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Commentaries and editorials

Swimming Upstream

by Rod Sando
Seattle Times, March 26, 2006

I am writing to applaud the story by Lynda V. Mapes ("That Dam Problem," March 5). I worked as the executive director of the Columbia Fish and Wildlife Authority for the past three years until my retirement in July 2005. This is by far the best summary of the Columbia River mess, as I call it. It is amazing to me that the situation can be so expensive with little, if any, progress toward really solving the problem.

I have two thoughts for further inquiry.

First: The role of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council is a big part of the problem. Lack of leadership on their part has stalled many efforts to address the real issues. They now seek compromise on fish issues while doing the bidding of the hydro system. The council did some wonderful work in its early days but now has become an ineffective group of political appointees that micromanage an operational program and do little in the way of providing good strategic direction or conflict resolution. It's a shame.

Second: It is well understood behind the scenes that the hydro players like the status quo. It is unlikely that a real solution from the next rewrite of the Biological Opinion from NOAA Fisheries will emerge. In the meantime, the abundant cheap power keeps flowing, and the benefits from the power generation overshadow the real costs of fish recovery. BPA uses its money and clout to prevent the obvious real solutions from being implemented and has just removed one of the real sources of true information by eliminating the fish passage center.

The group doing the talking, as ordered by Judge Redden, is incomplete. To get at the real problem the fish and hydro interests represented by the environmental groups and the hydro business representatives also need to be at the table. Their conflicts will continue until a better method than lawsuits is available, but as long as the status quo is viewed as more favorable than a real solution things will not change.

I fear that Columbia River salmon and steelhead will never see recovery unless a change on the magnitude of the intervention to solve the spotted-owl problem occurs.

Thanks for the great story.

Rod Sando, Woodburn, Ore.
Swimming Upstream
Seattle Times, March 26, 2006

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