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Commentaries and editorials

Four Dams on the Snake River in Idaho and Washington

by The Editors
The Bay City Times (Michigan), December 19, 2002

Four dams on the Snake River in Idaho and Washington could spell the end of salmon fishing in the Great Lakes. That's because the dams, completed in the 1970s, are making it very hard for salmon to make their spawning runs on one of the West Coast's key breeding rivers.

The salmon may become extinct by 2016, says Trout Unlimited. Great Lakes salmon hatcheries need wild salmon eggs to ensure continued strength of salmon stocked in the Great Lakes.

That's why it's important that all Great Lakes legislators support the proposed Salmon Planning Act - HR 2573, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2001.

So far, 88 congressmen have become co-sponsors, including Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Flint, who will represent part of Bay County starting next year. Other Northeast Michigan congressmen, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, and Dave Camp, R-Midland, haven't yet signed on.

Salmon supporters also seek the help of Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, a heavyweight in his party. They should sign on.

If approved, the act would give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers clear authority to remove the four Snake River dams. That would happen only if studies show there is no other way to save the salmon from extinction.

The dams benefit only a few farmers with irrigation. Electricity rates in the Northwest - which has the cheapest electricity in the nation would rise just a buck or two for the average residential customer there if the dams are eliminated.

That's the downside - a few special interests out West get hurt.

The upside to pulling out the dams are billions of dollars saved and a healthy salmon run, both in the Northwest and here in Michigan.

To get the salmon around the dams, the feds have resorted to catching them and shipping the fish by barge and truck. The cost: About $900 million a year. And the salmon are still going extinct. Handling the fish kills a lot of them. So salmon runs are becoming smaller and smaller.

Before the dams, an estimated 16 million salmon made the run from the Pacific Ocean up the Columbia River, past four dams there, and into the Snake River. With the four Snake River dams added to their trip, just 10,000 salmon a year are making it back to their spawning beds.

The Snake River dams are four dams too many. The cost of partially removing them to restore the river flow - $1 billion - is small fry compared to what we could be on the hook for if salmon go extinct. Treaties guarantee the salmon runs for Northwest Native American tribes. Reparations for extinction of the fish could easily cost the nation billions.

If the nation doesn't start looking at removal of the dams now, the years of required planning could be too late for the salmon. The Salmon Planning Act would get the studies started.


Editors
Four Dams on the Snake River in Idaho and Washington
The Bay City Times, December 19, 2002

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