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Are the Dams Really Damnable?

by Ed Palm
Kitsap Sun, November 25, 2022

Am I missing something here? I thought
we were trying to wean ourselves off fossil fuels.

Map: USA Solar Resources I like salmon as much as the next guy. We ate it once a week when we were still living in the Great Northwest, and we still do here in Virginia -- although we usually have to settle for Atlantic salmon. And as a freelance photographer, I have had some success photographing salmon fighting their way upstream to spawn. One of my best images was chosen for the "Only in Washington" exhibit that opened in the Seattle Civic Center in 2008. Still, I have this unreconstructed conviction that people are more important than salmon.

Readers may recall that over the years I've devoted several columns to the extremes and the expense Washingtonians will support to comfort and coddle fish. The first was "Support your local salmon," published on March 15, 2015. At that time, a federal judge had ordered some 1,000 salmon-impeding culverts torn out by 2030 at an estimated cost of $2.4 billion. I was reminded of the Kevin Costner film "Field of Dreams." Whereas a voice from beyond was telling Costner's character to "build it and they will come," our salmonistas were telling the state to "tear them out, and they will come."

Now the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has joined the chorus, telling Washington, Oregon and California to "tear them down -- the dams, that is -- and the salmon will come."

I remember when the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Elwha River fell. We were told the benefits of their removal would outweigh the loss of the small amount of electric power they generated. Really? According to Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center, despite a 2019 uptick, the "2021 returns were below average for the ten years before the dams were removed and the decade since" ("State of Salmon on the Snake and Elwha Rivers," Oct. 28, 2021).

I wonder if Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray read that report. They would seem to be kindly disposed toward the FERC's recommendation to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Lower Snake River. In June it was reported that these four dams supply an annual average of 1,000 megawatts of electricity and help Washington maintain its power grid during peak periods. All four dams do have fish ladders, but environmentalists are concerned that the dams have created "reservoirs" that impede spawning. If they say so, but how would the state make up for the loss of the power the dams now generate?

And now the FERC is targeting four hydroelectric dams on California's Klamath River, which flows through Oregon and Northern California. Their removal would cost $500 million and would represent, according to the Associated Press, "the largest dam removal and river restoration project in the world."

You would think nary a salmon ever got through to its native stream before culverts were torn out and dams were removed. If salmon runs are truly down, and if certain species in particular are endangered, I would bet climate change, pollution, and overfishing are the real culprits -- not culverts or dams.

Am I missing something here? I thought we were trying to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. That, to my mind, represents a "consummation devoutly to be wished." I realize we're stuck with coal, oil, and gas for the foreseeable future. But we should be taking full advantage of all the clean-energy sources we have -- hydroelectric, wind, and solar.

As for atomic energy, when I was a child, we were told nuclear power plants were going to make electricity too cheap to meter. That was well before Three-Mile Island and before the public understood how difficult it was going to be to get rid of nuclear waste. And then there was Chernobyl. And Fukushima.

A variation on a line from Pink Floyd comes to mind: Hey, FERC, leave that dam alone!

Ed Palm columnist
Are the Dams Really Damnable?
Kitsap Sun, November 25, 2022

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