If Washington state issues additional permits for water to be diverted from the Columbia River for farm irrigation, it should do so only under the condition that withdrawals can be stopped if river flows become critically low for endangered and threatened salmon, says a new report from the National Academies National Research Council. Salmon are at increased risk during periods of low flows and high water temperatures, conditions that are most likely to occur during the summer months when demand for water by farmers is greatest, the report says.
"Whether or not to issue additional permits is a decision to be made by the public and policy-makers, but if the withdrawals are allowed, there should be enough flexibility to halt them if river conditions become too severe for the salmon," said Ernest Smerdon, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and retired vice provost and dean, College of Engineering and Mines, University of Arizona, Tucson.
The report was requested by the Washington State Department of Ecology, which asked for an evaluation of the effects of additional water withdrawals of approximately 250,000 acre-feet to 1.3 million acre-feet per year, roughly the volume sought in currently pending applications for additional water withdrawals. An acre-foot is the quantity of irrigation water that would cover an acre to a depth of one foot -- equal to 325,851 gallons.
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