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More Questions Than Answers
on Simpson Dam Plan

by Stephen Hartgen
Twin Times-News, March 7, 2021

Graphic: Survival of juvenile salmon from the Washington/Idaho border to beyond Bonneville Dam has averaged around 50% survival.  In other words, half of them die while migrating through the federal hydropower system. Congressman Mike Simpson's rejoinder (TN, 2 /26) to my recent column on his "Save The Salmon" plan (TN, 2/21) raises significant questions, but provides few definitive answers.

The Congressman has his plan posted on his website ( and he and I both encourage people to read it. Simpson vigorously defends the plan, saying it provides certainty on the ongoing salmon recovery debate and thereby offers a path forward, an "opportunity" as the plan puts it. Many others disagree.

Simpson has served in Congress for more than two decades and has shown repeated good judgment and leadership for Idaho and the Second Congressional District. He's thoughtful, hard-working and congenial, and over the years, there's been much to applaud and little to critique in his performance. Voters appreciate him and return him to office by wide margins.

But here are some questions his salmon recovery plan doesn't answer:

Lack of broad support. Big proposals almost always depend on broad consensus. In this case, Idaho leaders from the governor on down and key groups like the Farm Bureau and the Idaho Water Users have come out either against Simpson's salmon plan it or have raised specific questions. If this salmon plan is so good, why is there such a wide array of skeptics? What are these leaders and groups missing here that's such an 'opportunity' as Simpson's plan asserts?

Jobs "retraining" for Lewiston. The plan seems to say those no-longer-needed port workers can just find jobs in recreation. Humm. This may surprise the plan writers, but many port workers may not want to become eco-guides, drift boat rowers, tourism managers or find other recreational jobs. Reminds me of Kerry's and Biden's comments that oil field and coal mine workers should just learn to make solar panels and learn how to code. Otherwise, they're written off with shrug.

An article last week confirms that uses of a dam-less river would benefit drift boaters, bank fishermen and a few hunters, but general boating would be lost. Isn't that what the ecos always want, an expansion of "Birkenstock America?" (Spokesman-Review, 2/28). A designated "wild rivers" bill would surely follow in Congress to eliminate vehicle access, beyond any lawsuit moratorium. Simpson's plan plays to the elitist group of urban recreationals at the expense of the rest. How's that good for Idaho?

Product shipping. Lewiston's port handles close to half the total grain shipments from Idaho. Losing that would cause a huge jump in transportation costs to truck and rail and would likely bankrupt many farms, plus clog highways with truck traffic. How is that good for Idaho? As many have stated, barging of wheat and other products remains the most efficient and environmentally-friendly means of transport.

Simpson's plan has the support of the tribes. And why not? They don't give up anything in this plan to help salmon recovery. Invoking their "treaty rights" and court-decreed "sovereignty," tribal salmon netting takes thousands of fish, which are then sold like cordwood out of pickup trucks along highways. Why doesn't the Simpson plan address this issue? The real solution here would be for Congress to restrict the scope of tribal "rights," but that's hardly likely under a Biden minority-dominated administration.

Electric generation. The four dams (which all have fish ladders) generate some of cheapest hydro "alternative" energy in the country, which power nearly a million homes. Yet, the plan blissfully waves this away in favor of alternatives like wind, solar and bio-mass. Let's see. We breach perfectly good, cheap, non-fossil hydro facilities and replace them with subsidized, expensive alternatives that can't maintain 24/7/365 energy. How does this make sense?

Water allocation. Does Simpson truly believe environmentalists will stand by while farmers, cities and industry seek the nearly 500,000 acre feet of salmon reserve water for agricultural and other beneficial uses? Ecos will surely continue to claim Idaho's water, as they've done for decades. Does Simpson really think dam-breaching will put an end to lawsuits and Biden-ista closures? Yep, water in the West is for fighting. Under Simpson's plan, farming and electric generation would suffer. Lawsuit moratorium or not, the ecos will just continue to sue, object, rail, fund-raise, etc. It's what they do. Birds that quack like ducks are, well, ducks.

We all know how important agriculture and water are to Idaho. Where's the success? The biggest ruse of the salmon recovery proposal is that it likely won't work. Wild salmon have already been replaced by hatchery stock, which have DNA exactly the same as "wild" salmon; of close to 800,000 released smolts in a recent year, fewer than 25 returned to Redfish, and only one was a "wild" fish. How's that for a pathetic rate of return?

Related Pages:
No One Wants to be Labeled an Un-woke "Salmon Racist" by Stephen Hartgen, Statesman Journal, 3/29/20

Stephen Hartgen , Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005).
More Questions Than Answers on Simpson Dam Plan
Twin Times-News, March 7, 2021

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