the film
Commentaries and editorials

Army Corps Releases Study on Dams

by Associated Press
Capital Press - December 7(?), 2001

Dams should not be breached for salmon runs, Corps says

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- After years of study, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has concluded that four giant hydroelectric dams on the Snake River should not be breached to improve endangered salmon runs.

The Corps concluded Dec. 3 that the dams should instead be modified to improve the survival of native salmon and assist the fish as they make their way upstream to spawn.

"That is more cost-effective and has minimal economic impact," said Nola Conway, a spokeswoman for the Corps office in Walla Walla. The Corps didn't publicly release details of its recommendations. That is expected early next year when it holds public hearings on the issue.

The four dams, built in southeast Washington starting in the 1960s, provide electricity, irrigation water and navigation for barges. The 12,500 megawatts of power produced are enough for a city the size of Seattle.

The finding came as no surprise to Bruce Lovelin, executive director of the Columbia River Alliance. The Portland-based organization represents industries, including agriculture, which are dependent on the dams' power and navigability benefits. He and the alliance have been involved in the study and have advocated for its final position for 10 years, he said.

"What they found is that from an engineer's standpoint, yes, we can remove these dams, but it would be very expensive. But they still had to answer the science question: Will removing dams help or harm salmon? And the bottom line is they don't know.

"That is, and I think always will be, the Achilles heel of the whole salmon saving effort. It will always be the national environmental solution to remove the four dams, although I'm satisfied the government won't look at it seriously again."

Lovelin said the alliance will not relax now that the report is out, but will change its focus somewhat to push for more cooperative efforts among agencies.

"This by no means allows people of the Northwest to stand down and say we're done with salmon recovery," he said.

Environmentalists blame the dams for blocking the migration of salmon and steelhead to Pacific Ocean, leaving native populations either extinct or listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

"It comes as no surprise the Corps would recommend keeping the dams and continuing to spend a heck of a lot of money to retrofit them," said Rob Masonis, acting regional director of American Rivers in Seattle.

He said environmentalists believe that improving existing fish ladders at the dams and making other expensive alterations would do little to restore salmon runs.

Conway said the Corps did identify some benefits to breaching the dams during the five-year study, notably that it would help restore the Snake River to a more natural flow.

But breaching, which likely would be tied up for years in court and technical studies, also would take the longest to implement, Conway said.

Business groups have been critical of proposals to breach the dams, and President Bush said during his campaign that he opposed their removal.

The Corps studied four major plans and rejected operations, breaching the dams or simply expanding programs in which juvenile salmon are barged or trucked past the dams.

The Corps found that improving passage through the dams "provides increased juvenile salmon and steelhead survival and maximizes operational flexibility."

That could be done by changing how and when water is spilled through the dams, improving fish transportation systems and adding more fish transportation barges, the Corps said.

The recommendations were sent to federal agencies that deal with the environment to get feedback on the plan before public hearings are held.

Associated Press
Capital Press reporter Kat Ricker also contributed to this report.
Army Corps Releases Study on Dams
Capital Press - December 7(?), 2001

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation