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Commentaries and editorials

Leave Our Water Alone

by Editorial by Mark Steel (publisher)
Caribou County (Idaho) Sun, July 6, 2000

Announcement and press reports last week that the American Falls Reservoir is expected to be drained down to 6 percent of capacity as part of a push to help endangered salmon get past Snake and Columbia River dams should not be a surprise to those who have followed the issue.

The flush -- or flow augmentation -- is one tool for trying to help the salmon and steelhead smolts get through the slack water system quicker. It is not a good alternative, but one the federal government and its agencies will use.

The best single solution to most independent viewers and scientists studying the problem with wild strains of salmon and steelhead in the upper stretches of the river system in Idaho is to breach or bypass the four Lower Snake River dams. That speeds up the flow of the river because it becomes a river again, thus moving the smolts along faster and producing better survival rates than with the slack water pools behind the four dams.

But Idaho's top Republican leaders staked out the notion early on that we will not breach the dams and no Idaho water would be used to augment flows. They wanted their cake and got it, too.

What some eastern Idaho farmers and business leaders have suspected and feared is now coming to pass. Idaho's stored water in the Upper Snake River will be drawn down to flush the fish. We lose. The dam supporters win. The fish still lose.

There is not and will not be a win-win solution and the political types and special interest groups like the utilities and the big companies they serve ought to be honest enough to quit talking about win-win.

We can breach the dams and northern Idaho business suffers in the short term from loss of subsidized barging on the river and will have to go to slightly more expensive rail. Utility users will see slightly higher power rates. About II farmers in Washington will have to have their irrigation intake systems lowered into the bed of the Snake River. Recreation may increase the economy in the long run in that area, but I wouldn't bet a lot on that. And qualified and independent biologists and scientists believe the wild salmon and steelhead will increase in numbers because of less mortality and better return spawning instincts from the faster water in that stretch.

That's the choice I prefer because I'm selfish. The dams caused the problem (at least most of it), let the dams be part of the fix and leave our water alone.

Or, we can flush with Eastern Idaho water. That means irrigators in this part of the state are out of luck. More small towns will continue to dry up and die. Implement dealers, irrigation companies, hardware stores, grocers, and the like can lose customers in a market where they have lost too many already. Surviving property owners can pay more in taxes for fewer kids in school, fewer patients in their county hospitals, and carry more of the tax burden in general. Recreationists can travel somewhere else to recreate, I guess. Now you start to get the picture.

But the top Republican officials will still continue to say no to breaching and no to flushing. They can demand win-win solutions, when there may not be any. Maybe it is time they get a reality check, see there is going to be a division in the state whether they like it or not, and then cut the crap and start making realistic, hardline decisions instead of stonewalling and weeping at the wailing wall. In the meantime, we can just sit by and watch our water back up behind four dams in order to keep someone else's cow from being gored.

Editorial by Mark Steel, Publisher
Leave Our Water Alone
Caribou County (Idaho) Sun, July 6, 2000

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