Hastings says Dam Removal
by John Trumbo
U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings grilled the chief of a national science agency Wednesday, claiming that politics, not science, was behind the Obama administration's listing removal of four Snake River dams as a last resort for saving endangered salmon species in the Columbia River system.
Hastings repeatedly asked Jane Lubchenco, chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whether her agency was "legally required" to include the dam breaching option on the alternatives list or if it was based on science during a hearing with the House Natural Resources Committee.
The Bush administration was against breaching the dams, and removed it from the options to be considered in the 2008 biological opinion. The so-called "BiOp" is the plan that guides what steps will be taken to restore and preserve four endangered species of anadromous fish that spawn in the river system.
Lubchenco initially answered that dam breaching was included only as one of the potential tools to be used and only as a last resort. But she later agreed with Hastings that it also was legally necessary.
"Then it seems to me all the dams on the Columbia River system are in jeopardy," said Hastings.
"I think that this (including dam breaching as an option) was done to appease (U.S. District Judge) James Redden and environmental groups," Hastings said.
Redden, who is with the court in Portland, has ordered federal agencies to strive for better fish survival numbers in the BiOp. His rulings led to plans for habitat improvements that will cost the Bonneville Power Administration about $100 million a year under terms outlined in last year's so-called fish accords.
Steve Wright, BPA's chief executive, told the Herald's editorial board in a phone interview Wednesday that putting dam breaching "back on the table" does not mean the four dams are destined for destruction.
Wright said there would have to be "significant decline triggers" in the salmon population before any steps could be taken toward breaching. And he noted that Redden cannot by himself order the dams removed or demand that federal money be spent for that purpose.
Wright said he believes the 2008 BiOp has addressed "all things that concerned Redden the most, particularly the habitat issues."
He added: "The habitat arena has a lot of potential (for benefiting endangered fish). Scientific literature tells us it will work and our instinct tells us it will work."
Redden still is considering how he will respond to the Obama administration's announcement.
Wright said Wednesday that it would take years of study to get to the point of even asking Congress for authorization for dam removal.
He said studies also would be required to determine the impacts of dam breaching. They would have to consider, among other things, how to replace the lost hydroelectric power generation and the effects of sediment that's piled behind the dams being released downstream.
Additionally, there would have to be consideration of an estimated 3 million tons of carbon dioxide per year coming from other power generation sources that would be needed to make up for the loss of hydropower, Wright said. Carbon dioxide gas is considered the primary cause of greenhouse climate warming.
Darryll Olsen, spokesman for the Columbia Snake River Irrigators Association, said the Obama administration's dam breaching announcement isn't all bad news.
"The view from the irrigators is that this is a good response because it effectively buries the drawdown reservoir option for John Day Dam pool and the Snake River dams," Olsen said. Drawdowns are used to cool the river for returning fish and to help speed young fish toward the ocean.
In effect, having a trigger that relies on a low fish count means the dams are safe to remain in normal operation, Olsen explained.
"There would have to be tremendous drops in the runs before you would even do the study for a drawdown or breaching. It's good for irrigation, power, recreation and navigation," he said.
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