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Commentaries and editorials

Chat: Snake River Salmon and Dams

Rob Masonis of American Rivers
Ted Koch president of Idaho chapter of American Fisheries Society
Environmental News Network, December 7, 1999

<ENN Chat> OK everyone - why don't we get started.
<RedFish BlueFish> Cool, it seems the biggest obstacle that is supporting the dams is the fear that has been stirred up among those that feel as though they will be economically impacted.
<Rob Masonis> Yes, the economics are a major issue.
<Ted Koch> In my experience, this fear is a valid reaction to such a big idea, but there are ways to address that fear
<Rob Masonis> What we need to find are ways to replace some of the economic benefits provided by the dams. They exist, but have not received much attention
<RedFish BlueFish> It seems that this fear needs to be calmed by good discussion which includes alot of listening as I feel many sides have issues worthy of serious consideration.
<Rob Masonis> One of the biggest obstacles is getting people to talk to each other, leaving the rhetoric behind. American Rivers is working on this-- reaching out to affected communities.
<Ted Koch> What would be very helpful is strong leadership from regional politicians to figure out these social and economic questions. The science is pretty clear.
<RedFish BlueFish> I hope that this discussion forum will be the beginning of many fruitful ideas. So where should we start?
<brenda> Agreed. But one of the biggest challenges is how do you leave all the emotionally charged part of these issues behind to actually get down to a rational discussion? Strong leadership is a start and strong science is too, but as with global warming, it still seems very difficult to get people to leave their emotions behind in order to have a rational discussion.
<ENN Chat> Ted: From a scientific perspective, is the removal of the four dams on the Snake enough, too much, not enough?
<RedFish BlueFish> The biggest political force seems to be from the Wheat Growers who have made considerable impressions on Washington State Senator Slade Gorton
<LF> I understand that there is a wave of Hydropower relicensings coming up within the next decade or so. Do any of you have an opinion as to what could happen during the relicensing process to help address the salmon issue?
<Rob Masonis> I agree with Ted, we need political leadership, particularly developing a vision of the future without the dams that does not involve exacerbating other environmental problems or causing too much economic hardship.
<Ted Koch> The removal of the four dams is seemingly imperative to recover salmon. There are likely other issues that should be addressed to help ensure recovery is achieved.
<Rob Masonis> American Rivers is working very hard on hydro relicensing in the region. This is a tremendous opportunity to improve salmon conditions in our rivers, but not many people are aware of it.
<Lotusb5> I am wondering if the sediment behind the dams will be removed?
<Ted Koch> Relicensing is important in the Snake River above the four federal dams in question. Idaho Power Company operates the Hell's Canyon dam complex, which drove all salmon runs above those dams to extinction.
<Rob Masonis> The sediment will be moved during high flows, the fine stuff will be flushed out, the coarser material will settle out in the system. The Corps does not expect a problem
<Lotusb5> Has anyone tested the sediment for persistent toxic chemicals which could adversely affect the salmon?
<Ted Koch> Sediment would wash downstream if dams are removed, and be retained in Columbia River impoundments. There would be short-term fish and wildlife impacts, but likely not long-term.
<LF> Any ideas on how removal of the four dams would affect the portion of the Snake where Hells Canyon resides?
<Ted Koch> There are likely chemicals in the sediments that may contribute to short-term impacts. For more on this you can visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's draft Coordination Act Report, available through, Region 1, and on from there.
<Rob Masonis> Yes, it will increase the free-flowing section and allow more Chinook to make it into the reach below HCC.
<RedFish BlueFish> Is the build up of sediment over the past 25 years a concern to upstream industries like Potlatch? Recently, Potlatch Lewiston has done a remarkable job cleaning up the dioxin content of their effluent. But the previous years?
<ENN Chat> By the way, if you reference websites in your comments, I can make them active in the transcript.
<Ted Koch> I think Potlatch is concerned about Clean Water Act responsibilities if the volume of water into which their effluent flows diminishes.
<craig> anyone-- how close are we to a political and social climate that will allow some major sacrifice, or economic relief to those who will lose their livelihoods. do you think the American people and the political leaders are prepared to make this a priority?
<Ted Koch> I think Senator Crapo of Idaho says we're not there yet.
<Lotusb5> I think the people are, but not the political leaders.
<LF> Is there funding set aside to pay for the decommissioning of the four lower Snake dams if such a decision were made?
<Rob Masonis> I think we are quickly reaching that point. We are seeing that there is no easy way out. All solutions are costly and will require major change.
<Ted Koch> Congress would have to appropriate lots of new money for this to happen.
<RedFish BlueFish> And what your saying is that Potlatch's concern is mostly a temperature thing, or is it a chemical concern as well?
<Rob Masonis> But keep in mind that the cost of keeping the dams may be greater than removal. In fact, it is likely to be.
<Ted Koch> I'm not sure - I think it's mostly temperature, but I'm sure they release other stuff that isn't so nice for water quality.
<LF> Rob, what makes you say that in the case of the Snake River dams? I know that was determined to be so with the Edwards, but have studies been conducted on the lower snake dams that lead you to make that statement?
<Ted Koch> On Rob's point - current costs for "conserving" fish are astronomical. We've spend $3 billion over the last 30 years, and fish have declined by 95%.
<Ted Koch> I say either do what's necessary to save fish, or stop wasting my taxpayer and ratepayer dollars and pull the plug!
<Rob Masonis> We have some economic analysis on the costs of dam removal, but little on the cost of not removing. We are working to develop those numbers, but available info suggests that the costs of keeping will be very high.
<RedFish BlueFish> Yes, Potlatch Lewiston's chemical release may be a concern that they are not talking about yet. I wish they would enter this discussion.
<Ted Koch> I've spoke with some Potlatch folks, and I sense they're quite concerned. I don't blame them. I wish they would be more open about their needs, too.
<Sadie> I've heard a lot about this issue and agree that the only way to restore Snake River salmon is to take out the four dams. So what can the average person do to help?
<ENN Chat> Rob: what are some of the costs of keeping the dams?
<Ted Koch> As an endangered species biologist with lots of federal experience, I can say that your well-focused, articulate letters to political representatives is, by far, the most effective action you can take.
<Rob Masonis> You need to contact your elected reps and let them know how you feel. Also, reach out to others in the community. is a good place to go to volunteer.
<Rob Masonis> Also, letters to the editor are very effective.
<Sadie> Is there a place on your website for people outside the Northwest to get involved? I saw an ad in the New York Times, is this a national issue now?
<Ted Koch> Make a pest of yourself to politicians and the media!
<RedFish BlueFish> A few years back, Potlatch Lewiston was Idaho's largest polluter according to their Toxic Release Inventory. 1997 and 1994 data are posted at and Also some notes from Reed Burkholder at
<Rob Masonis> Yes, it is a national issue. You can contact American Rivers or Save our Wild Salmon to get involved.
<Sadie> Are there going to be public hearings on taking out the dams anytime soon? I'd like to go and tell the politicians that removing the dams is the only option to save the fish.
<RedFish BlueFish> Thanks for being concerned and becoming an active participant. We all need more people interested and involved with this very important issue.
<Rob Masonis> The public hearings will be held in late January-March at a location near you (if you live in the NW.)
<Sadie> And I can find the hearing dates and locations at your website, If so, thanks!
<Rob Masonis> Yes, or at
<ENN Chat> There is a draft EIS scheduled to be released soon, no?
<Ted Koch> I believe the draft is due out December 17?
<Rob Masonis> There are 3 draft documents to be released in December. The Corps' DEIS, the federal "family's" 4H paper, and a draft Biological Assessment on the hydro system. Written comments are very important.
<Rob Masonis> The hearings will cover all three documents, plus another document called the Framework paper.
<Ted Koch> What's the "framework paper?"
<Rob Masonis> The framework paper will lay out about 7-8 scenarios for the future of the Columbia Basin. From the most conservation oriented to unmitigated market control.
