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Commentaries and editorials

Dam Removal Would Devastate

Eastern Washington, Hurt Entire State

by U.S. Senator Slade Gorton (Wash-R)
WHEAT LIFE January 1999

Dam removal. Remember the days when this concept seemed laughable and totally incomprehensible? Unfortunately, if we do not discuss the disastrous effects of this movement, the probability of this scenario will become very real, and the potential impact on you, Washington's producers, is frightening.

The root of the debate is whether dam removal is the most effective way of spending your money for salmon restoration. I believe that it is not. National environmental groups, Vice President Al Gore and some in the Northwest media believe that removing dams is worth the costs because it will be good for select salmon runs.

The Columbia and Snake River dams were built as the result of conscious decisions by many of the giants in our national and state history -- Franklin Roosevelt, Scoop Jackson, Warren Magnuson. These dams represent a monumental federal investment in the region and the tremendous returns on that investment continue to accrue to the Northwest.

These dams provide water to you, our farmers. In turn, you provide jobs for workers and the workers generate goods that we export all over the world. Before the dams, eastern Washington had few farms and was mostly a dustbowl. The entire agricultural community in eastern Washington is tied to the dams. I cannot begin to imagine the economic damage that would befall eastern Washington if those dams were removed. That won't happen on my watch.

In other words, if we removed dams, any benefits would be uncertain at best. What we can be certain of, however, is the consequences -- transportation and barge traffic on the Snake and Columbia rivers would be lost. Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington would cease to be seaports. Finding alternative transportation for our wheat and barley would be costly and truly harmful to the environment. Experts say that it would take 700,000 more trucks each year to get farm products to market if dam removal eliminated barge traffic.

The dams produce sixteen percent of the capacity of the Northwest's federal hydroelectric system, which provides nearly seventy percent of the region's electricity. Eliminating that electricity source will add an instant surcharge to nearly every financial transaction in the region. Let me put that in perspective: when you turn on the lights, you will pay more. In addition, any power lost would have to be replaced with expensive hydro from outside the Northwest, coal from unhealthy plants, or energy produced from nuclear or gas sources. I don't believe that is a sound trade-off.

Recreational: I want people to continue to have access to the rivers for boating, fishing, and other recreation activities.

Protecting our communities from severe floods: without question, the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers were the single biggest reason that Portland and other Columbia River communities did not incur untold millions of dollars in additional damages from the record winter rains our area has seen over the past few years.

The aforementioned are just some of the consequences we know are for certain should the dams be removed. I am not arguing against salmon recovery by arguing against dam removal. We must all recognize that in whatever fashion it takes, salmon recovery will be costly.

I would like to point out that I don't want to decide for the region whether its dams should be removed. Instead, I have tried to get the Clinton administration to protect our region's right to have a meaningful voice in salmon restoration. That is why I want Congress to decide the issue before any dams are removed.

If the majority of the members of the Northwest congressional delegation decide, after listening to their constituents, that more Northwest dams should be removed, so be it. But this decision is too important to Northwest families and communities, and wheat farmers, to be made by unelected federal bureaucrats.

Dismantling the Columbia hydro system will hurt every Northwest family, but would certainly wreak havoc on the lives of our eastern Washington farming community. There is no proof that removing dams will bring one more salmon back to our rivers and streams -- I am willing to guess that our agriculture community would consider itself proof that the dams should remain intact.

I appreciate all of the hard work and support the Washington Association of Wheat Grower members has put forth on this issue. As I mentioned at your convention in December, there is still a lot of work yet to be completed. We must focus on sound policy, local decision making, and make a community effort to educate everyone on the merits of this issue.

Slade Gorton - United States Senator representing Washington State
Dam Removal Would Devastate Eastern Washington, Hurt Entire State
WHEAT LIFE - January 1999

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