the film
Commentaries and editorials

Obama Did Little for
Dam Breaching Advocates

by Kevin Richert
Idaho Statesman, September 18, 2009

The Obama administration's salmon recovery plan has kept Snake River dam breaching on the table -- but has moved it to about the farthest corner imaginable.

You'd think that this plan would be enough to satisfy the most ardent breaching opponents and dam status quo apologists. Apparently not.

Consider the overwrought reaction from Terry Flores of Northwest RiverPartners, a Portland group representing anti-breaching utilities, farmers, ports and businesses.

"Even talking about destroying the dams is nonsensical. Removal is an extreme and polarizing action that is not supported by the public or the science. ... It is time to stop listening to extreme advocates whose only real agenda is destroying dams and fundraising." Even the dams have their "extreme advocates."

Let's keep a little perspective about what the Obama administration announced Tuesday.

The feds say they need better information about the socioeconomic impacts of breaching, and would want more current data before ever removing the dams. They want to measure the long-term environmental benefits of breaching against the short-term pitfalls -- the release of silt built up behind the dams. The administration will only get serious about studying dam removal -- as "a contingency of last resort" -- if salmon returns plummet to the low numbers last seen in the mid-1990s. Breaching would be an option only after four years of poor salmon runs. Consider how the salmon plan also discusses breaching's "significant effects on local communities, the broader region and the environment," and its leanings couldn't be any clearer.

The dam advocates got more than they could have reasonably expected from the Obama administration. And probably more than the science supports.

The rest of the region certainly got the message. "I agree with the president that we should do everything we can to save salmon before anyone even considers a discussion of dam breaching," Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch said Tuesday. "A discussion of breaching at this point is divisive and frustrates efforts we all agree upon." In his rush to side with Obama, Risch undercut Idaho's senior senator, fellow Republican Mike Crapo, who has said a regional negotiation on salmon recovery must include a discussion of breaching.

It is telling that Risch was so quick to praise the Obama salmon plan, when diehard salmon advocates were equally quick to criticize it. But there isn't much for advocates to celebrate.

To its credit -- and to no great surprise -- the new administration is much more concerned about the connection between climate change and salmon recovery. Climate change factors much more heavily into the Obama plan, Bonneville Power Administration chief Steve Wright said Wednesday.

On the plus side, the plan also acknowledges the need to fund "data-driven life cycle modeling" for Idaho's chinook and sockeye runs.

But this progress comes at a cost. This plan is a major setback on the breaching issue. No matter what some of the dam apologists would have you think.

Related Pages
YouTube link Congressman Doc Hastings formally questions NOAA's Lubchenco.

Kevin Richert members are Michael Shepard, Bob Crider, Spencer Hatton and Karen Troianello.
Obama Did Little for Dam Breaching Advocates
Idaho Statesman, September 18, 2009

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation