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Commentaries and editorials

Legislation Aimed at Saving
Snake River Dams is Sound

by Editorial Board
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, October 17, 2017

The Interior Department last week backed the proposal (watch here)
sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and others.

Graphic: 'Planned Loss' of the Lower Snake River dams would not substantially effect power bills or rates.  This graphic was published in the Draft version of the Seventh Power Plan.  Members inside the NW Power & Conservation Council were so disturbed by this result that they have hidden it from public view and removed it from the Final verstion of the Seventh Power Plan. The U.S. Department of Interior made a wise decision to support the goals of legislation proposed by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, and others to protect the four Lower Snake River dams from a federal judge's overzealous ruling.

The proposal, which was the subject of a hearing last week, would keep in place the Federal Columbia River Biological Opinion, often referred to as BiOp, until 2022. BiOp is the plan created by a collaboration of federal agencies, states and tribes to protect salmon while continuing to operate dams for hydropower.

The legislation could reduce litigation and allow federal agencies to focus on the continued stable operation of the system of Columbia and Snake river dams until there is a new operating plan, said Alan Mikkelsen, acting commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, at the hearing.

The legislation would effectively overturn an April decision by Judge Michael Simon that requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spill more water for fish at eight Columbia and Snake river dams starting next year.

"This bill would simply codify the current BiOp and reassert congressional authority over dams," said McMorris Rodgers, who testified at the hearing as a sponsor of the bill.

Along with the reduction of the generation of hydroelectric power, spilling too much water creates high gas levels in the water that can harm juvenile fish. The effort to ensure salmon survival must consider the overall impact to the environment, the economy and our lives.

In addition to spilling more water, Simon's ruling requires taking down the dams to be considered.

This has already been studied and studied. It's clear tearing down the four Snake River dams would be a disaster for the Pacific Northwest. The water from a free-flowing Snake would flood farms, roadways, homes and even cities. Map: Train tracks run along both sides of the Lower Snake already displayed on a rail map from 1908.

(bluefish notes: Despite what the Union-Bulletin repeatedly states, the government repeatedly states that the Lower Snake River dams are NOT flood control dam. These dams are run-of-river dams passing water as it comes in, not storage dams that have the ability to protect against flooding. Fact is, the construction of these dams flooded farms, orchards and farming towns. And without conveyance dredging on the upper end of Lower Granite reservoir, Lewiston has an ever increasing risk of flooding.)
It would also make it impossible to ship via the rivers. If crops and other goods could no longer be barged down the river, it would force products to be hauled by trucks on the roadways. Boosting the truck traffic would be environmentally irresponsible.
(bluefish notes: Crops would move to rail, not to the more expensive long-haul truck. Train tracks run along both sides of the Lower Snake already displayed on a rail map from 1908. Our governments' Department of Energy shows that shipping has been most energy efficient by train since the early 1990s.)

Currently about 3,700 farmers grow wheat and barley in the Pacific Northwest, most of which is shipped by barge to Portland to be exported overseas. A tug pushing a barge can haul a ton of wheat 576 miles on a single gallon of fuel.

Allowing a judge's ruling to usurp federal control of the dams is bad public policy. Allowing Congress to establish control and work within the agreed-upon framework makes sense.

(bluefish notes: At the subcommittee hearing of October 2017, a Congressman asked why the judge's ruling was not appealed. Afterall, that would be the normal route to challenge a judicial decision. The witness' only response was that the Department of Justice would need to answer that question.)
The proposed legislation is the appropriate course of action on this matter.

Related Pages:
Drain the Swamp by, CRSO comment, 2/7/17

Editorial Board composed of Brian Hunt, Rick Eskil, James Blethen and Alasdair Stewart
Legislation Aimed at Saving Snake River Dams is Sound
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, October 17, 2017

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