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Commentaries and editorials

Blaming Dams for Fish Loss is a Hoax

by John McKern
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, August 23, 2013

(Darin Oswald) Fish ladders at the the Lower Granite Dam had water that was too warm for salmon, but turbine manipulation saved the day. The "Too Crooked River" article by Eric Baker of the Lewiston Tribune said funding to repair mining impacts would come from the Bonneville Power Administration justified as mitigation for the federal hydropower dams. This justification perpetuates a hoax, or more bluntly, a lie that has been perpetrated on the Northwest since the 1980s.

Fur trapping, mining, logging, farming, irrigation diversion, municipal water use and pollution reduced habitat and salmon returns starting in the 1800s. Commercial fishing overharvested and in many cases wasted salmon from the 1860s to the mid 1900s. Private dams blocked access to spawning grounds including the South Fork Clearwater, the Salmon, the Payette and the Boise rivers in Idaho plus Columbia tributaries in Washington and Oregon.

By 1938, when Bonneville Dam was completed, historic Columbia salmon runs of 12 million to 16 million salmon returned less than 500,000 over the new dam. Then commercial and sport harvest were still taking more potential spawners above Bonneville.

In other words, the ability of the runs to maintain historic levels were reduced over 96 percent before the first federal dam was built.

A recent "Wild Idaho" program discussed habitat losses in Idaho, and then panned to Bert Bowler who said the only way to restore Idaho salmon runs was by breaching the Lower Snake River dams. Red Fish Blue Fish, an Idaho environmental organization, once asked me if 86 percent of biologists believed breaching the dams would save Idaho's salmon, why did I not agree. I said the 86 percent were either ignorant of or ignoring the facts about fish survival at the Lower Snake River dams.

Over 50 years of research funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and conducted by fishery agencies, universities and consultants have concluded that upstream survival of salmon through the four dams Bert wants breached exceeds 99 percent, and juvenile salmon survive downstream passage at over 96 percent per dam.

Furthermore, with cool water released from Dworshak Reservoir on the Clearwater River in Idaho, the Lower Snake River provides better fall chinook spawning and rearing habitat than before the dams.

Judge James Redden retired from the case but he left behind a spill program that wastes water and energy, and an admonition that "those dams should be removed."

The hoax of blaming these four dams clearly proves the adage that a lie told often enough is accepted by the ignorant as the truth -- even by a federal judge.

John McKern, Walla Walla
Blaming Dams for Fish Loss is a Hoax
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, August 23, 2013

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