Protecting and Restoring Cold Water Refuges in the Columbia River

Year: 2020
Presenter/s: John Palmer
Symposium Session: 2020 - 01 Protecting critical flows
Topics covered: adaptive management and monitoring, climate change, estuary, fish passage, fish-cutthroat, fish-salmon, fish-steelhead, floodplain, hydraulics, and stream


Cold water refuges (CWR) in the Columbia River provide important resting areas for threatened and endangered species, steelhead and fall chinook, during their summer migration from the Pacific Ocean to spawning grounds in the Snake River Basin. Scientists (Goniea et al 2006, Keefer et al 2009, Keefer et al 2018) have documented the use of cold tributaries of the Columbia River for migrating salmonids in the summer when temperatures in the mainstem are higher than optimum for fish health. With rising temperature trends predicted from climate change models in the Columbia River, migrating salmonids may seek relief in greater numbers and over a longer period of time making CWR even more important in the future.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in partnership with agencies, tribes, and organizations is nearing the end of a four-year project to evaluate CWR in the lower Columbia River basin from the mouth of the Columbia River to its confluence with the Snake River. EPA released a draft Columbia River CWR Plan in October 2019 for stakeholder review and plans on issuing the final plan in 2020. The objectives of EPA’s Columbia River CWR Plan are to: 1) Identify CWR currently available for use by migrating salmon; 2) Assess the sufficiency of the refuges for current and future populations; and 3) Identify strategies to protect and restore high quality CWR in the future.

This presentation provides an overview of EPA’s draft Columbia River CWR Plan. In the plan, EPA has identified 12 primary CWR tributaries to the lower Columbia River currently used by migrating salmonids or that have features (e.g., temperature, flow, depth, no physical barriers) that make them important cold water areas for migrating salmonids. EPA completed “snapshot” watershed assessments of the 12 primary CWR tributaries and 2 “restore” CWR tributaries to protect and restore. These tributaries are the Cowlitz River, Lewis River, Sandy River, Tanner Creek, Eagle Creek, Herman Creek, Wind River, White Salmon River, Little White Salmon River, Klickitat River, Hood River, Deschutes River, 15 Mile-Creek, and Umatilla River. The purpose of these “snapshots” is to provide scientific information to local watershed groups and other users information on: 1) the extent and quality of the CWR in their watershed; 2) the features that make it a good CWR; 3) factors affecting watershed temperatures (e.g., shade, dams and hydromodifications, water use, climate change); 4) the alignment of other watershed restoration work with CWR protection goals for multi-objective planning; and 5) recommendations for protection and restoration. In this presentation, we will discuss our findings and recommendations to protect and restore CWR, our outreach efforts and community involvement, and our goal for accurate and relevant information to enable local users to leverage funding to support their ongoing efforts that may also benefit cold water refuge areas.