Dam Removal and
by Harry Edward Grant
In efforts to develop sound policy to address global warming, the selection (and rejection) of electric-generating technologies becomes more important than ever. The June 5 Letters to the Editor ("Destroy the Dams, Save the Salmon, End Source of Greenhouse Gases"), responding to the May 30 editorial-page commentary "Dam the Salmon," dispute the conclusions of Shikha Dalmia and support removal of at least some hydroelectric dams. As an environmental attorney who worked closely with legal staff of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the law that authorized the federal government to acquire the Elwha Dams for removal, several key facts were overlooked or incorrectly stated in the letters.
Under the leadership of former Sen. Bill Bradley and Rep. Norm Dicks, Congress recognized that the Elwha Dams presented an excellent laboratory for testing whether dam removal itself would result in a rebound in legendary Elwha salmon populations. The Elwha River is one of several on the Olympic Peninsula with salmon runs, but is the only one where dams had been constructed in the early 20th century. The results of that laboratory test are probably 25 years away. The dams have not been removed yet, and the National Park Service estimates two decades' time for salmon stock recovery. From a policy standpoint, however, those results will be important.
Important from a policy standpoint as well, the federal government paid just compensation to take possession of the privately owned dams on the Elwha River. The Elwha Dams were not an example of the use of escalating regulatory pressure to wrest control of privately owned dams from their operators. The drafters of the Elwha law were prudent to require that the federal government pay just compensation to take the dams, both from a legal and an economic standpoint. As a result of this very important requirement in the law, the local paper mill that had relied upon power from the Elwha Dams continues to operate today. It is one of the largest employers in a rural area that has suffered employment losses as the timber industry has declined, but that mill continues today to provide "family wage" jobs to its employees.
Finally, as a correction to one of the letters you received, since the dams were transferred to the National Park Service in 2000, they have continued to generate electric power and still do so today. Dam removal remains scheduled to occur sometime in the next several years, probably no sooner than 2012. Again, the drafters of the law providing for federal acquisition and removal of the dams prudently required that steps be taken to protect water quality for local communities and industries during the high turbidity events of dam removal. That has proven to be a challenging part of the dam removal process.
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