the film
Commentaries and editorials

Study Fish Recovery,
Not Just Dam Removal

by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers
Spokesman Review, May 19, 2007

The use of the Columbia and Snake Rivers has long been a contentious issue in the Pacific Northwest, one that produces heated arguments from all sides. We can all agree on the importance of preserving endangered salmon, yet I disagree with The Spokesman-Review editorial board ("Lawmakers right to seek data on salmon recovery," May 16) that the legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, is the best course of action in the process to restore and protect endangered salmon runs. This bill, the Salmon Economic Analysis and Planning Act, unfairly targets the four lower Snake River dams and fails to take a comprehensive look at all factors impacting endangered salmon.

The editorial board raises a valid concern that billions of dollars have been spent on salmon recovery without yielding results. For example, the 2005 mandated summer spill cost nearly $75 million in electricity generation while saving only 20 to 200 fish. That means that Northwest ratepayers paid as much as $3 million per fish. I introduced the Endangered Species Transparency Act so consumers would know exactly what they are paying in terms of endangered salmon recovery and then decide whether these expenditures are being made effectively. And it is appropriate for Congress to examine which recovery efforts work and which ones do not.

The Salmon Economic Analysis and Planning Act is simply one more example of the four lower Snake River dams being targeted for removal. This is the fourth time that McDermott has introduced legislation calling for the study of the removal of the Snake River dams. The previous versions of this legislation even went beyond just calling for a study and actually authorized the secretary of the Army to remove the dams if found necessary. The text of this year's legislation may have changed slightly, but I believe the intent is the same.

I completely agree that "Congress should anchor this debate with the facts." Unfortunately, this bill is very selective in the type of facts it wishes to collect. If the goal of this bill is truly to gather scientific data on how to best preserve and restore salmon and steelhead species, then more should be studied than just the Snake River dams, especially since only four of the 13 listed salmon species even pass through the Snake River.

The situation facing salmon in the Northwest is complex and requires a cohesive regionwide recovery effort. Studies should include the impacts of not only the hydroelectric dams but also harvest activities, hatchery operations, predators and ocean conditions. If we are truly concerned about salmon survival, all of these factors contributing to their survival should be studied.

The editorial board is right in stating that if a federal judge takes charge of this matter that changes could be more economically devastating. The decision regarding the use of our rivers is best made by the local community and not by a judge in Portland. Judge Redden is quickly becoming a rivermaster who is dictating how we use our river systems. It is time for all parties to work towards a collaborative approach to resolve issues surrounding the biological opinion and restore balanced use to the Columbia and Snake Rivers. It is my hope that we can come to a reasonable solution that helps salmon, keeps our energy rates low and does not call for tearing down our dams.

The Snake River dams have long been targeted, mostly by groups and individuals from outside of our region. Yet those of us who live here have witnessed how the dams have helped tame a wild river; transformed a barren, desolate area into rich farmland; created inland ports to allow goods to reach markets; and continue to provide us with a clean, renewable source of energy.

The Salmon Economic Analysis and Planning Act claims to be in the interest of protecting salmon, but simply calls for another round of studies on removing our hydroelectric dams.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, U.S. Representative
Study Fish Recovery, Not Just Dam Removal
Spokesman Review, May 19, 2007

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