Breaching Debate Moves to Mainstreamby Editors
Idaho Statesman, January 12, 2007
In 1997, when the Statesman first advocated breaching four lower Snake River dams, the critics were aplenty.
One letter-writer from Kennewick, Wash., downriver to the dams, called our salmon recovery plan "the death of reason and common sense." Another writer, tossing in a slap at the Clinton White House, called it part of the Statesman's "continuing cover-up and support for our corrupt administration and the wacko environmental extremists."
Another critic -- John Etchart, then-chairman of the Northwest Power Planning Council in Portland, Ore. -- called breaching a "long-odds gamble with billion-dollar stakes."
The stakes haven't changed. We're still debating about how to save Idaho's wild salmon, an essential link to our wild heritage and an irreplaceable piece of our river biology. We're still talking about how best to balance the needs of water users with the future of Idaho's rural fishing communities. We're still talking about a fair,forward-thinking balance that removes the dams while replacing the power and slackwater shipping these four dams provide.
But along the way, the proposition of breaching has gone mainstream, for several reasons:
As a result, there is growing evidence that dam removal performs as advertised, restoring fish habitat.
One of breaching's newest and most respected advocates is Don Chapman, a fisheries biologist and longtime consultant for electric utilities. He now argues that the time has come to breach dams and save Idaho wild salmon that have struggled on the feds' endangered species list since the early 1990s.
While Idaho political leaders remain stubbornly opposed to breaching, Idahoans see the issue differently. This is one issue where the people will need to lead their leaders.
And this must happen because something hasn't changed. Idaho's wild salmon remain in peril, and breaching represents their best shot at recovery.
Last year, 37,636 chinook salmon moved upriver past Lower Granite Dam, the final obstacle to their spawning grounds. In 1997, 46,015 chinook passed the dam.
Breaching opponents may point to their own sets of numbers: a 1997-2006 average run of 66,309 chinook, compared to an average of 22,463 the preceding decade. But the fact remains that Idaho salmon runs have not recovered. That's why, a decade later, the breaching debate is as urgent as ever.
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