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Delegation Pushes Alternatives to Dam Breaching

by Barney McManigal, States News Service
Times-News - July 29, 1999

WASHINGTON -- Idaho lawmakers said Wednesday they support methods of boosting the salmon population in the region's rivers, as long as they don't involve dismantling dams.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, joined members of the Boise-based Idaho Council on Industry and the Environment at a news conference to promote three methods they say will help salmon without breaching the dams.

"The debate currently is on dam removal and that seems to be the only alternative that we are looking at," Simpson said. "Many of us have suggested for a long time that as long as we continue to focus only on dam removal that we ignore reasonable and cost effective alternatives to restoring the runs."

The proposed alternatives would create new hatcheries in-stream, migration routes that bypass dams and strobe lighting to guide fish down the river.

But environmental groups say the dams are going to have to be breached in order to replenish the salmon population, which has dwindled to a crisis level. Several species of salmon are either extinct or close to extinction, and are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Environmentalists and some sportsmen groups say four dams on the Snake River must be breached for the fish to reach the Pacific Ocean.

"It's such an obvious thing," said John McCarthy, a spokesman for the Idaho Conservation League in Boise. "Fish need a river. All the scientists have determined that dams are not good for fish."

But the lawmakers said removing dams would damage regional industries by destroying hydro capacity and slack water transportation capability.

"It is first and foremost very important to say that we want salmon recovery and we will work very hard to get it," Craig said. "But it is also important to understand that we must strike a balance with salmon recovery to maintain and insure the economy of the region and the future economy of the region."

Scott Bosse, a fisheries biologist at Idaho Rivers United in Boise, doubted the validity of the new proposals.

"I think that all three of those alternatives are proposals to save dams, not salmon," Bosse said. "I think these are all political solutions that would do little to save salmon and are intended to fool the public into thinking that they're doing something to save salmon."

Phillip Nisbet, a member of the Idaho Council on Industry and the Environment and president of Hydrologics Inc. in Salmon, said dam breaching could actually harm salmon populations in the short-term. The 4 trillion tons of excess sediment that would result from the breached dams could stop salmon increases for at least 14 years.

Bosse disagreed.

"It's a completely ridiculous argument," Bosse said. "The recovery starts right away. If you breach the dams, you're going to have some sediment problems from two to five years. But the flip side is that juvenile salmon get some benefits from sediment being in the water."

Mitch Sanchotena, executive director of Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited, called the delegation's alternatives a form of corporate welfare, adding that dam breaching was the best thing to do both for Idaho's environment and economy.

"There is plenty of money in salmon restoration," Sanchotena said. "Those four dams provide 4 percent of the region's power. That power is easily made up in other ways, like natural gas."

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, was not present at Wednesday's news conference, but said through a spokesperson that he supports new alternatives to dam breaching.

Barney McManigal, States News Service
Delegation Pushes Alternatives to Dam Breaching
Times-News - July 29, 1999

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