Saving the Salmonby Staff
The Providence Journal - September 10, 2002
Salmon are a big part of life in the Pacific Northwest. Anyone entering Pike Street Market along Seattle's harborfront immediately sees tables covered by 20- to 30-pound specimens.
Since the 1960s and '70s, when four hydroelectric dams were placed across the Snake River, the numbers of the fish have fallen to the point where Snake coho have already disappeared and chinook will probably be gone in 15 years.
By slowing the river's current, the dams have effectively increased the length of the downstream journey and raised water temperatures, greatly decreasing the number of juvenile fish that make it to the Pacific.
For years, the federal government has underwritten a remediation effort involving fish ladders over the dams, and an expensive effort to barge and truck juvenile salmon around the dams.
But the hundreds of millions spent to give the salmon a lift have not suceeded in stabilizing their numbers, and have reduced federal funds available to Atlantic salmon-restoration projects in the Northeast.
Snake River salmon are not just an important economic resource. They are also an important treaty obligation with Native American tribes, for whom the fish have a profound religious significance. If the salmon run should ever fail, U.S. taxpayers would be on the hook for billions in reparations to the tribes.
A Rand Corporation analysis concludes that the economic impact of removing the dams would be a wash, creating as many jobs as would probably be lost. Maybe that's true. The electricity that the dams supply to the Northwest power grid is worth a few pennies to regional consumers, who pay some of the lowest electricity bills in America -- less than half what we pay in the Northeast. There is also the issue of water for farms in southeastern Washington.
The Snake River salmon's survival would be assured with the removal of the dams. Congress has before it a proposal, the Salmon Planning Act, that, while not immediately or even necessarily accomplishing such a goal, would order a study of the effects of dam removal, and implement other measures to improve salmon habitat on the Snake. If the salmon run continues to deteriorate, the Army Corps of Engineers could order dam removal as early as 2005. In any event, we hope that Congress will pass the Salmon Planning Act, and restore the glory of the Snake's salmon.
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