The Snake River Basin is a Model of
by Terry Flores
The Oregonian's recent article on the Snake River Basin essentially reprinted advocacy groups' campaign materials. Full reporting would have described the tremendous effort already underway to protect and sustain the fish and wildlife species of the Snake Basin, while maintaining the clean power and many other values the Snake River provides.
The real story of sustainability is how communities, states and tribes are together supporting the enormous environmental and economic benefits this river basin, and the neighboring Columbia River Basin, provide to the Northwest. In many ways, the rivers themselves sustain this region.
Currently, over $100 million dollars a year is going to state and tribal governments largely for habitat protection and restoration projects in both the Snake and Columbia basins. It adds up to a billion-dollar investment over 10 years in fish and wildlife - the largest restoration program for listed species anywhere in the country. These efforts are creating strong relationships and providing jobs in areas where they are desperately needed.
Systematic (and expensive) improvements to the federal dams to protect salmon also have been ongoing throughout this decade - every one of the eight federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers now has fish "slides" or other means to ease passage of young salmon as they migrate downstream to the ocean. As recent examples, a $51 million "spill wall" was installed last year at The Dalles dam guiding and protecting fish, and recent survival data for fish using the slide at Little Goose, the dam pictured, is upwards of 99 percent.
It is important to point out that this massive undertaking is being paid for by Northwest families and businesses through their electric bills with 15 to 20 percent of a typical bill going to fish and wildlife programs. Fortunately, these efforts are bearing fruit - salmon runs have been significantly higher overall this decade with records set in recent years for some species including the Snake River's sockeye, fall Chinook and both wild and hatchery steelhead. Oregon last year opened its first fishing season on Snake River fall Chinook in decades.
(bluefish: will update this note if Terry Flores elucidates on her claim that "records (have been) set in recent years for some spacies including the Snake River's Sockeye. For actual data see Count the Fish by General Accounting Office and the Fish Passage Center)
And let's not forget that these basins encompass a hydro system that provides the cleanest, most reliable and affordable source of energy to light and warm Northwest homes and businesses, and keeps our carbon footprint half that of the rest of the country. The four Snake River projects alone keep 5.4 million tons of CO2 out of the air, according to independent analysis by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
(bluefish: has repeatedly contacted NW Riverpartners that the NW Power and Conservation Council reported this number as 4.4 million tons -- a fact that Terry Flores correctly wrote at least once, see The Administration Joins the Majority on Salmon Plan)
Furthermore, the federal hydro system provides added benefits because it can be operated to "fill in" for wind generation when the wind isn't blowing. Without the hydro system, more natural gas plants would be needed in this role, increasing carbon emissions.
(bluefish: will update this note if Terry Flores elucidates on "records set in recent years for some spacies including the Snake River's Sockeye. For actual data see Count the Fish by General Accounting Office and the Fish Passage Center)
From an economic perspective, the Columbia and Snake River systems include a 465-mile river highway that moves $19 billion a year in agriculture and other products downstream through Northwest ports to overseas markets. This waterborne commerce supports thousands of jobs, and helps keep our fragile economy afloat in tough economic times, while also keeping 700,000 trucks off our highways, further reducing carbon emissions.
The Columbia and Snake basins deserve to be at the top of a list as an example of how salmon, the economy, and our quality of life can co-exist and prosper in sustainable ways.
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