Snake River Dams

In this April 11, 2018 photo, water moves through a spillway of the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River near Almota, Washington.

The state Department of Ecology is accepting public comment on a proposal that gained momentum during the state’s orca recovery task force meetings in 2018.

The proposal, to allow more water to spill over the lower Snake and Columbia river dams in order to support salmon migration downstream, was among those discussed at an August 2018 meeting the task force held in Anacortes.

Salmon, particularly chinook that migrate from the Snake and Columbia rivers, are the preferred food of the region’s endangered Southern Resident orca whales.

“We are at a critical time for our orca and salmon. This is a change we can make relatively quickly to help with the long-term recovery efforts,” Heather Bartlett, Ecology’s Water Quality program manager, said in a news release.

Early this year, Ecology put temporary rules in place to allow for more water spilling over the dams during the spring, and announced Wednesday it is taking public comment on whether that practice should become permanent.

Ecology is responsible for regulating spill over the dams because that kind of intense water flow increases the amount of gases — primarily oxygen and nitrogen — in the water downstream.

The agency is responsible for regulating those gases using a water quality standard called “total dissolved gas.” The proposal being considered is to change that water quality standard for dams on the two rivers from April through June, when runoff from melting snowpack typically leads to high water flows.

If more water spilling over the dams increases salmon migration in the two rivers, more fish will be available in coastal areas to support orca recovery.

That’s why the change was among the dozens of recommendations the state task force made to Gov. Jay Inslee at the close of 2018.

Ecology is accepting comments on proposal through Sept. 26.

Comments are being accepted by mail, online and during an online webinar meeting.

Mail comments to Susan Braley, State Department of Ecology, Water Quality Program, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, 98504-7600.

For more information:

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199,, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH,

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