Water Released by Dam Killing 100,000 Fish a Day

grand coulee dam photo
Photo: prw_silvan / cc

At the foot of the Grand Coulee Dam, fish are dying by the hundreds of thousands. In an effort to make room for the higher than average snow melt-off, state officials have been releasing a massive amount of water -- but the consequences have been alarmingly deadly to farm-raised steelhead trout. As water falls from the spill-gates it churns up gases toxic which have reportedly killed some 100,000 of the fish each day in the Columbia River, and some fear that it could make the region a killing field for protected aquatic wildlife.Since Washington State's Bureau of Reclamation began releasing the excess water from the Grand Coulee in anticipation of high snow-melt, fish from a nearby farm have been perishing in droves from what is essentially 'the bends'. Churning water mixes toxic nitrogen gas into the river at a rate 120 percent above normal. This nitrogen gas forms micro-bubbles inside the blood of fish, killing them.

Pacific Aquaculture, which operates the fish farm below the dam, say that hundreds of thousands of fish have already died in the supersaturated water. Executives from the group have said that the release of water is killing their business -- but that it might have a similar impact on several protected river species.

From the Seattle Times:

The company has lobbied lawmakers and federal agencies to find other ways to release water, perhaps by asking Canada to hold more back as storage or release it in another way. In one of its last acts before ending its special session, the state Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution calling on the federal government to find a new spill approach.

"The policy they're choosing is economically devastating to us, and ecologically devastating to the river," said Craig Urness, attorney for the fish farm's parent company, Pacific Seafood.

Last week, a U.S. District Judge ruled that the deadly Dam measure does not violate the Endangered Species Act, arguing that there's no evidence vulnerable fish, like salmon and bull trout, are threatened by the nitrogen rich water.

"While I'm sympathetic to the loss of unlisted fish I am unconvinced that there is any ESA violation at this time," Judge James Redden said in his ruling.

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