the film
Commentaries and editorials

How Long will Congress
Keep Rivers in View

by Jim Fisher, Editorial
Lewiston Morning Tribune, May 2, 2007

However much residents of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley might disagree about the future of the four lower Snake River dams, and the ocean-going fish whose progress they impede, it's reassuring to know few welcome raising the levees that already separate town from river.

"I don't believe we want to see any kind of levee raising," Lewiston Mayor Jeff Nesset told the Lewiston Tribune's Eric Barker for Sunday's story about the prospect. "We want to see that river."

Who could disagree? Although most valley residents have grown comfortable with the levee system that provides recreation as well as protection from Clearwater and Snake river water backed up behind Lower Granite Dam - and many have known nothing else - levees several feet higher are another matter.

They are walls between the people and the rivers.

The reason higher levees are even a prospect is the growing silt that also backs up behind the dam.

Decades of artificial control of the lower Snake River has allowed mud that Mother Nature would have flushed downstream to collect beneath the slack water the dam created. Originally, that mud was to be collected behind another dam upstream, but the age of correcting problems created by one dam by building another died before that happened.

The question valley residents now face is how long the age of massive federal spending on their community will last. First it was the dams themselves, and the mitigation projects like the levees and corresponding recreational amenities that went with them.

Then it was helping salmon and steelhead get past the series of dams, first in migrating out to the sea as juveniles and then in returning to spawning beds to reproduce before dying. Huge amounts of money have gone into that, but have not prevented several species from qualifying for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Now it is the buildup of silt, the removal of which comes at a high cost at a time when the federal agency responsible for all the above, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is not as well-heeled as it once was. Today, it does not even have full financing for the $13 million study to determine how best to keep the shipping channel to Lewiston open and protect the city from flooding.

It is easy to say the solution is more dredging, enough to return the channel to where it was when slack water arrived in the mid-1970s.

It is harder to pay for it.

It will become even harder as the bills for fiscal irresponsibility in the nation's capital start coming due, and as baby boomers start retiring and putting greater strain on entitlement programs.

That is the prospect about which valley residents should be most concerned. Many have been telling each other it's possible to keep both fish and dams, but even if that is true, what happens when it is no longer affordable?

Jim Fisher, Editorial
How Long will Congress Keep Rivers in View
Lewiston Morning Tribune, May 2, 2007

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