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Commentaries and editorials

Dams' Costs Squandered

Dick Dahlgren
Idaho Mountain Express - December 19, 2001

The four lower Snake dams are bilking taxpayers out of millions of dollars.

They cost (taxpayers) more to operate than the Panama Canal and the Saint Lawrence Seaway combined, waterways used annually by 18,000 ocean going ships. In contrast, around 700 barges use the Snake each year. And down-river trips carrying salmon and steelhead smolts account for 125 of the 700.

The ships offset operation expenses from lockage fees. The barges on the lower Snake pay nothing.

According to the Nov. 13 Lewiston Tribune, barge shipping on the Lower Snake is in serious financial trouble. Port of Lewiston figures show YTD shipping down as much as 38 percent from a year ago. Overall, the numbers are as low as 13 percent of what they were when the locks were completed in the '70s.

All expenses of operating the four dams, including salmon recovery, are approaching one billion dollars a year. That's about the same as the proposed retrofit of the Missouri River which annually passes 12,000 boats.

Irrigation. Another taxpayer rip off. The Ice Harbor dam is the only one of the four used for irrigation. Only 13 farmers draw water from Ice Harbor and they receive $11 million dollars annually in pumping subsidies.

The electricity produced by the dams can be replaced with a series of Boeing 737 jet engines run by natural gas on less than 20 acres of ground. Idaho Power has a new 90 megawatt natural gas turbine plant online at Mountain Home that produces more power than C J Strike and Swan Falls together.

This year's run of 143,000 salmon resulted from good water three years ago that flushed the smolts to the sea.

Sport fishing folks spent $46.2 million dollars in rural Idaho having fun catching 43,000 of this years returning run. Each fish caught was worth over $1,000 to those small communities. Steelhead fishing, through the spring of 2002, will double the figures. Idaho's fish mean more than $100 million for the struggling economies of rural Idaho.

As good as the return was, it was a failure. The fish that made it back to Idaho represent 4 percent to 7 percent of the historic runs that once numbered in the millions.

If Idahoans want to save their salmon, the dams must be breached, or billions of taxpayer dollars will continued to be wasted on a dams-and-lock system that will never economically stand alone.

Dick Dahlgren of Ketchum, Idaho
Dams' Costs Squandered
Idaho Mountain Express December 19, 2001

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