Dams That Waste Dollars, Resourcesby Editors
The Tampa Tribune - September 19, 2002
President Bush is asking for more than $500 million for Northwest salmon restoration work in his 2003 budget. That's more than twice the request for Everglades restoration work. The money, made necessary because of dams that disrupt the salmon's spawning run, might be justified if it helped maintain a fish critical to commercial and recreational fishing industries. It does not.
Wild salmon have declined 90 percent since the construction of four dams on the lower Snake River. One species of salmon has already gone extinct and another is likely to soon follow, though more than $3 billion has been spent on trying to save the salmon.
There is a simple and economical way to stop the waste of tax dollars, save the fish and revive thousands of jobs connected to the fishery: Get rid of the four dams on the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington.
Some background: The Snake runs into the Columbia River, which also has four dams. Fish ladders allow the fish to get around the obstacles but add considerably to the salmon's spawning challenge. Still, the fish numbers remained fairly healthy until the four dams were added on the Snake. The salmon then had to negotiate eight dams, and this has proved too many. Their numbers began to plummet, despite a scramble to find ways to save the fish, including trucking juveniles around the dam.
In the 1960s, about 100,000 adult salmon returned to the river each year. After the four dams were put on the lower Snake, that number fell to about 10,000.
Unlike the four dams on the Columbia, the Snake River dams do little good. They provide no flood protection and little irrigation water. The dams furnish less than 5 percent of the Northwest's electricity, and alternative sources are readily available.
Moreover, the dams could prove even more costly to taxpayers. The United States signed treaties with Indian tribes in the region in the 19th century that guarantee them fishing rights. If the tribes were to push their claim, some legal experts believe the government could end up compensating them $10 billion or more for their losses.
Past studies have found the commercial and recreational fishing and related industries that would result from rejuvenating the Snake River would generate about $500 million a year for the local economy. A recent study conducted by the Rand Corp. found that economic consequences of removing the dams would be negligible.
If the four dams were serving a critical public function, then the issue would be more troublesome. But the dams are doing far more harm than good. They are jeopardizing a resource, eliminating jobs and wasting tax dollars. We hope such local members of Congress as Reps. Bill Young and Jim Davis try to put an end to this boondoggle.
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