96 New Numbers Won't Change Debate About Snake River Structures, Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman
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New Numbers Won't Change Debate
About Snake River Structures

by Rocky Barker
Idaho Statesman, March 5, 2015

Lower Granite Dam on the Lower Snaker River in Washington State backs up reservoir water for some forty miles up to and beyond the Idaho/Washington border. Jim Waddell is walking the path blazed by McCall biologist Don Chapman.

Waddell, a retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers economist, now says the agency's 1999 calculations - released in final form in 2002 - on the cost and benefits of the four lower Snake River dams in Washington were wrong. Breaching the dams, he says, was the most economically sound route for the Pacific Northwest, not gold-plating the dams with fish-passage devices, new electric-generating turbines, new locks and repeated, regular dredging.

Chapman is a former University of Idaho fisheries professor who went from beloved mentor for a generation of fisheries biologists to become the hydroelectric industry's most respected defender in the 1990s. He said until 2005 that the fish-bypass systems were adequate, until it became clear that the rising temperature of the Columbia River and its tributaries and the effects of global warming on ocean conditions made breaching those dams the best hope for Idaho's wild salmon to survive or flourish.

It's a decade later and little has changed. Cyclical Pacific Ocean conditions - cold currents that increase the availability of food and keep predator numbers low - have allowed salmon and steelhead numbers to balloon since 2000, when the decision was made to forgo breaching despite the scientific consensus of the time. Fish-passage devices at the dams and increased spill of water over the dams ordered by a federal judge to aid migration have helped boost salmon populations, as have a host of other costly actions throughout the watershed.

But the overall scientific argument has changed very little. The science continues to show that breaching the four dams is the most effective way to restore salmon in what is the best, healthiest habitat left in the Pacific Northwest: Central Idaho.

Some biologists do believe recovery of the endangered stocks of salmon can happen simply with more water spilled over the dams instead of run through the turbines. But they remain a minority. An even smaller group thinks the status quo is enough, and they are backed, largely, by the dams' barging, hydroelectric, irrigation and industrial interests.

The truth is, neither the science nor the Corps' economic numbers in 2000 were significant to the debate. Instead, politics ruled the day.

The Clinton administration decided it could concentrate on forcing ranchers and farmers to restore water to salmon spawning tributaries throughout the region and defer breaching. Because both Washington and Oregon were battleground states in the presidential race between then-Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush, a no-breaching decision peeled off independent agriculture votes from Republicans. Gore lost anyway.

Now it's 15 years later and the Port of Lewiston and other lower Snake River ports have dramatically lost business. Trains are taking cargo overland to the Puget Sound instead of barges down the Columbia to Portland. The nation has spent billions on the dams that could have been spent otherwise.

Science and economics have never been the driving force in this debate. Our cultural ties to the federal dams and to the power, barging, irrigation and even recreation they bring overrode the region's fiscal conservatism and anti-government sentiment.

This will continue until conditions in the Pacific Ocean cycle again and salmon numbers plunge again. Then maybe we will listen to what Chapman and Waddell are trying to tell us.

John Aiton - Top Commenter - Spode Daddy at Reality Star
To Rocky Barker, March 5 at 5:55am
Aren't the dams-Green Energy - saving the planet from untold misery?
Anthony Jones - Top Commenter - Lynn, Utah
March 5 at 6:55am
These four dams cause roughly the same environmental damage as did the Exon Valdez, every year, and have done so every year they have been in existence. Calling that "green energy" seems like a stretch to me.

Then there is fact that what little energy these dams produce is largely in the spring when it is not needed. Green energy or not, no one needs these dam's energy in the spring when the entire region is awash in surplus hydro power.

John Aiton - Top Commenter - Spode Daddy at Reality Star
To Anthony Jones, March 5 at 7:40am
But CO2 is the most evil concoction unleashed upon the world.

DamNation, DamNationFilm.com
March 5 at 12:24pm
The hydro industry is spreading the false myth of green or "clean" hydro. Dams and reservoirs are known "significant" emittors of methane gas (CH4). . . the "C" is for carbon. Methane is 35 times more potent that CO2 at trapping heating in our atmosphere and a major cause of climate change. They also eliminate/submerge important forests/grasslands and carbon sinks. Please see:


John Aiton - Top Commenter - Spode Daddy at Reality Star
March 5 at 7:41am
Another story on Green Energy www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/02/oregon_signature_solar_project.html.

Jennifer Eisele - Owyhee, Nevada
March 5 at 9:57pm
True. The dams cannot be mitigated. Have you heard about the ridonkulous plan Shoshone Paiute Tribes has to truck Salmon around the Hells Canyon Complex and put them in the Owyhee River in Nevada? First of all - we don't have any water, but primarily there is no where for them to go with limited tributary flow, free range laws, and mining discharge in between the dams. Hardly anyone fishes in this river because it' so unaccessable. Frankly - I wouldn't eat anything caught in there anymore. NO PROGRESS! These silly plans are becoming embarrassing.

Robert Dawson - Top Commenter - Grossmont College
March 5 at 5:16pm
What is the annual cost, in millions, of ending the at sea commercial fishing of Columbia River Basin Salmon and Steelhead? Paying off commercial fisherman by eminent domain may be the least expensive alternative.

Matt Chaney - Retired
"Sockeye, steelhead, and spring Chinook are not caught in coastal fisheries in numbers high enough to estimate what the impacts are. They all rear in the central North Pacific and are only vulnerable to coastal fisheries briefly during their spawning migration, and then only when that coincides with open periods in coastal fisheries. They used to be caught in significant numbers in the high-seas driftnet fishery. But that was banned in 1993 with the signing of the Convention for the Conservation of Anadromous Stocks in the North Pacific Ocean. The Convention banned salmon fishing in international waters north of 33 degrees N latitude (About the latitude of San Diego). The US, Canada, Russia, Japan, and Korea are all members of the convention (www.npafc.org), so Taiwan is the only country that ever did fish for salmon in the N Pacific that has not signed the convention. The convention members control the freshwater habitat for all anadromous salmon production and are pretty serious about enforcement of the ban in international waters, so poaching is no longer much of an issue."

The above is from Robert Kope, with a bit more including some harvest information about Fall Chinook at http://www.bluefish.org/ofishery.htm.

Rocky Barker
New Numbers Won't Change Debate About Snake River Structures
Idaho Statesman, March 5, 2015

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