In Policy Decisions, We Must Hold
by C.L. ’Butch’ Otter
I agree with The Statesman´s assertion that the issue of dam breaching for salmon recovery won´t go away.
Setting aside the questionable science and economic claims, the issue won´t go away because national environmental groups won´t give up their most effective fund-raising tool. What´s more, the issue won´t go away as long as Congress and the courts allow the Endangered Species Act to trump common sense and the broader interests of public policy.
Even former Gov. Cecil Andrus says his environmentalist allies should focus on more realistic options. But breaching has become a mantra for extremists, an article of faith that they dare not abandon.
Despite its cost in terms of lost power generation, transportation, recreation and the other purposes that prompted the dams to be built in the first place, breaching has grown in importance to mythical proportions with outsiders and local zealots who place the utopian legacy of enormous wild salmon runs above the very real needs of people.
Yet The Statesman labels me a polarizing influence for speaking out against breaching. If defending Idaho´s water is polarizing, then that´s what I am.
We must not flush Idaho´s future downstream with the salmon. At risk is the economic engine that helps make Idaho one of America´s most productive agricultural regions, providing work and recreation for hundreds of thousands of our neighbors and sustenance for even more.
Also at risk is Idaho´s quality of life, state sovereignty and the time-honored water law principle of “first in time, first in right.”
The hard work of restoring Idaho´s anadromous fisheries will continue for years to come. Even The Statesman acknowledges the role of such factors as ocean conditions, which suggests that dam breaching may not be the cure-all that some claim.
Indeed, record returns for some runs show that saving fish is possible without drying up Southern Idaho. But there will be no saving Southern Idaho without water.
The lion´s share of Idaho´s $3.9 billion farm and ranch economy would disappear without the water stored in the Snake River system and recharged into the aquifer.
There also would be a sharp dropoff in sales of boats, fishing equipment and related gear when reservoirs are turned into mud holes.
And speaking of fish, what would happen to the non-anadromous species that inhabit those reservoirs and the wildlife in wetlands and game refuges along the Snake if the system were drained?
Property values? Check with a real estate agent about the difference in value between irrigated and dry acreage in southern Idaho. Then figure out how the drop in property tax revenue will affect rural schools and other public services.
Now calculate what your electric bill would look like if more power had to come from the region´s coal- and gas-fired plants. There would be little choice if reservoirs were drawn down for flow augmentation, reducing hydropower generation.
Cities, and urban residents, also would feel the sting. The fast-growing Boise area already needs another pumping plant to keep up with demand from commercial, industrial and residential customers.
In short, protecting our water is every bit as important to survival of the Idaho we know and love as protecting the Constitution is to the survival of the republic.
Public policy should be grounded in principles that reflect what we hold most dear. In Idaho, what we hold most dear is our water.
Just the Facts by Reed Burkholder, The Idaho Statesman, 10/23/3
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