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Commentaries and editorials

Important Columbia, Snake River
Dams Must Stay

by Roger Harnack, Publisher
Cheney Free Press, August 13, 2020

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study keeps intact the status quo.

Ice Harbor Dam on the Lower Snake River holds back Lake Sacajawea, the source of irrigation water for 47,000 acres of farmland. A years-long federal study has found the many costs of removing four Snake River dams are far higher than keeping them in operation. Dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers provide an appropriate balance between the economic needs of Eastern Washington and fish protections.

While we already knew that here in Eastern Washington, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came to that conclusion, too, after completing yet another environmental study this spring. The results of that new study were released last Friday, and they support keeping things essentially the way they are on our rivers.

The dams will stay, for now. Our power generation, flood control, irrigation and commerce will be protected, for now. And there will remain some flexibility in how much water is spilled, based on when salmon and steelhead are running and power-generation needs. All of those issues will be wrapped up in a management plan to be finalized Sept. 30 by the Corps, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies.

(bluefish notes: The EIS recognizes the fact that Lower Snake River dams do NOT provide flood control benefits.)
This is supposed to be the final study on proposed dam breaching, but the issue is likely far from being resolved. Environmental activists west of the Cascades aren't likely to relent. I'm sure they are already looking for new, creative tactics to push their breaching agenda. They already have the ears of Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. And I'm sure they are already preparing another lawsuit, claiming dam breaching will save Puget Sound orcas.

But for now, the Army Corps of Engineers' study will be the governing document guiding how dams are managed for both our economy and fish protection. The study supports the Corps' plan to allow dam operators continued flexibility to spill more water when fish are running and power generation needs are lower.

While the study upholds current practices, it also calls for improving fish passage.

You won't find any objections here, as improved fish passage will diminish the arguments for dam breaching. Besides, salmon and steelhead fisheries also provide an economic boost for many small communities. Tribes and dam operators recognized that and in recent years have been creative in their efforts to aid salmon survival.

We'll need more of that creativity to protect our dams into the future. But for now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study keeps intact the status quo, which, as they said, is based on properly balancing the benefits of dams with fish protections.

Roger Harnack, Publisher
Important Columbia, Snake River Dams Must Stay
Cheney Free Press, August 13, 2020

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