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Commentaries and editorials

Stand Up,
Make Your Feelings Known About the Dams

by Ian Lamont, Publisher
Tri-City Herald, February 14, 1999

The scenario of breaching Snake River dams seemed so implausible when it first surfaced three years ago, it's no wonder many of our region's residents didn't take it seriously.

The obvious consequences would have been devastating to agriculture, other commerce, recreation, river transportation and highway systems. To any reasonable person, the effects clearly are mind boggling.

At the request of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the Army Corps of Engineers kept plodding on with its Lower Snake River Juvenile Salmon Feasibility Study of options to revive salmon and steelhead runs. Finally, many in our community and region and upriver in Idaho are waking up to what a few community leaders have been worried about all along and have been working diligently to prevent - that is, the use of a flawed process to make a monumental decision with devastating repercussions.

Our community and region cannot stand for it and must speak out. The political momentum in favor of a rational approach to saving salmon - short of dam-breaching - is building and will be prominently displayed at the "Save Our Dams" rally Thursday on the Ed Hendler cable bridge.

The rally is being organized by the Tri-City Legislative Council, our local chambers, the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau and the Tri-City Industrial Development Council and is strongly supported by the local unions and their members.

The rally will be from 5 to 7 p.m. and promises to be an event that sends a powerful message. The state House of Representatives will adjourn that afternoon so lawmakers can attend and, although Senate committee meetings will likely go on, many senators are also expected to attend.

Speakers already scheduled include U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings; Steve Appel, president of the Washington Farm Bureau; Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business; Bob Joy, Washington state grange master, state legislators and union leaders.

The corps' study is broken into two parts - the Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypothesis (PATH) and the Drawdown Regional Economic Workshop (DREW).

PATH, in simplest terms, is computer modeling. The model is loaded with many variables that impact salmon and calculates what regional fish biologists think the effect would be on fish survival and future fish returns.

DREW, on the other hand, is intended to measure the economic impact of potential decisions, including dam breaching .

PATH has produced more than 200 models which, to the surprise of no one, have prompted some biologists to say dam breaching is the right thing to do. It is interesting to note the one constant in all these models has been the use of a lot of Idaho water to augment this "natural river" flow. Idaho leaders seem to be just realizing this, so soon we should be able to hear their screams from here.

The PATH models supporting breach-ing the dams are based on a 48-year time frame. After dam breaching, these models predict salmon runs will actually decline for the first eight to 10 years, falling below the results of the other options. That includes the choice of doing nothing (an option, by the way, that no one is advocating).

For all the options, salmon run levels are expected to be about the same between the 10th and 24th year. It is only 24 to 48 years after breaching the dams that PATH and these biologists say salmon runs will start to improve. The scientists say with a straight face that after 48 years the "science" gets less reliable.

People who say, "Science has spoken; we should breech the dams," - a view held by the Sierra Club and Trout Unlimited - are basing their opinion on these PATH models and their 48-year predictions.

It seems more and more obvious factors that dramatically impact the smolts and returning salmon like ocean conditions, commercial fishing, gill-netting, predators and inriver mortality are too complicated and too political to do anything about, so the focus is on the dams.

This is the biggest threat to our way of life in Southeastern Washington. Our economy would be in shambles.

State Sen. Pat Hale, R-Kennewick, took it even further when she said last week in Olympia, "I know of no greater threat to the prosperity and well being of our state than the breaching of our Northwest dams."

And just last week, Gov. Gary Locke, in a speech here in the Tri-Cities, issued his strongest opinion on the dams yet when he said, "I can't imagine any argument leading me to support these dams coming down. These benefits clearly do not outweigh the costs."

Locke also recently released his comprehensive Salmon Recovery Plan - a much-needed step because without an acceptable comprehensive regional plan, NMFS would have the federal authority, under the Endangered Species Act, to mandate a solution.

All of us have a stake in this. All of us should be heard and counted next Thursday night. I will see you there.

Ian Lamont, Publisher
Stand Up, Make Your Feelings Known About the Dams
Tri-City Herald, February 14, 1999

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