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Pouring Money in a River

by The Staff
Lewiston Tribune, August 30(?), 2002

Forget poverty, disease and crime. If you want to see a problem at which the government has been doing little more than throwing money, look at the dwindling Snake and Columbia river salmon and steelhead runs. The tally stands at $3.3 billion in the last two decades, with nearly half that spent in the last five years, reports the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative agency. And despite the lofty goals behind spending all those tax dollars, "there is little conclusive evidence to quantify the extent of their effects on returning fish populations," the GAO says.

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, the top Republican on a subcommittee concerned with endangered species, who requested the study, takes the correct message from it.

"The report shows clearly we have to spend this money much more wisely," Crapo says.

But that's the easy part. Determining how to do that is the real question. And there, Crapo, a member of Idaho's congressional delegation who, like 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson, has kept a relatively open mind on salmon recovery, could provide a great service.

First, Crapo should help point out what money is being wasted, and stop wasting it. The biggest spender in the equation is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which devotes hundreds of millions of dollars to transporting juvenile fish around the hydroelectric dams on the river system. Should that continue?

If so, to what degree? If not, what should replace it?

Then there's the ultimate question: Should we be spending this kind of money at all?

If it is producing no measurable results, the answer is probably no. But if the money could be spent, in Crapo's words, much more wisely, perhaps the spending should continue.

But on what? Habitat rehabilitation? Flow augmentation? Dam breaching?

The GAO study clearly raises more questions than it answers. But it should at least put to rest two of the less wise things some people in this region have been saying for years.

The first is that what we are doing now is working.

The second is that we should not do something different because it would be too expensive.

Pouring Money in a River
Lewiston Tribune, August 30(?), 2002

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