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Commentaries and editorials

Region's Dam Opinions Silenced by Political Agendas

by Ian Lamont, Publisher
Tri-City Herald, November 7, 1999

Wake up, Washington - especially Eastern Washington. Wake up, Idaho. Unless our voices start being heard, we are about to be trampled by rhetoric and politics.

Saving salmon is no longer the issue. Promoting an agenda is.

Despite promises and statements to the contrary, so-called environmental groups such as American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, Save our Salmon, Sierra Club and the Northwest Wildlife Federation have resorted to hardball politics and propaganda to determine the fate of the four lower Snake River dams.

No longer does real science matter to these groups. They have taken smidgens of science, usually out of context, and screamed about the results supporting dam breaching. They have taken parts of preliminary reports and touted those as final results. They are running national ads with outrageous statements, such as the one that states: "Remove the dams and the salmon have an 80 percent to 100 percent chance of recovery." These ads are directed at Vice President Al Gore as they attempt to drive the decision on the Snake River dams away from science to one based on politics and vote-getting.

And if independent science or facts do not meet their needs, they will create their own. American Rivers paid for a report on how to mitigate the effects on transportation after dam breaching, touting the resulting plan with big fanfare as "affordable and efficient." In addition, American Rivers representatives are trying to sell breaching as a boon to the region. In reality, the report has so many holes to render it useless. When asked hard questions, American Rivers staff will respond by saying the report was only intended to promote discussion.

Trout Unlimited promotes a report it commissioned that projects the extinction of Snake River spring Chinook by 2017, while endorsing the breaching of the four dams.

This endorsement of breaching in the face of their extinction report seems to confirm that getting rid of dams matter more than salmon.

Even if it was decided today that the dams would be breached, it will take seven to nine years to get it done. Then according to the sliver of computer modeling science that these environmental groups try to pass off as "real science," it would be eight to 10 more years after dam breaching before the river is as good for fish as it is today with dams. It is not until 24 years after breaching that the river, according to this particular computer model, becomes better for fish. Does waiting until after 2030 for the Snake River to supposedly be better for fish seem like a good idea to anyone who is truly interested in saving salmon? It is ironic these types of details are never in comments from these groups. Instead, their rhetoric erroneously implies that taking the dams out today will save the salmon tomorrow.

There's a more pragmatic approach that makes a heck of a lot more sense: Do something today to save the salmon. Don't wait 30 years or more.

Soon the key scientific and analytical study published by the National Marine Fisheries Service will be available. This study also will include the intensive salmon study being done by the Army Corps of Engineers on the four lower Snake River dams. The NMFS study, also known as the "4-H paper," will examine salmon recovery options and the effects of habitat, harvest, hydropower and hatcheries.

Waiting for the facts and science is not what many environmental groups are willing to do. Instead, they are pushing their agendas onto a national stage.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Tony Knowles of Alaska referred to the Snake River dams as "killing fields." And just last week, Oregon filed a court brief charging the dams are responsible for ongoing salmon-harming conditions - specifically high water temperature and dissolved gases in the reservoirs.

Oregon filed this brief based on the rhetoric of these groups, it certainly could not be based on the facts presented by the Corps in federal District Court in mid-October. At that time, the Corps said the dams are not causing overly hot water in the 140-mile stretch in the river above Pasco. "Trend lines... show that the maximum water temperatures have declined since the dams were installed," said John McKern, the Corps' chief of fisheries management. McKern was disputing allegations made by environmental groups in their lawsuit, which alleged the Corps' operations on the Snake violated the Clean Water Act.

Idaho residents seem to be mostly unaware of the tremendous economic hardship their state will face when their water, at least 1 million cubic feet, will be taken to augment the natural river flow desired in the Snake River.

Western Washington leaders, who finally this year have had to face their own salmon issues, have provided little support. It's befuddling how other governors and federal officials make outrageous and false statements about these dams, while Gov. Gary Locke is quiet.

It seems more and more obvious that factors that dramatically impact the smolts and returning salmon, such as ocean conditions, commercial fishing, gill-netting, predators and in-river mortality, are too complicated and too political to do anything about, so the focus is on the dams.

In a war of words and politics it is becoming increasingly clear that the Tri-Cities and much of Eastern Washington is overmatched presently.

We have our supporters in state Sens. Pat Hale and Valoria Loveland and many other state legislators and, at the federal level, Sens. Patty Murray and Slade Gorton and Reps. Doc Hastings and Norm Dicks. But they cannot do it alone.

The stakes for our region could not be higher. It is time for all of us to recognize the magnitude of the fight we are in.

Ian Lamont, Publisher
Region's Dam Opinions Silenced by Political Agendas
Tri-City Herald, November 7, 1999

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