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Columbia River Fish Passage and Hydroelectric Dams

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Hydroelectric development and alterations of the landscape associated with the settlement of the West have been linked to declines in fisheries. Hydroelectric development as early as the late nineteenth century in the Columbia River Basin has been associated with declines in salmon stocks. The listing of numerous salmon stocks under the Endangered Species Act status, a need for modernization of aging hydroelectric facilities, and the development of new fish passage technologies has prompted both private and public hydroelectric managers to seek improved fish passage and water management at dams.

Because hydroelectric dams or irrigation diversions can vary from the very large to small, one solution is not applicable to all cases. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has the expertise and technology to assess and evaluate a wide variety of management efforts to improve fish passage. Those management actions can vary from turbine modernization for a more fish-friendly turbine, construction of more effective fish passage structures, and alteration of flow and spill to improve passage or survival.

The USGS uses a suite of state-of-the-art technologies to evaluate new and innovative passage structures and management strategies. Those technologies include large and complex radio and acoustic telemetry projects. Salmon, sturgeon, or other species are tagged with telemetry tags enabling researchers to identify location, rate of movement, and individual behavior. Remote sensing, river flow modeling, and geographic information systems (GIS) may be used to analyze the relation between fish and habitat.

The results of research by USGS are used by customers such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bonneville Power Administration, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Estimates of juvenile salmon survival past hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River are the basis for multimillion dollar management decisions. Evaluations of fish behavior and performance metrics for innovative fish passage structures contribute to the successful design and post construction evaluation of structures. More effective use of water for juvenile salmon passage and adult migration and spawning maximizes the benefits of water to the fishery resources.

The objectives of this Project are:

  1. Improve fish passage and survival at Columbia River basin dams and irrigation diversions to restore fish populations.
  2. Develop and demonstrate to others the added value derived from using the latest technology to evaluate fish behavior and response to structures and flows provided to increase survival of fish.
  3. Provide the best available science to water and fishery managers to assist in making the most prudent decisions with scarce water and fishery resources.

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