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Salmon and the Snake River Dams

by Dennis Weber
The Daily News, May 2, 2019

J-50, the young whale pictured, was a young southern resident orca that died in early September 2019 (Center for Whale Research Photo). I think it is time that someone exposes the fact that the emperor wears no clothes.

The power elites in Puget Sound have decided to sacrifice the rural, wheat-exporting economy of southeast Washington, Idaho, and Montana to “save the Orcas.” In a cynical, Machiavellian perspective, they have declared that the only way to save the Puget Sound orcas is to remove dams in the lower Snake River valley. These Seattle know-it-alls assume that removing three dams on the Snake River will somehow restore ample supplies of Chinook salmon to the voracious orcas of Puget Sound.

The reality is that even if those three dams are removed, there are still three major hydroelectric dams (Bonneville, the Dalles, and McNary) that challenge Chinook survival. The best policy would be to ramp up resources for salmon habitat restoration in the lower Columbia where urban development is not so pervasive. We should duplicate the successes that have occurred there, not waste resources in the highly urbanized east shore of Puget Sound or the far-away Snake River valley.

This is the height of hypocrisy when you realize that far more salmon habitat was destroyed by the construction of Seattle City Light dams on the Skagit River just north of Seattle than on the far more remote Snake River. Furthermore, the intense urban development along the eastern shores of Puget Sound continues to prevent successful restoration of salmon habitat. A recent award-winning habitat restoration program in the Nisqually River delta near Olympia is literally nullified when the juvenile salmon reach the highly polluted waters of Puget Sound. Seattle politicians turn a blind eye toward real restoration of salmon-spawning creeks through downtown Seattle or Bellevue or other clean-water initiatives for King County.

Why not advocate removing the Skagit River dams, if salmon recovery was the real goal. Seattle political elites never mention that alternative. They would rather champion destruction of an economy far away from their voter-base than face the reality that their failed urban-growth-management policies are in reality the greatest threat to the survival of both the orcas and Puget Sound Chinook salmon. Continuing failed policies in hopes of change is certainly one definition of insanity.

In Southwest Washington, we are close to achieving success in salmon habitat restoration in the watersheds of the tributaries of the lower Columbia (downstream from Bonneville). But year after year, it is Puget Sound that receives the lion’s share of resources for salmon habitat restoration. At the recent April Salmon Recovery Conference, it was generally acknowledged that the current pro-Puget Sound spending policies simply are not working. We need state leaders to focus resources on watersheds in the lower Columbia if they really want to restore our endangered salmon.

Please contact Gov. Inslee and our local legislators to request more funding for salmon habitat restoration in the lower Columbia.

Dennis Weber serves as Cowlitz County Commissioner and treasurer for the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board.
Salmon and the Snake River Dams
The Daily News, May 2, 2019

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