From 2008–2018, acoustic telemetry studies were conducted to evaluate dam passage survival of spring migrant Chinook salmon and steelhead smolts at 7 of the 8 federally operated dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers. Data from over 87,000 dam passage events were evaluated using regression modeling to identify the effect of spill operations, environmental conditions, and fish characteristics on powerhouse passage probability. In general, powerhouse passage was positively correlated with discharge, negatively correlated with forebay temperature and fish size, and higher for fish that passed the dam at night and for those that approached from the powerhouse side of the river, suggesting powerhouse passage is largely a function of smolt activity level and swimming ability. As such, spilling large volumes of water to reduce powerhouse passage is likely to be most effective during times of reduced activity and swimming ability (e.g., at night, high flows, cold temperatures). This information can be used to develop dam- and time-specific spill operations that optimize smolt passage, power generation, and other competing demands, such as adult passage.

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