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The Disgusting Truth Behind the Decline of Salmon in the Columbia River

By April 7, 2014No Comments

Commentary by Dam Guardian Aaron Hall

n 2012 and 2013, Sea Shepherd’s Dam Guardians stood on the front lines documenting the horrible atrocities that occur in the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho because of a federal program that allows these states to remove up to 92 California sea lions per year. While only the California sea lions are able to be forcefully removed or killed, the states have also included the federally protected Steller sea lion in their hazing and deterent efforts. Sea Shepherd continues to oppose the targeting of these sea lions as part of a scapegoat campaign aimed at misdirecting the public’s eye from the actual problems – overfishing, the dams themselves, the hatcheries, and pollution.

The Columbia River has a long history of being known as a toxic wasteland. Starting as far back as 1943, a 50-mile stretch of the river in southeastern Washington passes through the Hanford Site, which was a part of the Manhattan Project. Until 1971, pump systems drew water from the river to be treated and used to cool the reactors before being returned back into the river. Nearby aquifiers contain an estimated 270 billion US gallons of groundwater that has been contaminated by high-level nuclear waste that has leaked out of the storage tanks. As of 2008, a staggering 1 million US gallons of highly radioactive waste is traveling through the groundwater directly towards the Columbia with expectations of reaching the river within 12 to 50 years if cleanup is not successful.

In 2012, fish that were caught, and would have been eaten by recreational fishermen, were tested for contaminants present in the Columbia River. At the time, the tests found levels of arsenic, mercury, and PCBs exceeding what is recommended for safe consumption by the Environmental Protection Agency. Testing of sturgeon caught near Astoria revealed levels of PCBs that were more than 7,000 percent above the EPA’s safe consumption levels.

Pollution in the river is not just a historical issue. In February 2014, in British Columbia, between 3,100 and 6,600 US gallons of sodium hydroxide solution was released by Teck Resources into a sewer line that leads to the Regional District sewage plant. This plant ultimately discharges waste into the Columbia River. This is not the first major spill that the company has had as they were successfully sued by the EPA for environmental damages dating back to 1896.

Pollution is not just limited to spills and nuclear waste, however. Driving along the river between the Bonneville Dam and Astoria, OR, you pass facility after facility of the logging operations that occur here in the Pacific Northwest. A fellow Dam Guardian, Andrew Lynch, made the comment “I’ve never seen a forest laying down before,” as we drove past miles of fallen timber.

Areas along the river are being logged in a manner known as “clear cutting.” This is where an entire section or area of trees is completely wiped out in one fell swoop, which leads to heavy soil erosion due to the removal of natural blockages provided by trees and their roots. The erosion of the soil can often lead to the choking out of streams and the destruction of habitats, as well as increased flood risk in local areas. The roads that are put up, often hastily, during the logging process are also a source of water pollution, as they also disturb the natural defenses that the environment has against soil erosion. Oftentimes, there is gravel that is placed down to help create the road surface which will get ground up into a fine sediment and pushed into the rivers, further damaging the balance of the fragile ecosystem.

The time has come again when the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho have begun their season of hazing, branding, forceful removal and killing of federally protected sea lions along the Columbia River. Please contact the governors of Washington and Oregon to let them know that the sea lions are not the problem and that they should be putting their resources towards correcting the actual issues causing the declines of the salmon run. They should be focusing on the pollution in the river, the predation by humans, and the state of introduced invasive species. While Sea Shepherd will not be running the campaign on the front lines this year, you can still stand loud and proud for the sea lions by e-mailing and giving voice to the voiceless.

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