Academic journal article Environmental Law

Salmon and Water Temperature: Taking Endangered Species Seriously in Establishing Water Quality Standards

Academic journal article Environmental Law

Salmon and Water Temperature: Taking Endangered Species Seriously in Establishing Water Quality Standards

Article excerpt

  I. INTRODUCTION
 II. SOME BACKGROUND ON THE RELEVANT LEGAL REQUIREMENTS
III. HOW SHOULD EPA AND THE STATES TAKE SPECIES DISTRESS INTO ACCOUNT
     IN SETTING WATER QUALITY STANDARDS?
 IV. THE ADVANTAGES OF ADDRESSING SPECIES DISTRESS UNDER THE
     CLEAN WATER ACT
  V. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

This is a crucial time for the future of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Some runs, including the Snake River coho, are extinct.

(1) Many others are in acute distress, with their populations diminished, (2) their range limited, (3) and their remaining habitat degraded. (4)

There are, of course, a number of factors causing salmonid decline. In addition to habitat degradation, salmon suffer from hydropower development, (5) hatchery effects, (6) overharvesting, (7) predation (8) and even climatic variation leading to temporarily unfavorable ocean conditions. (9) But water quality, and water temperature in particular, clearly represent a significant part of the problem. (10) High temperatures can lead to a host of ill effects in salmon, including elevated risks of disease, (11) fatality, (12) increased predation, (13) and barriers to migration. (14) Indeed, high temperatures probably played a principal role in this year's major fish kill (an estimated 33,000 salmonid fatalities) in the Klamath River basin, through both severe disease-fostering conditions and thermal barriers to upstream migration. (15)

High water temperatures are ubitquitous in the Pacific Northwest. In 1998 the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) determined that 12,178 stream miles in Oregon violated temperature standards during portions of each year. (16) Currently, DEQ proposes to add 3602 new miles to the list of streams violating these standards. (17) While EPA characterized the risk of disease to migrating salmon as "severe" at temperatures above 64.4[degrees]F, (18) and identified 70.9[degrees]F as a lethal temperature, (19) Oregon has recorded temperatures as high as 82[degrees]F in the Grand Ronde River, 83[degrees]F in Fifteen Mile Creek (a tributary of the Columbia River), and 76[degrees]F in Lobster Creek (a tributary of the Alsea River in the Coast Range). (20)

The problem of declining salmon populations is exacerbated by the fact that many of the most imperiled runs are those occupying the above-mentioned rivers and streams during the summer months and are thus exposed to the risks posed by elevated temperatures. Snake River sockeye, for example, migrate upstream in mid- to late summer when the rivers are at their warmest. (21) Similarly, Snake River fall chinook tend to enter the rivers in July or August and swim upstream to hold and spawn. (22) Furthermore, Snake River spring chinook are adversely affected during two of their life stages. First, because juveniles rear in their natal streams and lower in the stream basin for a year before migrating out to sea, they are exposed to high summer temperatures. (23) Although as adults they tend to enter the rivers in spring, they "hold" in the mid- to upper reaches of the basins prior to the spawning season in later summer or fall (August through October). Thus, high summer temperatures can induce stress and shrink available holding areas. (24)

Sources of high stream temperatures include the removal of streamside vegetation, (25) water withdrawals, (26) dams, (27) and discharges from industrial facilities, wastewater treatment facilities, and irrigation return flows. (28)

Recently, Northwest regulators have developed complex frameworks for addressing these temperature concerns. Oregon, for example, has adopted a tiered approach that has four main components. The most stringent standard of 50[degress]F (10[degrees]C) is for areas inhabited by bull trout. (29) A standard of 55[degrees]F (12.8[degrees]C) is for areas used by other salmonids for spawning, egg incubation, and fry emergence. (30) Another standard, of 64[degrees]F (17. …

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