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Commentaries and editorials

Bill Keeps Current
Salmon Protection in Place

by Terry Flores
Register-Guard, July 20, 2017

A tugboat pushes wheat barges up the Columbia River with wind turbines above the river bank. The Register-Guard editorial board managed to miss the point entirely in its recent over-reaction to new bipartisan federal legislation affecting Oregon and the Northwest ("A Damming Proposal," July 13, 2017).

The point of the bill, introduced in June by Northwest Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Greg Walden, R-Ore., is to keep in place current measures -- vetted by the Obama administration's top scientists -- that protect salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers, until a court-ordered review of federal hydro­system operations is complete.

Far from "thumbing congressional noses at the judiciary," the bill actually re-sequences events that the court itself has already ordered: First, a full National Environmental Policy Act review of the impacts of the hydrosystem on the region's iconic fish, by September 2022.

Then, adoption of a new salmon plan based on the public, transparent NEPA process and the science it yields.

We urge the editorial board, rather than taking sides with Snake Dam removal advocates, to examine the issues embodied in this legislation in greater depth. Among The Register-Guard's readers are many of the Northwest families and businesses who spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year for salmon restoration measures, through charges on their electric bills. It would serve them, and all of us, far better if we could just take a breath.

With this proposal, our elected officials are simply asserting their rightful, central role regarding the eight large federal dams that supply nearly 60 percent of the energy produced in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana -- and 90 percent of the renewable energy produced in those states.

Federal law already requires an act of Congress to remove or make major changes to these dams. That's because, unlike smaller and private hydro projects here and outside the Northwest, they were authorized by Congress to provide multiple, specific and irreplaceable benefits to the entire region: Clean, reliable energy generation; irrigation for agriculture; flood control for farms and communities; navigable routes for river commerce and Northwest exports; and reservoirs for recreation.

Our Congressional representatives are inserting themselves now for a simple reason: In the Northwest, where affordable, abundant hydropower is critical to our economy and our way of life, the court is straying into Congress' arena.

Already this court has opened the door to potentially spilling tremendous amounts of additional water over the dams, around the clock, in a costly and wasteful experiment that may not help and could possibly hurt fish. Left unremedied, these decisions could raise power prices dramatically and put the stability and reliability of the grid at risk.

Further, it's just not fair to compare the eight federal dams -- including four on the Snake River that are the key targets of anti-dam activists -- to other dams on the Rogue and Klamath rivers.

The four Snake River dams together produce enough energy to power a city the size of Seattle every year, and can provide more than twice that amount for short periods during power emergencies.

Of course, the dams affect salmon traveling to and from the Pacific Ocean. That's why Northwest ratepayers have invested so much to improve fish passage at the dams and restore salmon habitat.

Yet young salmon spend less than a month in the hydropower system, versus three to four years in the ocean. There is widespread scientific agreement that ocean conditions, not the dams, are the overwhelming factor driving adult salmon survival -- a fact that anti-dam advocates ignore and of which the editorial board seems unaware.

Some of these federal dams have been in place for 80 years. Salmon returns have cycled up and down for far longer. As recently as 2015, we witnessed record returns for certain stocks -- the highest since the dams were built. This year, however, returns have been poor. Why? Primarily, due to ocean conditions. Some years, they're good for salmon; some years, they're not.

It's wrong to hold the dams accountable for the impact of these natural cycles.

Members of the Northwest congressional delegation care deeply about the people, fish and economy of this region. They deserve our thanks, not derision. On this complicated and often-heated issue, they are showing vital leadership with a common-sense solution supported on both sides of the aisle.

Related Pages:
Dam Advocate Flores Lays Out Case Against Breaching Snake Structures by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 11/28/16
Snake River Dams Vital to Renewable Energy Future by Terry Flores, Spokesman-Review, 5/28/16
Why Pro-salmon Ruling on Dams Could Be Bad for the Environment by Terry Flores, The Oregonian, 5/16/16
Additional Hydropower Could Cut Carbon Emissions by Ciocci & Flores, The Oregonian, 5/22/15
Northwest Must Preserve Salmon and Hydro Dams, by Terry Flores, The Oregonian, 10/14/14
Environmentalists Refuse to See Success of Salmon Efforts, by Terry Flores, Capital Press, 6/26/14
Support Balance Between Fish and Economy, by Terry Flores, The News Tribune, 10/3/13
Statesman's Pro-Breaching Stand is Unrealistic, by Terry Flores, Idaho Statesman, 12/11/12
Salmon Protection Plan isn't Broken, So Stop Trying so Hard to 'Fix' It, by Terry Flores, Idaho Statesman, 8/28/11
Federal Salmon Plan Stands Strong, by Terry Flores, Sustainable Business Oregon, 12/12/11
Arguments for Removal of Snake River Dams are Laughable, Absurd, by Terry Flores, Seattle Times, 8/23/11
Judge's Ruling on NW Salmon Plan Asks for Clarity, by Terry Flores, Seattle Times, 8/19/11
The Salmon Plan Gets a Solid "Yes, No, Maybe" from the Judge, by Terry Flores, The Oregonian, 8/13/11
Snake River is a Model of Environmental & Economic Sustainability, by Terry Flores, The Oregonian, 1/27/11
If Only It Were that Simple, by Terry Flores, Idaho Statesman, 1/2/11
Science and Salmon Returns, by Terry Flores, The Oregonian, 8/19/10
Environmental Issues: Salmon Runs, by Terry Flores, Spokesman Review, 1/27/10
The Real Costs of Removing Four Lower Snake River Dams, by Terry Flores, The Oregonian, 3/14/10
The Administration Joins the Majority on Salmon Plan, by Terry Flores, Idaho Statesman, 9/20/9
The Biggest Threats to Salmon Aren't Dams, by Terry Flores, Idaho Statesman, 2/21/9
Statesman Recycles Breaching Argument, by Terry Flores, Idaho Statesman, 7/30/8
The Salmon Problem, by Terry Flores, New York Times, 4/22/8
Hydro is Not the Only H in FisH Recovery, by Terry Flores, NW Public Power Bulletin, 6/1/7
Dam Removal Not the Answer, by Terry Flores,nSpokesman Review, 5/23/7
Removing LSR Dams a Colossal Breach of Logic, by Terry Flores, The Register-Guard, 12/11/6

You can read the full text of the legislation here


No structural modification, action, study, or engineering plan that restricts electrical generation at any Federal Columbia Power System hydroelectric dam, or that limits navigation on the Snake River in the State of Washington, Oregon, or Idaho, shall proceed unless such proposal is specifically and expressly authorized by an Act of Congress enacted after the date of submission to Congress of a proposal for such modification, action, study, or engineering plan, respectively.

Terry Flores is executive director of Portland-based Northwest RiverPartners, an alliance of farmers, utilities, ports and businesses.
Bill Keeps Current Salmon Protection in Place
Register-Guard, July 20, 2017

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