the film
Commentaries and editorials

More Broken Promises from Army Corps

by Dr. Steve Bruce
Idaho Statesman, January 26, 2010

Last month Idaho's Parks Board decided to close Dworshak State Park, near Orofino, due to a lack of funds. There is a story behind this story, about the Army Corps of Engineers and broken promises to Idaho.

Many in Orofino remember the Army Corps' promise when it built Dworshak Dam in 1972: The reservoir would bring top-class recreation and dollars and jobs to Orofino. In exchange for this promise, the people of Idaho lost one of the finest wild steelhead rivers in the world, the North Fork of the Clearwater.

But the Corps broke its promise. The reservoir gets drained deeply these days, for flood control and to provide cool water for endangered salmon trying to survive hot summer water in other Corps projects built at the same time, the four lower Snake River dams downstream from Lewiston. It is tough to attract much recreation with 40 feet of mud between marinas and the water.

I am very familiar as a fisherman with another promise the Army Corps made when it built the lower Snake dams: that Idaho's great wild salmon runs would survive them. That is a promise that has been broken. Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead are endangered with extinction.

The Corps also promised Lewiston the Lower Snake dams would bring sustained commerce and jobs by making Lewiston an inland seaport. Another promise broken: Business and jobs at the port are fading away and its remaining customers are actively seeking road and rail transportation options for their future.

One more promise: The Lewiston levees, built with the lower Snake dams, would protect the town (downtown is below the river - think New Orleans), and give Lewiston residents a riverside walking, hiking and biking path. That promise is not yet broken - but it might not be long.

As sediment fills in Lower Granite reservoir much faster than the Corps expected, water level is nearing the top of the levees. Everyone familiar with the situation knows what the Army Corps wants to do - raise the levees 4 to 12 feet. That's unpopular in Lewiston, for good reasons: expense, disruption, walling people away from their river and ultimately handing their kids the same problem again in a few decades. So right now the Corps is playing possum, keeping quiet while waiting for the right time to get its way.

Something else about these broken promises: They pit people against each other. People in Orofino want Dworshak kept nearly full for summer recreation. Anglers and tribes want cold water released to cool temperatures in the lower Snake that are rising closer to lethal levels for salmon every year. Lewiston businesses that need flood protection will be pitted against Lewiston people who don't want a wall around their river.

I personally think the best solution to this string of problems is to remove the four lower Snake River dams. But leave that aside for now. First we need honest information from the Army Corps and we need to talk with each other as Idahoans about solutions rather than wait on the government. We have been waiting on the government for a solution for many years and, frankly, our fish, our businesses and our citizens can't afford to continue to wait.

I would suggest this is a job for Sen. Crapo, Sen. Risch and Rep. Minnick. Our representatives in Congress could bring people in Orofino, Lewiston, Boise and elsewhere together to discuss collaborative solutions and use their influence to force the Army Corps to level with us and listen to us.

Dr. Steve Bruce is a Boise dentist and past president of Idaho Salmon and Steelhead Unlimited.
More Broken Promises from Army Corps
Idaho Statesman, January 26, 2010

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation