the film
Commentaries and editorials

Fishy Dams: Removing Hydro Plants
Benefits Salmon, Taxpayers

by Editors
Detroit Free Press, September 25, 2000

Out in the Northwest, they get all teary-eyed about the demise of the great salmon runs in the Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia River. A once water-thronging fishery has dwindled to barely countable numbers trying to negotiate four hydroelectric dams. At least one salmon species has already disappeared, and the fish huggers have countdown-to-extinction dates on most of the rest.

Michiganders may want to shed a tear, too. But better first to thump a fist down in righteous anger.

For starters, everyone here helped pay for the federally funded dams, so folks in places like Oregon and Washington and Idaho could have some of the nation's cheapest electricity. They pay about a third of what people in Michigan do.

Then, because the dams ruined the salmon runs, everyone who pays federal taxes now has a stake in fish salvation. That starts with restocking programs and includes giant vacuums that suck migrating fish out of the river into trucks, which then carry them around the dams. And the fish keep declining anyway.

The cheapest way out for taxpayers is simply to take the Snake River hydro plants out of service and breach the earthen-works that form the dams. Let the salmon run and replenish themselves, and the meter stops running on the costs of trying to imitate what the river used to do.

These aren't even all the dams. Northwest householders will still have mighty cheap electric bills. Salmon will still have to cope with four Columbia River dams, but they seem to have the strength for that. It's dams 4 through 8 in the Snake River that do them in.

Just giving up on the fish isn't an option, either, not with Native American lawsuits pending that seek huge damages because the federal government promised the dams wouldn't destroy their fishing grounds. Guess who'll get stuck with that bill?

Someone has to stop this nonsense, and that someone is the part of Congress that represents the rest of the country. Congress has to decide what to spend anyway, whether it's $200 million-plus a year from here to eternity on fish vacuums or $1 billion once to let the salmon run.

From Michigan, which usually ranks in the bottom fifth of states for return on federal tax dollars, it sure looks like time to make a quick end of the whole dam mess.

Ban on Dam Removal Studies Dropped from Bill
Detroit Free Press, September 25, 2000

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