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Background Information

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and several other agencies in the Pacific Northwest, in conjunction with the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) are currently conducting studies to aid recovery efforts for wild salmon in the Snake River Basin. These studies require environmental information to aid understanding the environmental influence on temporal distributions, abundance, and behavior of salmon at their various life stages. Baseline water quality and hydrologic information to support these studies is an identified need.

The Environmental Technology Division of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) (, operated by Battelle Memorial Institute, in conjunction with NMFS and with funding from BPA, provided technical assistance in developing environmental monitoring in the Salmon River basin of Idaho from 1993 to 1997. The following are accomplishments of this project.

  • Identified and summarized previous and existing water quality monitoring activities in the Salmon River basin.
  • Designed a monitor network that would meet present and future needs of fisheries related programs.
  • Established a functional water quality monitoring network.
  • Developed a relational database for the baseline water quality information.
  • Developed a WWW site for distribution of the information (currently not functional).

After completion of the PNNL project, all monitoring activities were relinquished to NMFS under BPA project 199102800.

Currently, NMFS operates monitoring sites in the Salmon River Basin. A set of water quality variables (e.g., temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, and others) is collected at these sites every hour, year round using autonomous devices. The monitors are serviced and data uploaded every 4 months. Four of the monitoring sites are located in conjunction with smlt monitoring traps that monitor summer, fall, and spring migrations of Chinook salmon and steelhead parr and smolts. These traps are operated by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Nez Perce Tribe. One site is located by an active U. S. Geological Survey Station and an in-stream PIT-tag monitoring station. The most recent site (August 2005) is located near a proposed in-stream PIT-tag monitoring station (July 2006).

The primary objective of the environmental monitoring study, as it relates to BPA project 1991-028-00 Monitoring the Migrations of Wild Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook Salmon Smolts (see reports here), is to correlate water quality parameters within the streams to spring/summer Chinook salmon parr and smolt movements and survival from their rearing areas. Eventually, this information will be used with other variables such as weather/climate information to predict movements through downstream traps, in-stream PIT-tag monitors, and dams. Detection information on these PIT-tagged wild fish through downstream traps, in-stream PIT-tag monitoring sites, and dams may be accessed from the PTAGIS database operated by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. Other ancillary benefits from environmental monitoring may be identification of climate change, habitat degradation or human activity, as well as correlates that may explain changes in population size and survival rates of these ESA-listed stocks. As funding becomes available, monitors will be installed in other study streams.