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Gov. Inslee proposes redress of dwindling salmon jeopardized by rising temperatures, toxic runoff

Dec 14, 2021, 2:59 PM
Inslee salmon...
(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

In response to the critical status of 14 salmon species listed under the Endangered Species Act, Gov. Inslee has outlined his administration’s vision for the future of Washington’s salmon recovery efforts.

The policies are intended to address a number of key issues responsible for their decline, including:

  • Lack of tree canopy in watersheds which maintain optimal temperature for migration and spawning
  • Discovery of latent chemicals in the rubber used to manufacture car tires, which has been pinpointed by environmental scientists as a contributing factor to the precipitous decline of Coho salmon
  • Inconsistent fish passage in Washington state’s rivers (hydroelectric dams, including those on the Skagit River, have come under recent pressure for their lack of infrastructure to facilitate through movement of salmon)

Restoration of habitat is addressed in the proposal. Titled the Lorraine Loomis Act — after a prominent salmon advocate and Swinomish tribal elder — the legislation standardized the minimum height requirement for trees within riparian zones, the green corridors along rivers and streams.

Tree canopy insulates rivers from dramatic fluctuations in temperature which cause disturbances in spawning and migratory behavior. The EPA reports that the optimal spawning temperature for salmon is roughly 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and increases of 10 degrees and more can be potentially lethal.

The legislation would update land management policy and establish standards for tree height, allocating funding to both state and private land to ensure compliance.

Further proposals include infrastructure for the improvement and maintenance of watershed quality.

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The initiative would allocate dollars in the form of grant funding for local jurisdictions to identify and remove threats to storm water quality. The policy mentions filtration systems attached to storm water systems that filter out chemicals such as 6PPD, created by car tire residue that inevitably leaches into the water supply through natural wear. These retrofits to stormwater facilities would happen statewide.

Gov. Inslee’s proposal goes on to address the issue of barriers that impede salmon migration. The state is littered with culverts which obstruct fish movement. The state also grapples with the issue of hydroelectric facilities which block passage, some of which were licensed in the 20th century without adequate infrastructure for through passage.

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Dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers are mentioned as potential recipients of fish passage retrofits and/or mitigation studies.

The sweeping wish list from the governor requests $187 million in total operating and capital budget investments for new salmon recovery actions.

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Gov. Inslee proposes redress of dwindling salmon jeopardized by rising temperatures, toxic runoff