<RedFish BlueFish> In 1997, Potlatch Lewiston reported toxic release into the Snake/Clearwater confluence is equivalent to 4.78 pounds of toxic release per hour. This made Potlatch the third largest polluter in the State of Idaho. This is public information that I fear Potlatch is afraid to bring up. Fear is impeding our discussion, and discussion is what we need to develop a solution that takes care of EVERYONES concerns.
<Rob Masonis> I should add that it is intend to lay out different visions of the future.
<ENN Chat> What agency is sponsoring the 'framework' paper?
<Rob Masonis> The Northwest Power Planning Council is in charge.
<Rob Masonis> Info on any of the federal processes is available at, I believe.
<Ted Koch> That's helpful. Thanks.
<ENN Chat> Do you have a sense of which report carries the most political weight, regionally or nationally?
<Sadie> If the hearings are on all these different documents, can I just go and voice my support for saving salmon by removing dams without being an expert?
<Rob Masonis> There all important, but I think the 4H paper, the DEIS, and the Biological Opinion (May release) are the most important.
<Ted Koch> In my opinion, one of the problems with this issue is the proliferation of "responsible" agencies and organizations. Rob - what do you think about consolidating decision-making authority in the region?
<Rob Masonis> Sadie, you don't need to be an expert to want salmon in the rivers. Speak up!
<Rob Masonis> I think consolidation would be a good thing if done right. It is too fractured now. Gov. Kitzhaber of Oregon has been out front on this.
<RedFish BlueFish> Potlatch's official line is to say that they are concerned with the shipping rates - aligning themselves with the legitimate concern of Wheat Growers. I doubt, however, that nickles and dimes per ton on a product that they sell for $840 per ton is really their chief concern. Potlatch, please speak up and be honest with us. This discussion can go no where if you we are forced to speculate on your real concerns.
<Rob Masonis> I agree. Shipping costs should not be a big deal to Potlatch.
<Ted Koch> Sadie- In fact, I think it's better if you're a regular citizen, and not an "expert."
<Rob Masonis> On the topic of shipping costs, American Rivers has released a report on how to shift from Snake River barge to a rail/truck alternative and keep affordable rates. It is available on our web site.
<RedFish BlueFish> So it seems that the Potlatch concern has to do with their paper mill discharging into what is now the very top of the reservoir formed by Lower Granite Dam. Their pipe extends out with a "diffuser" directly into the confluence of these two large rivers. It seems that the "model" allows them to do what they are doing. Any changes in the reservoir system would change the model and perhaps what they will be allowed to do. Fear of the unknown is understandable.
<Ted Koch> Yes - I find myself sitting here thinking about how, if I were Potlatch, I would view dam removal as a huge question mark in terms of costs to the company.
<Rob Masonis> There probably needs to be some exploration of creative solutions to the Potlatch effluent problem. A closed-loop system would be nice.
<RedFish BlueFish> The American Rivers press release and report is also posted and respectively
<Dick Dahlgren> Ted The cause needs a standard bearer. Who could that be?
<Ted Koch> Dick- What do you mean a "standard bearer?" Do you mean my organization?
<RedFish BlueFish> Closed-Loop System? I have not heard of that. Are their other paper mills using a closed loop system?
<Rob Masonis> I'm not an expert (not even close) on such systems, but I understand that the technology exists..
<Dick Dahlgren>Responding to an earlier post about a politician welling to lead.
<Ted Koch> I think Crapo is the closest thing we have to a regional politician who accepts the scientific realities. However, he's said he's not willing to lead people where he doesn't think they want to go - yet.
<RedFish BlueFish> Potlatch Lewiston's high temperature effluent is also a problem but one that will likely need to be addressed regardless of the breach or no-breach decision. It seems that a cooling tower would easily take care of this solution. The question here is who will pick up the tab.
<Ted Koch> Rob- do you have a sense that there is a regional politician willing to lead on this?
<Rob Masonis> I would add that Gov. Kitzhaber has been open-minded on this issue and has pressed for good science and good economics to inform a decision.
<Ted Koch> I've considered Kitzhaber - he has preceded Crapo in his wise assessments. However, I don't see him as being strongly positioned to influence the debate. Of course, some of these salmon are in Oregon, too.
