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Economic and dam related articles

Corps to Study Breaching Snake River Dams

by Associated Press
Seattle Times, April 1, 2010

A plan outlining the steps to evaluate the potential breaching of one or more dams on the Lower Snake River, including Ice Harbor Dam near Pasco, to ensure the survival of endangered wild salmon and steelhead was released Wednesday by the Army Corps of Engineers.

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- The Corps of Engineers plans to study breaching Snake River dams in Washington if necessary to preserve endangered salmon and steelhead.

The Tri-City Herald reports the corps released a plan yesterday outlining the steps to evaluate the potential breaching of one or more dams. The study is not imminent. Once launched it would take several years to complete and cost about $20 million.

The Corps says even if dam removal is recommended, the final decision on breaching the Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams would be up to Congress.

Information from: Tri-City Herald

(bluefish calls attention to the fish ladders along the Ice Harbor locks in the left of the photo AND another fish ladder on the right.)

redfishbluefish Ketchum, ID April 1, 2010 at 4:29 PM
Oh dear, our populace continues to be rather uninformed on this issue. Try Wikipedia or an image search and notice that ALL four Lower Snake River dams have fish ladders. Indeed the lowest three of the four projects, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Ice Harbor dams each have TWO fish ladders!

If you are concerned about this issue might I recommend visiting to stay current on the issue. The site is overflowing with data, news and information and research questions can be addressed through the contact button. reveals that reservoirs impounded by these dams are responsible for substantial mortality of juvenile salmon and steelhead. The Corps contends that this reservoir mortality is not pertinent to their "operations" and thus not subject to a Biological Opinion. Thus far, salmon conservation lawyers have yet to attack this contorted stance.

westernnate Edmonds, WA April 1, 2010 at 9:43 AM
You are all partially right, and partially wrong.

First, Fish ladders are much less expensive than removal would be, but they have been shown not to work very well (roughly 10% of salmon reaching a dam ever find the ladder), and lead to other issues where sea lions congregate at the ladder entrance and pick off the salmon while they bottleneck at the entrance.

Second, degradation of small spawning streams water quality, channelization of water, and agricultural runoff are the biggest threats to salmon. Salmon require cold, clear water with very low silt loads to spawn.

They lay their eggs in a sandy gravelly substrate in waterways. Since we have built dikes and levies to channelize the water systems in the region so we can farm, it increases the speed of the flow in these systems, which erodes out the smaller particles, leaving rocky bottoms which can't hold the eggs in place. The farms use this river water for irrigation, and then let it go straight back into the rivers. This water contains fertilizers, nitrates, and phosphates. The chemicals are poisonous to fish, and their eggs, decreasing reproductive numbers.

The nitrates and phosphates increase the growth of algae, which increases the water temperatures by absorbing sunlight. When the algae dies, it is consumed by bacteria, which consume a large amount of the oxygen in the system, choking the fish.

Dam removal SHOULD increase salmon spawning numbers within the river systems they are carried out on, as they increase the mileage of spawning habitat within the system. They also allow the water characteristics to return to a more natural state. If the water is allowed to flow naturally, and flood on occasion, it will lead to the natural formation of sandbars, which provide excellent habitat for salmon.

Creeks and streams upriver from the dam would also now be available as spawning habitat. Dam removal on this scale has never been attempted, so the real results are unknown. It would be interesting to see the results of the Elwa removal, currently being carried out. If salmon return to that river, and their numbers improve there, then the same should be true for the snake.

Removing dams on the snake river will have less of an impact however because there are dams downstream on the Columbia that currently block salmon. Fish ladders exist on these dams, but there may not be sufficient numbers to really make an impact.

In regards to electrical costs, we currently have a surplus of electrical power in the state, which we tend to sell to California. It is true that decreasing out output will mean less profit from these sales, and likely higher rates to compensate. However, many of these older smaller dams have a 50 year life before they need to be dredged out and retrofitted. This 50 year span is expiring now. Someone needs to look at the economic impact of continuing to operate the dams, versus the potential benefit of removal.

And In regards to the flooding comment, there are still plenty of dams on the river, so the threat will be localized and minimal. Also, if you don't like flooding, dont live next to a river. River flooding improves soil conditions, and river conditions.

chukar14 Samm, WA April 1, 2010 at 9:25 AM
I don't think flooding is an issue with the snake river dams.... like we have here on the westside. The snake river dams were built to irrigate farmland, they don't make all that much power, relative to the columbia river dams. If you remove the dams the fish will come back. Dams turn rivers to lakes, so the water warms in the summer and benefits predators of salmon smolts. lots of dams are being removed, the elwha dam, several in oregon have been removed. Dams don't last forever, eventually they will have to come down.

3boyzero everett wa. April 1, 2010 at 8:44 AM
Here we go again, breaching these dams will not bring salmon or steelhead back to past numbers or ensure the survival of anything. it will however increase your electrical rates! The problem is once these fish leave the river as fry they are under threat of being eaten by predators of all kind's,the few that survive that onslaught then face an ocean of toxic pharmaceutical waste that can actually cause sex change to occur making most of the survivor's female with not enough males to fertilize any egg's that make it back to the home river via mature female's. never mind the over fishing by foreign fleet's off our coast leaving almost nothing for U.S. fishing fleet's or should I say the few boat's that have managed to survive the last 3 decade's and then there is the sport fisheries... And hey don't forget that most of the hatcheries have been shut down on almost every river in the state for one reason or another, The fish ladder's worked when large enough numbers of fish were being raised and released from the hatcheries but that number has dropped 100fold over the last 30 years while demand has increased . instead off spending the money on studies spend the twenty million on restarting hatcheries in Washington, for that matter 100 million a year then give it 8 years. A healthy fisheries in this state would pay for itself, Washington fishermen could make a living, tourism and those dollar's would increase as we would retake a vast number of sport fishing dollars from Alaska and B.C. but if it's left up to engineer's, and politician's there's pretty much no hope of a revitalized fishery in this state or any other man that's depressing ...

John of Seattle Auburn, WA April 1, 2010 at 8:12 AM
SAVE OUR DAMS!!! They prevent flooding and help us through droughts.

I agree, take action and build a ladder.

wetsailor, port ludlow, WA April 1, 2010 at 8:01 AM
wouldn't 20 million dollars go a long way to build "ladders" around these dams???? Why "study" the issue-just take action.

Associated Press
Corps to Study Breaching Snake River Dams
Seattle Times, April 1, 2010

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