• Spill helps juvenile fish migrate safely past the dams

    Spilling water over hydroelectric dams, rather than running it through turbines, is generally seen as the safest method to get the young salmon and steelhead past the dams on their way to the ocean. NOAA Fisheries’ biological opinion for the Federal Columbia River Power System calls for spilling 24 hours a day at all eight dams from early April through the end of the fish migration in August. 

    In addition to spill, the Corps of Engineers has made major structural improvements at the dams to make them safer for fish passage. All eight dams now have surface passage routes that improve the effectiveness of the spill by attracting smolts to that area, using less water and generally achieving better survival than conventional spill. Watch a video to find out more. The FCRPS is also operated to provide spring and summer flow augmentation, further improving conditions for migrating fish. 

    Spill levels are tailored based on test results to optimize fish passage given the configuration of each dam. To date, performance testing shows that all dams are on track to meet biological opinion standards of 96 percent survival for spring migrating fish and 93 percent for summer migrants. 

    chart of passage progress for 2010, 2011, and 2012 The Corps conducted summer performance standard testing at two of the eight dams in 2013. In 2014, the Corps will conduct performance standard tests at McNary in the spring and McNary and John Day dams in the summer.  
     chart of passage progress for 2010, 2011, and 2012  


    Because of operational and structural improvements at the dams, juvenile fish survival through all eight dams is as good as or better than in the 1960s, when there were four federal dams on the lower Columbia and Snake rivers. Read more about 2015 juvenile Snake River steelhead and chinook survival through the hydrosystem here.  

     Harbor Dam on the lower Snake River
    Spill for fish passage, at Ice Harbor Dam on the Lower Snake River


  • Flows provide cooler, swifter water for young fish
    Operators augment seasonal river flows with water released from upstream storage dams (Libby, Hungry Horse, Albeni Falls, Grand Coulee, and Dworshak dams). Known as flow augmentation, this operation helps cool water to temperatures that are safer for salmon.  It is also intended to help speed juvenile fish migration time and aid adult fish spawning.


    Available storage at these upstream dams is limited, so each year the Action Agencies coordinate with Canada to store additional water in Canadian reservoirs during the winter.  This water can then be used in the summer to improve flows.  


    Libby Dam helps cool water and move juvenile fish to the oceanWater releases from Libby Dam upstream of the lower Snake and Columbia dams help cool water temperatures and move juvenile fish to the ocean more quickly. 

    Reclamation also provides 487,000 acre-feet of water from the upper Snake River above Brownlee Reservoir specifically to augment flows during the migration season. This operation is specified in NOAA Fisheries’ 2008 BiOp for the Upper Snake projects



    Columbia River Forecasting Group Annual Reports

    The Action Agencies and Fish Accord partners formed the Columbia River Forecast Group (CRFG) in 2009 to help further the science of seasonal water supply and streamflow forecasting. Both the Columbia Basin Fish Accords and NOAA Fisheries’ 2008 FCRPS BiOp call for annual review and consideration of improved forecasting tools and procedures, with the goal of improving reservoir operations for the benefit of the region and ESA-listed salmon and steelhead.

    2020 CRFG Annual Report

    2019 CRFG Annual Report

    2018 CRFG Annual Report

    2017 CRFG Annual Report

    2016 CRFG Annual Report

    2015 CRFG Annual Report

    2014 CRFG Annual Report

    2013 CRFG Annual Report 

    2012 CRFG Annual Report

    2011 CRFG Annual Report

    2010 CRFG Annual Report

    2009 CRFG Annual Report  

    Annual fish operations and in-season management

    Each year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares Fish Operations Plans describing operations at each of the eight dams for safe fish passage.  Annual Water Management Plans describe plans for implementing overall operations for fish contained in the FCRPS 2010 Supplemental BiOp.


    During the migration season, state and tribal fish managers work together with the Corps on the Technical Management Team to manage real-time operations decisions for fish.