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Commentaries and editorials

Resolution would Position Idaho Against
Removal of Snake, Columbia Dams

by Ryan Blake
Cherokee Tribune & Ledger News, February 4, 2020

"The Columbia-Snake River system is integral to the economy of the Pacific Northwest."

Graphic: Survival of juvenile salmon from the Washington/Idaho border to beyond Bonneville Dam has averaged around 50% survival.  In other words, half of them die while migrating through the federal hydropower system. BOISE -- Lawmakers could formally oppose attempts to breach dams on the Columbia-Snake River System.

The Senate Agriculture Committee introduced a resolution Tuesday intended to recognize the economic benefits of the Columbia and Snake rivers and the Port of Lewiston. Idaho farmers notably use the river system to barge their products to the Pacific Ocean and international markets.

A series of dams create the water conditions that allow for barges to travel on the rivers. But conservationists say the dams are largely responsible for declining salmon and steelhead populations, and the question of whether to breach the dams has been the focus of a decades-long debate in the region.

Much of the resolution justifies the existence of the dams, downplays their impact on fish, and positions Idaho in opposition to removal.

Rep. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, said about 45,000 farm families in Idaho rely on the system to get crops to market, and nearly 10% of the country's wheat exports pass through the dams each year. He said they also allow the Bonneville Power Administration to provide low-cost, emission-free power to rural areas of the state.

"The Columbia-Snake River system is integral to the economy of the Pacific Northwest," he said.

The resolution asserts Idaho has "sovereign control over all water resources within the state" and "agricultural and industrial application of water have a legal priority in the state." It also questions the scope of the negative impact on fish populations, and says recovery efforts should be "based on sound science." Efforts to remove the dams would cause lost economic opportunity, increase electrical rates, and threaten the quality of life for Idaho citizens, the resolution says.

A shift to other sources of renewable energy, financial struggles at BPA, and rapidly declining salmon and steelhead populations have amplified calls for dam removal.

Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson expressed interest in considering the idea last year and questioned how much Idaho benefits from the dam system, but stopped short of calling for removal. Regional Republicans have opposed the idea for years.

Gov. Brad Little has taken a neutral stance on removal and formed a workgroup last year to develop policy recommendations aimed at improving fish populations.

The resolution now goes to the full Senate.

Related Pages:
Fish Scales Break Even in 2020 by Eric Barker, Bonner County Daily Bee, 2/4/20

Ryan Blake
Resolution would Position Idaho Against Removal of Snake, Columbia Dams
Cherokee Tribune & Ledger News, February 4, 2020

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