Salmon Policy Defies
by J. Robb Brady
Here's the latest sign the Bush administration got it wrong when it comes to saving Idaho's salmon and steelhead runs: The Fish and Game Department closed the lower Snake River for salmon fishing this spring. The reason: The run is less than half the size expected.
Not only is the administration's approach ineffective, it's also expensive -- $6 billion during the next 10 years. The feds refuse to even consider the one option that a majority of biologists say will work -- breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington state.
The current policy allows federal agencies to forego spillage over the dams to move the juvenile salmon to the ocean. Spillage is essential to cut the heavy loss of smolts each year. Not that it would inflict much economic pain on ratepayers. The Northwest Energy Coalition of Seattle says increased dam spillage would cost the average residential customer at most 54 cents a month on an annualized basis. The alternative -- barging the fish around the dams -- is a failed system.
That $6 billion could do some good -- as former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said in Lewiston this spring -- if ti went to help farmers, transportation systems and energy users cope with the removal of the lower Snake River Dams.
Instead, the feds want to avoid extinction outright -- but won't take the steps necessary to bring the fish back to healthy levels. doing that would yield dividends to the region's economy, especially in rural areas. Fish are money to communities throughout the Snake River and Columbia watersheds.
Restore the salmon and steelhead fishery in the Snake River watershed, and you pump $544 million back into the Idaho economy.
Do the same for the Columbia River system in Oregon and Washington, and you've boosted the Northwest's sports fishery industry to $5.5 billion.
The feds have succumbed to several fallacies:
An injunction pending in his court calls for a 10 percent increase in river velocity throughout the Lower Snake River and Columbia dams to flush the fish to the ocean. In short, it means releasing more water for fish flush during a critical drought year.
Redden is expected to announce his decision this month.
The feds have a number of options to get the additional water. They can get it from Idaho Power Company's Hells Canyon dams and Dworshak Dam near Orofino.
Or they might try to get it from eastern Idaho but not without hurting the region's agricultural economy. The Bureau of Reclamation says the option of 427,000 acre feet pledged from its Upper Snake River water bank for fish flush is not available this year. The Bureau of Relcamation says only 150,000 acre feet of water are likely, although the wet spring may help some.
So who gains from this policy?
Not the rural communities of Idaho that rely on sports fishing.
Not the eastern Idaho irrigator.
And not the American taxpayer.
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