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Breaching Dams Not the Way to Save Salmon Runs

by Ian Lamont, Publisher
Tri-City Herald, August 30, 1998

Breaching the four lower Snake River dams as the way to save salmon is nonsense.

I'll say it again: It's nonsense. And it will remain nonsense unless science and facts other than those now available prove it will work. There are important questions that have not been answered when such an extreme option is being discussed. They are:

Why are salmon runs also declining on rivers without dams?

What is the answer to the explosive increase of predators at the mouth of the Columbia - like terns, seals and mackerel - which are responsible for the consumption of millions of smolt?

Why is the Hanford Reach a wonderful salmon spawning ground, despite the salmon having to go through dams?

Has anybody determined what the impact on Hanford Reach salmon will be when 1.5 million cubic-feet of sedimentation comes rushing down and settles in the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers and in the McNary Pool?

Has anyone told the people of Idaho that their water will still be needed - at least a million cubic-feet - to augment and support the natural river flow desired in the Snake River? What is the economic impact to Idaho?

Has anyone besides Dr. Darryll Olsen, a regional planner and resource economist, looked at what natural river flows and flow augmentation means in the Snake River?

According to Olsen, a natural river flow will not be possible - based on the amount of water projected to be forced down the Snake - during certain months and in low-water years.

Removing the four lower Snake River dams has become a national issue. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt seems to be on a mission to take out all the dams he can. There needs to be more justification in taking out a dam than just getting national attention and spending a lot of money.

More and more people believe the $16 million Lower Snake River Juvenile Salmon Feasibility Study being done by the Army Corps of Engineers for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will recommend breaching the dams. That means running the river around them. And that means hurting irrigators, eliminating barge and other traffic and hurting the region's power capabilities.

Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), NMFS has ultimate authority for fish recovery and directing river operations to save salmon. Despite the lack of science and a preponderance of data showing a multibillion-dollar impact to the region, dam breaching is moving forward because NMFS will use the ESA to say biological impact on salmon runs takes precedence over everything else, such as the economy, recreation and transportation.

Those of us who work and live in this region want salmon recovery too, but we don't believe there is sufficient scientific evidence to prove tearing down the dams is the solution. The negative effect this would have on the region is too great to move ahead with no guarantee it would help save the salmon.

In addition, NMFS seems determined to undermine anyone who might stand in its way. Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., has rallied against breaching the dams. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., have said breaching the dams won't happen because it will never get congres sional authorization. But this has not stopped NMFS or the corps from continuing their pursuit.

There is a serious difference of opinion between regional and federal policy makers. People are so infuriated and frustrated about this issue that Hastings asked the House Resources Committee to let Northwest residents respond to how NMFS has implemented the Endangered Species Act, and as Olsen puts it: "is undermining state and Western water law." Hastings is one of the political leaders who pushed for the meeting scheduled at Columbia Basin College at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

This hearing may be the most important day in this whole process. It will include expert testimony and allow an opportunity for members of the general public to make their voices heard. It is important the turnout be strong. It is imperative that those who are not familiar with this community and region leave here knowing we will not stand idly by and have some illogical, bureaucratic decision made that will endanger our economy. Especially since, under the best of circumstances, it would take 15 to 20 years to judge whether the decision was worth it.

State, federal and local government is the answer to saving the salmon. Despite the poor start of the Three Sovereigns process, regional solutions based on the entire salmon ecosystem are the only way to impact future salmon runs materially. We as a region share the blame for allowing NMFS to have come so far. Regional leadership on salmon issues has not been sufficiently focused.

The Northwest Power Planning Council is trying to change that, but with three new members and a poor track record on fish mitigation, they have a lot to prove. All the rhetoric and studies on breaching dams is a poor way to go about trying to bring back the salmon.

Ian Lamont, Publisher
Breaching Dams Not the Way to Save Salmon Runs
Tri-City Herald, August 30, 1998

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