Idaho's Salmon DilemmaIf the Dams Don't Go, The Water Will
Guest Opinion from Ken Robison, (D-Boise) District 19 Idaho Senate
June 10, 1999 Boise Weekly
A critical point that is often overlooked in Idaho's salmon debate is this. If the dams below Lewiston are not bypassed, it is more likely that southern Idaho will suffer the loss of an added million acre-feet of water per year.
Taking this amount of water would have devastating impact on many southern Idaho irrigators, would reduce recreation opportunity in southern Idaho, and would badly hurt the southern Idaho economy.
If the dams are bypassed, this threat to southern Idaho water would go away: You would have a flowing river with much greater velocity to help the young fish move downsteam. There would be no rationale for taking more southern Idaho water.
The proposal to take another million acre-feet is based on retaining the dams. The added water would be used to try to increase survival by increasing the flow of water through the slackwater pools behind the dams.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at three alternatives.
If you rule out bypassing the dams, you make it much more likely that the "drain southern Idaho" alternative will become reality.
Taking more Idaho water would not save the salmon. But it could be marketed to the courts and to the Congress as a serious effort, not more of the status quo. It is likely to be acceptable to some of the downstream interests that want to save the dams. And it could have great appeal to Oregon and Washington office holders who wish to save the dams.
Adding water for fish flush through the slackwater pools add very little to the velocity of the water. The reports by Idaho and Oregon fish scientists, and by a multi-agency group of scientists, all say the only way to save the salmon is to bypass the dams and give the fish back the flowing river in which salmon thrived for thousands of years.
To save the salmon you need to increase the return rate for young fish migrating downstream by five times. To restore the runs to the numbers that existed in the 1950s and 1960s, before construction of the four lower Snake River dams, you need to increase it by 15 times.
The scientists don't believe you can achieve that gain with fish flush. Nor can it be achieved with more barging or "fish-friendly turbines." Such proposals are political solutions, not salmon solutions.
Idaho needs a solution that save the salmon, that does not put southern Idaho's irrigators in jeopardy, and that avoids economic loss to shippers from the affected ports. Bypassing the dams is likely to save the salmon. It would protect southern Idaho water. And shippers could be compensated so they do not suffer economic damage.
It would be feasible to finance such a plan with savings from the maintenance of the navigation system and with savings of money now being wasted in barging and other failing salmon strategies.
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