Tribes Want Fish Restored in Upper Columbia River

By Tom Bacon

If the U.S. and Canada hammer out a new treaty to control the vast Columbia River system, Indian tribes of both countries insist that it include restoration of fish passage to historic spawning grounds.

The current treaty focuses on two issues only - flood protection and hydropower generation. But with a push to modernize the 50 year old treaty by 2024, 15 Columbia Basin Indian tribes and their Canadian counterparts are saving notice that another element must be included - fish passage over dams on the upper Columbia that block historic migration.

As part of any new pact, the tribes want upper basin dams modified to allow fish passage. The modifications would start with the Chief Joseph Dam at Bridgeport Washington, and include the Grand Coulee dam and several structures further upstream in Canada. The tribes contend that their rights and interests were ignored when the first treaty was drawn up in 1964, and that construction of the fish-blocking dams cut off an important food supply.

Their new analysis, submitted to U.S. regional treaty leaders this month, meshes with a similar study done by the regional treaty authority. Both papers call for consideration of ecosystem concerns along the Columbia, including streamflows and re-introduction of native salmon stocks to its upper reaches.
But the proposals may run into political opposition. Retiring GOP Congressman Doc Hastings of Washington has said flatly that "the priorities we need to address are the entitlement and flood control functions of the treaty". As chair of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, Hastings is in a position to make his opinion heard.

The coalition of tribes pointed out that damming of the upper Columbia River wiped out more than 11-hundred miles of salmon and steelhead habitat above Chief Joseph Dam and resulted in the loss of 3-million fish annually.
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