the film
Commentaries and editorials

Dams are Not a Major Factor
in Declining Salmon Stocks

from U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID)
Letter to Bluefish, May 17, 2001

Dear Scott:

Thank you for contacting me regarding dam breaching. I appreciate hearing from you.

One thing that people on all sides of the breaching issue can agree upon is that the salmon must be restored. Salmon are an important aspect of many Idaho communities, including Salmon, Stanley, Riggins and others which rely upon the outdoor recreation industry. Salmon fishing can be an important sector of this industry, and the lack of salmon can significantly reduce tourist revenue -- and, consequently, the income of the people and businesses dependent upon the tourist industry.

During this debate, we must consider the wide-ranging impacts of our decisions on the entire Northwest. We must not sacrifice the citizens of Washington or Oregon to benefit Idaho. What we must do is find a realisitic, creative solution to restore the salmon with as little amount of negative impact on all citizens of the Northwest.

As we move forward to find a solution, we must keep in miind that there is still much debate over why the salmon population has declined. There is still no conclusive evidence about why salmon are disappearing, and it is still uncertain how to restore them. In fact, recent scientific analysis by both ocean biologists and even some freshwater biologists have indicated that dams are not a major factor in declining salmon stocks. As you may know, the salmon debate has relied almost exclusively on freshwater scientific analysis. More recently, though, ocean science has contributed greatly to our understanding of what is happening to salmon. Ocean scientists have produced a lot of information pointing to factors other than dams which adversely affect salmon populations. For example, research by Dr. David Welch, the Canadian Government Fisheries oceanographer, supports the belief of marine biologists that changes in ocean conditions are masking the overall improvements in the Columbia River Hydro System resulting from mitigation.

Indeed, even freshwater biologists have acknowledged recently that upper Columbia River stocks are in more danger that Snake River salmon stock. Moreover, Canadian salmon stocks in rivers where no dams exist are also in serious trouble. It is becoming increasingly clear that the temperature of the ocean is the most significant deteminant of salmon survival today. Since the turn of the 19th century, salmon numbers have fluctuated rather dramatically, suggesting larger forces such as ocean temperatures are at work. According to research by a state climatologists, the four major climatic periods of this century began with a wet and cool period from 1896 to 1914, followed by a dry and warm period from 1915 to 1946. Another wet and cool period came from 1947 to 1975, followed by a dry and warm period that ran from 1976 to 1994. The latest surge in numbers of salmon reported confrom with this pattern. Yet, these numbers have not deterred the radical environmental community from insisting the dams are forcing salmon into extinction, and casting aside any alternative solutions.

Eliminating the four lower Snake River dams is not the answer. These dams provide irrigation, navigation, and support for the lowest electricity rates in the country. To say they do not matter, are a negligible part of our economy, or can be made up by other means is both short-sighted and uninformed.

The dams clearly provided navigational assistance by facilitating barge transportation. Most of the shipping is for export, contributing to the reduction of America's trade deficit. As China and other developing countries import more and more grain, the Pacific Northwest is expected to become a major supplier through the Port of Portland.

Furthermore, dams such as Ice Harbor Dam are expressly authorized to provide irrigation benefits to the region. The Ice Harbor pool irrigates approximately 35,000 acres of farmland that produce significant crops, including apples, grapes for wine, and other very capital-intensive crops. It has been estimated that the cost of losing these irrigation benefits equals $10 million annually - certainly no small amount of money for the region.

The most noticeable and beneficial product of these dams is the affordable, environmentally clean electricity they produce. The citizens of the Norhtwest enjoy the lowest electricity rates in the nation, and there is no cheaper, cleaner, or better method of producing electricity than hydropower. The turbiines located at the four dams can generate 3000 megawatts (MW) of valuable peaking power. The turbines currently generate an average of 1,200 MW of that capacity. That translates into 10.5 million megawatt hours of energy. The power from these projects could supply all the annual residential electricity needs of Montana and Idaho and still have some left over. It would cost between $250 to $300 million to replace this power. It is becoming increasingly clear that the loss of the Lower Snake river dams, in terms of generating capacity, would threaten the region's ability to handle future demand for power.

Eliminating the dams on which we rely to provide reliable, low-cost energy, irrigation and transportation is not the right answer to salmon recovery. It would devastate communities and families which rely on the river for their livelihood in order to boost the economy of other communities. Two wrongs do not make a right -- in the sandbox or in public policy. Fish do pass by the dams, both going upstream and downstream. Are there problems? Yes, but there are also solutions, and we need to pursue those solutions.

Those who advocate breaching the dams to save salmon are as radical as those who do not want to work to restore salmon. That is why we must find methods which restore salmon while ensuring the economic viability of the Northwest. A spread-the-risk method, leaving some of the smolts in river and barging the rest, will help us determine which method is better and should be our plan of choice until more data are compiled. Rest assured, as long as I have a say in public policy, I will work to ensure the long term survival of salmon in the Northwest while balancing the economy and standard of living we all enjoy.

Thank you again for contacting me. Please feel free to do so in the future if there is anything further I can do for you.


United States Senator


Related Pages:
Bluefish Responds

Slade Gorton - United States Senator Slade Gorton (R-WA)
Columbia-Snake River Hydro System Update
Letter to Bluefish - May 17, 2001

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