the film
Commentaries and editorials

Politicians can Talk,
but Breaching Won’t Go Away

by Editors
Our View, The Idaho Statesman, October 16, 2003

Former Gov. Cecil Andrus is right. The politics are not there to breach dams in Washington to save salmon.

But the science is there. In 1997, the Idaho Statesman published a series of editorials in support of breaching the four Lower Snake River dams in Washington.

Those arguments were based on science and the economic benefits of restoring salmon, and those arguments have not changed.

So as long as science and economics are on the side of breaching, the issue is not going away — nor should it.

Andrus suggested during a recent speech at Washington State University that environmental interests should give up on dam breaching and find other ways to preserve salmon.

Rep. C.L. “Butch” Otter was quick to applaud Andrus´ comments. He says dam breaching should not be part of Sen. Mike Crapo´s water-rights negotiations with environmentalists and water users.

It´s no wonder why the level-headed Crapo is doing the negotiating. The last thing needed is the polarization Otter promotes.

Environmentalists need to stay at the table. That´s the only practical hope for working through the cultural, scientific and economic issues surrounding salmon. Trying to force Idahoans to support breaching Washington dams by threatening water won´t work.

But breaching is not coming off the table until wild salmon are restored, in harvestable levels.

Until then, the economic and power system tied to the Snake River will remain hostage to the Endangered Species Act.

The science is clear. Idaho salmon have to navigate eight dams in order to spawn; they return at lower numbers than salmon that must cross only four dams on the Columbia River.

The recent increase in salmon returns is due to changes in ocean conditions. As soon as ocean conditions go the other way, though, salmon numbers will drop again.

Even if the majority of scientists are wrong, and Idaho can save salmon without breaching, it´s going to take a lot of water to push young salmon to the ocean. It will take much more than the 427,000 acre-feet of Idaho water released each year through much of the 1990s.

The economic arguments for the dams also are eroding.

The port of Lewiston is shipping even less today than in 1997. The port´s main user, the Potlatch Corp., has started using rail to ship product to the Tacoma, Wash., area. And because of the dams face an uncertain future, it´s unlikely any company would make long-term business plans based on the premise that they could ship downriver from Lewiston.

Rural Idaho communities are hauling in big money from salmon fishing — according to one study, the 2001 season generated nearly $90 million for Idaho.

But the breaching issue goes far beyond economics. The commitment to save wild salmon — a longtime state treasure — speaks to our values.

Otter and Andrus talk about employing other ways to save endangered salmon.

But breaching the dams is, by far, the best and most cost-effective way.

Politicians can Talk, but Breaching Won’t Go Away
The Idaho Statesman, October 16, 2003

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