<Rob Masonis> Also, Gov. Knowles of Alaska has come out lately pressing the need for "safe passage"
<ENN Chat> Isn't this Gov. Kitzhaber's last year in office?
<Ted Koch> I liked Knowles' common-sense characterization of the dam issue!
<RedFish BlueFish> Well a closed loop system is definitely something that should be looked into. The river would certainly appreciate not being the recipient of Idaho's largest source of water pollution.
<Dick Dahlgren> Crapo, IMO, will only lead if (1) The south Idaho irrigators ask him to, or (2) If Potlatch picks up the phone and asks him.
<Rob Masonis> Well the south Idaho irrigators' water is on the line. Dam removal should be increasingly appealing to them.
<Ted Koch> The Farm Bureau is working hard to not let southern Idaho irrigators feel threatened by the continued existence of the dams.
<RedFish BlueFish> Listening to Sen. Crapo early this week at the first Frank Church Lectures, I got the impression that he would like us to come up with a solution that he can stand behind. A reasonable approach for a politician in my opinion.
<Rob Masonis> That may be so, but reality is going to set in pretty quickly with the draft documents.
<Ted Koch> I was part of a public meeting in Lewiston a few weeks ago where many audience members beseeched Crapo's Chief of Staff to provide more leadership on this issue - not to advocate dam breaching, but to facilitate a dialogue.
<RedFish BlueFish> Is the Idaho Farm Bureau afraid to break rank with the Washington Farm Bureau? To date, Idaho Farm Bureau does not seem to be representing Idaho Farmers best interest.
<Rob Masonis> That solution will involve a comprehensive vision. Again, we need to offer alternatives to the economic benefits provided by the dams and ways to minimize economic pain. They exist.
<Rob Masonis> My sense is that the traditional opponents of dam removal have been reluctant to break from the pack. As the economic reality kicks in, I suspect that will change.
<RedFish BlueFish> Perhaps the Idaho Farm Bureau can join this discussion. I have a very difficult time understanding their approach. It seems clear that more Idaho water will be needed if the dams remain. See the '4H' paper - ALOT more water.
<ENN Chat> OK - we have about 5 minutes left. Are there points that still need to be addressed or wrapped up?
<Dick Dahlgren> Maybe Andrus? Another thought. Potlatch must have a list of fixes to solve their discharge problem including costs. How can that list be discovered?
<Rob Masonis> Don't forget about the economic benefits of dam removal. It's not all costs.
<Ted Koch> To close, I would encourage everyone to express their opinions vociferously to elected officials and to the media, especially via the editorial pages.
<Ted Koch> I suggest Rob call Potlatch with some good questions.
<RedFish BlueFish> Our leaders need good ideas that we, the people, develop. This forum is the beginning. Let's keep it up and help it grow. We need more participants from more sides of the story. Tell a friend or adversary. Let's talk to each other with our hats off.
<Rob Masonis> I echo Ted's point, the people need to turn this around
<ENN Chat> Democracy at its best! Okay everyone, thank you for coming today. I will have this transcript posted within half an hour.
<Rob Masonis> Thanks all.
<RedFish BlueFish> Come all ye farmers, aluminum laborers, paper mill workers, wheat shippers, wheat cooperatives etc.
<Dick Dahlgren> I feel that Potlatch is the key to saving the salmon. As two unnamed ╬ewistonites said. All they need to do is make one phone call.
<ENN Chat> Rob and Ted, thanks for hosting. Thanks everyone else for coming.
<RedFish BlueFish> good times!
<Ted Koch> Thanks for having me!
<Dick Dahlgren> Thanks ENN!
<ENN Chat> No problem - make sure to Join us Wednesday evening for the continuation of this debate with Dick Dahlgren and Scott Levy and on Thursday with Dr. Jim Collatz for a chat on NASA's Terra mission.
<ENN Chat> Logging off.

Ted Koch president of Idaho chapter of American Fisheries Society
Rob Masonis of American Rivers
Chat: Snake River Salmon and Dams
Environmental News Network December 7, 1999

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