Let's Stop the Stupidity
by Chad Shmukler
It's time to bring salmon and steelhead back to 5,000 miles of Rocky Mountain streams
What costs taxpayers $150 million each year, no longer serves the purpose it was designed to serve, has its usefulness in continuing decline and -- through its blockage of passage to over 5,000 miles of pristine, high elevation habitat -- has been identified by the best available science as the primary force behind the destruction of the west's wild salmon and steelhead population? For many, that's sort of a softball question, but for those of you that aren't familiar with the single greatest threat to wild salmon recovery, a powerful instrument in the decline of southern resident orca populations and also that of the pacific lamprey eel -- it's the lower Snake River Dam system.
In discussing the abject failure that these dams represent, it is important to shine a light on just how prolific the runs of now struggling or completely extirpated salmon populations (wild coho in the Snake are gone, sockeye are considered endangered and both fall and spring chinook are threatened) once were. Estimated run totals, reconstructed primarily from historic cannery records, harvest records and field surveys, indicate that the Columbia and Snake River systems annually saw runs of 11-15 million salmon -- 1.7 percent of which remain. Estimates of the historic annual combined Snake River salmon and steelhead runs approach 16 million.
The proposed removal of these dams is expected to be incredibly impactful for salmon recovery efforts that have been underway for decades and are largely going nowhere. As noted, removal of the dams would restore wild salmon and steelhead access to the largest tract of intact river habitat in the lower 48. Fish biologist Jim Lichatowich calls removal of the dams the "big jewel in the Holy Grail of salmon recovery" and author David James Duncan refers to it as "the largest possible salmon recovery effort of which humanity is capable".
The Snake River dams are a money-suck. Stimulating local economies through barge traffic was the primary reason behind the dams' construction. Only barge traffic is down 70% and declining. Sure, the dams generate hydroelectric power that serves western communities, but they generally stink at it. At peak capacity -- a level at which they very rarely operate -- the dams can generate 3,000 megawatts of power. But their actual yearly output is just over 1,000 average megawatts -- an amount easily replaced by renewable energy sources like wind.
The one bright spot of the dams' construction may be the flood control they provide communities along the Snake River. Oh wait, they don't. All four dams are "run of river" dams, which means they don't store water and reservoir levels can only fluctuate a couple of feet, providing no flood prevention. The picture gets even rosier when you throw in the fact that the west spends around a billion dollars per year on salmon recovery -- and the dams go a long way to making sure most of that money yields taxpayers absolutely squat.
Put most simply, the Snake River dams are a stupid idea. Seriously stupid. If there ever was a time when they weren't, that time is long gone.
Thankfully, an increasing number of scientists, activists, anglers and otherwise tuned-in citizens have had it and are demanding that the U.S. government begin plans to dismantle the lower Snake River dams. A still-going petition supporting dam removal containing almost 70,000 signatures was recently delivered to president Obama. This October 3rd, proponents of dam removal are also staging a flotilla on the Snake River. Participants will launch from Wawawai Landing and float downstream to Granite Dam.
Join the flotilla. Sign the petition. Watch the video below from Patagonia and the folks behind DamNation.
It's time to get smart.
Let's Stop the Stupidity on the Snake by Josh Mills, Hatch Magazine, 9/9/17
Bill Would Rubber-Stamp Salmon Failure by Josh Mills, Spokesman-Review, 8/12/17
So Many Dammed Questions by Josh Mills, Inlander, 7/20/17
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