native trout and hatchery fish in Lake Rufus Woods, and could kill millions of fish. We are looking at a potential environmental catastrophe.”
Finley said that the spills, authorized by the Bureau of Reclamation, Bonneville Power Administration and Army Corps of Engineers--the federal agencies which operate Grand Coulee Dam--are intended to lower the Lake Roosevelt Pool behind the dam in anticipation of a much larger than average spring runoff.
“We know that this year’s potential for serious spring flooding must be taken into account in the operation of the dam,” Finley said, “but it appears that federal officials have failed to consider how their actions will affect the environment downstream.”
John Stensgar, Chairman of the Colville Business Council Natural Resources Committee, said today that federal officials at Grand Coulee Dam are well aware that discharges of this magnitude will harm fish, which die of a disease similar to “the bends” because of a nitrogen overload in their systems.
“Unless the fish are at a depth of at least 10 feet below the surface, when the nitrogen gas builds up in the water, they can’t survive,” Stensgar said. “We expect significant fish mortalities in Lake Rufus Woods.”
Finley said that Pacific SeaFood, a fish farming operation which annually produces millions of steelhead for commercial sales in pens close to the shoreline of Lake Rufus Woods, already has lost more than 100,000 fish daily since discharges through the tubes began, and faces the possibility of losing all the nearly 3 million fish in their pens.
In a letter to federal officials, Pacific Seafood warns that “if this [tube discharge] practice isn’t stopped immediately, it will result in more than $30 million in economic damage to our company alone. There are currently 2.7 million fish still living in the farm cages that are being threatened by this environmental and economic massacre.”
“The disaster that Pacific SeaFood is experiencing now, I’m afraid, is a preview of what will happen to most if not all of the fish throughout the Lake Rufus Woods pool if federal agencies don’t reduce flows through discharge tubes,” Finley said.
Pacific Seafood employs a large number of Colville Tribal member employees, and makes a significant economic contribution to the Reservation and the region, he said.
“Our Reservation and local communities have suffered disproportionately in the recent recession, and this would be another blow to our fragile economic recovery,” he said. “We believe that all the consequences of this crude method of flood control were not adequately considered before the discharges began.”
Last spring, huge quantities of water spilled over the top of Grand Coulee Dam after Lake Roosevelt filled, but these spills do not create nearly the same levels of nitrogen in the water as the pushing it through discharge tubes. The federal agencies running the dam now have the additional problem of scheduling maintenance in the dam’s “G-19” turbine, shutting it down at a crucial time.
“We have to ask why this maintenance was scheduled now, when running more water through the G-19 powerhouse would have meant less going through the discharge tubes, and would have generated more electricity as well,” Finley said. “It does not seem that their strategy was well thought out, and in any case it needs to be revisited and revised to limit the damage caused by these discharges.”
“Every turbine running at Grand Coulee will reduce the amount of water through the discharge tubes by 10,000 to 15,000 cubic feet per second,” Joe Peone, Director of the Colville Tribes’ Fish and Wildlife Department, said today. “These decreases could literally mean the difference between life and death for hundreds of thousands of fish.”
Washington Senator Dan Swecker (R-Rochester) authored a Senate Joint Memorial, passed by the state legislature yesterday, calling on federal officials to look at other options in their management of Grand Coulee and the Lake Roosevelt pool to “prevent flooding as well as prevent harm to river ecosystems.”
Finley said that one possible course of action is for the Bureau of Reclamation to release the tube discharges at a steady rate, rather than spilling greater quantities of water in surges, which cause higher nitrogen levels in the water.
“We appreciate the Washington Legislature’s concern and action in this matter,” Finley said, “and we hope that federal officials will respond quickly and effectively, taking steps now to lessen the damage to our fish and ecosystems.”
For more information, contact Michael O. Finley at (509) 634-2208