The Columbia Basin once hosted the world's greatest salmon runs—up to 16 million fish each year. Today, just a fraction of these remain—decimated by more than 200 dams thwarting salmon spawning runs.
Four dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington State are driving all remaining Snake River salmon toward extinction. Since the dams were completed in the 1970s, populations have plummeted by more than 90%. As a result, fishing seasons have been severely reduced—harming fishing families and reducing the availability of fresh wild-caught salmon.
The Klamath, Columbia/Snake and Sacramento/San Joaquin river systems are the only West Coast systems whose headwaters don't originate in the Coast Range. On the Klamath, five major dams block access to most of the historic spawning habitat. Stocks of coho and kings persist in the Klamath's main tributary, the Trinity River, and downstream sections of the Klamath and lesser tributaries.
This system contains the second-biggest salmon-producing rivers
on the West Coast. Spring-run kings in the San Joaquin were driven to
extinction when access to their spawning grounds was cut off by construction of the Friant Dam. No fish ladder was included and sections of the San Joaquin River regularly dried up completely until a court case led to an agreement to partially restore the river.
The Sacramento River continues to be the number two West Coast salmon producer in most years, even though dams have reduced the amount of spawning habitat significantly.
First published in the Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine, Fall 2013 issue.