Breaching Snake River Dams
by Frank Priestley
A letter is being circulated in Congress seeking support to breach Snake River dams and increase river flows with water deeded to Idaho irrigators.
The four special interest groups behind this effort are threatening to sue the federal government and shut down delivery of irrigation water in 2004. They have no regard for the economic well-being of Idaho and the thousands of Idaho families whose livelihoods are dependent on irrigation water.
The environmental groups continue to use the same tired arguments and overblown rhetoric to bolster their positions that dam breaching and flow augmentation will bring about salmon recovery. In reality, Idaho is in its third consecutive year of record salmon returns. Some 20 years of poor ocean conditions, followed by three years of favorable ocean conditions, have created a rapid turnabout in salmon and steelhead populations.
(bluefish notes: Two or possibly three Snake River Sockeye returned in 2003, see countfpc.htm)
Flushing massive amounts of Snake River water has resulted in no measurable recovery of fish. Yet three years of good ocean conditions brought back record runs. It appears that regardless of any and all experimental steps taken to push smolts out to the Pacific, ocean conditions have trumped those efforts. There is no compelling evidence to suggest that more flow augmentation at the expense of Idaho agriculture will restore salmon and steelhead runs to anywhere near historic numbers.
Studies done by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation show that tripling the amount of water that has been sent downstream as flow augmentation would take as much as 800,000 acres of farmland out of production. Yet flows would only be increased by one-tenth of one mile per hour downstream. Despite more than a decade of using Idaho irrigation water, there is no evidence that flow augmentation has helped a single juvenile salmon downstream. Yet there is considerable evidence that it has done no good whatsoever.
Regarding the breaching of the four Lower Snake River dams, breaching advocates prefer to ignore that ocean conditions were poor, at best, for nearly 20 straight years, between 1976 and 1996. Blaming the dams doesn´t change that fact. In addition, survival rates of juvenile salmon migrating past the dams have increased dramatically over those 20 years.
Removal of the four lower Snake River dams does not ensure that the demands for Idaho´s water being sent downstream for flow augmentation will be eliminated.
Idaho citizens need to clearly recognize the threat these radical special interest groups pose. In spite of the fact that Idaho is currently in a drought cycle — the most severe in over 20 years — and during a time when Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo has stepped in to attempt to negotiate some type of settlement that will keep this matter out of court, these environmental groups continue to push an agenda that could throw this state´s economy into a tailspin not felt since the 1930s.
The two alternatives being pushed by the special interest groups have no scientific basis and are without regard for Idaho families and businesses. If these radical groups have their way with Idaho water, Idaho residents who currently work on farms, for irrigation supply and canal companies, seed, fertilizer and equipment dealerships, banks, fuel distributors, food processing plants, automobile dealerships, and dozens of other industries will be out of work.
Directly or indirectly, it has the potential to affect every Idaho family.
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