Babbitt Dam Comments
by Dick Ducharme
After reading the guest comment by Bruce Babbitt regarding the four middle Snake River dams he and his professional environmentalist allies want dismantled we can again be grateful that he has been retired from public service.
His emotional diatribe is a reiteration of long discredited arguments that attempt to justify the removal of the dams. The fact that he still attempts to put forward these arguments is either a sign of incredible ignorance or what is more likely the use of the old propaganda technique that if you tell a lie often enough people will believe it.
Let’s take his arguments point by point.
First, the dams have not made the “wild Snake” into a slack water barge channel. The dams are run-of-the-river dams with significant current running between them at all times. This current can be seasonally increased to benefit fish passage by the operation of the many dams on the system above the dams in question. I am surprised he did not drag out the “hot pools of death” argument that has been used by the environmentalists to justify removal when in fact it has been shown the dams actually provide lower summertime water temperatures. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the deeper the water the cooler it is.
Second, the near-extinction of the Redfish Lake sockeye has been shown to be the result of the State of Idaho’s decision at one time to enhance the Redfish Lake rainbow trout fisheries by poisoning the resident sockeye salmon. Poison is the reason only one fish was left to spawn.
Third, chinook salmon and steelhead runs for the past six years are at all-time record levels. This includes both spring and fall chinook and includes both hatchery and wild stock. The runs are actually the largest since counts were started at Bonneville Dam. Remember that Bonneville was one of the first dams on the Columbia system so current fish counts are greater than before many of the dams above Bonneville were constructed. What Mr. Babbitt also neglects to mention is that 95 percent of all fall chinook spawning historically took place above Hells Canyon Dam. This dam is on the Snake River immediately above the aforementioned four dams he wants removed and has no fish passage facilities. Even if you removed the four dams this upstream spawning habitat would remain inaccessible.
Fourth, the ability to move the wheat by rail that moves by barge at anywhere near the same cost – if at all – is a complete fabrication. Anyone knowledgeable about transportation knows that neither the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe nor the Union Pacific have sufficient railcars to meet the current demand for grain shipments. In fact, this rail duopoly ships grain when they want to and not when producers need to get it to the ports. There is no way they could physically ship additional grain as their mountain pass lines to the coast and its ports are currently at full capacity.
The 3- to 7- cents-per-bushel savings Babbitt speaks of is only because of the barge shipping alternative. The real cost is somewhere between 20 and 30 cents per bushel. As for the state of Washington purchasing the short line railroad that was because they were going broke!
Fifth, neither science nor logic – nor economic theory – supports Babbitt’s case. The statement that removing the four dams in and of itself would restore the fishery is a falsehood and to value the restored fishery at $1 billion annually is a fantasy. Compare that with the value of the entire Alaska salmon fishery.
Are the four dams beneficial to salmonid production? No.
Is the removal of the four dams in question critical to the recovery of salmonid production in the Columbia Basin? No.
It has been scientifically recognized that policies regarding hydro, habitat, hatcheries and harvest must be addressed to increase fish production. There are scores of dams on the Columbia and Snake River systems, many of which have greater impact on fish production than the four referred to by Mr. Babbitt. The removal of these four dams is the current cause celeb of the professional environmental movement. What is tragic is they are able to champion this simplistic solution to a complicated problem in major urban media outlets without question. The professional environmental movement excels at propaganda.
However, in the end, science and truth will be their undoing and bring us real solutions to complicated environmental problems.
Dam Buster Babbitt by Jerome Hanson, Capital Press, 2/18/5
Babbitt: Fix Economies not Dams by Eric Barker, Lewiston Tribune, 3/7/5
22 Sockeye Return by Jennifer Sandmann, Times-News, 9/1/4
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