Think Tank's Thought on Dam Breaching
by The Editorial Board
RAND Corp. touts itself as the first organization to be called a "think tank."
It appears the tank has run dry.
There doesn't seem to be too much deep thinking going on at RAND -- an acronym for research and development. Late last week RAND released a study that concluded breaching the four Snake River dams in Eastern Washington would neither impede economic growth in the Northwest nor hurt the region's power supply.
The think-tankers came up with this conclusion because the dams account for just 5 percent of the power supply in the Pacific Northwest.
But the loss of hydropower has never been the biggest concern -- at least not in Eastern Washington, where the dams are located.
No, what has folks here concerned -- and with good reason -- is how the landscape would change if the Snake River was allowed to flow freely. It would mean a loss of irrigation for farmers and during flood seasons it would mean a lot of farms and everything else would be under water. And, as the river would no longer be an option to ship products to market, the cost of agriculture products would rise. In many cases, it would price Eastern Washington farmers out of business.
It's nonsense to dismiss that kind of economic change as insignificant.
Yet, that's what the report does. It goes on to say that removal of the dams could help the region diversify its power supply, while providing as many as 15,000 new jobs over a 20-year period, primarily in recreation.
It might be insignificant if you live in Seattle or Portland, but it is extremely significant if you live in Eastern Washington and count on agriculture for your livelihood -- either directly or indirectly. Breaching the dams would cripple the economy east of the Cascades.
Would the people of Seattle, for example, consider moving the Boeing Co. manufacturing plants to Portland insignificant? After all, the jobs lost in Seattle would be regained in Portland. It's at worst a wash for the Pacific Northwest and, perhaps, a short-time boon as Boeing builds new factories in Oregon.
The thinking in that scenario, of course, is flawed. And that's our point with the RAND study. Assuming that power and a few farm jobs are all that are at stake in breaching the dams is a huge mistake.
The report on dam breaching issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year looked at a variety of factors and concluded that dam breaching on the Snake would do more harm than good. It said dam breaching would increase the chances of salmon restoration only slightly -- if at all - while taking a huge toll on the economy of the region surrounding the dams.
The Corps puts dam breaching it its proper perspective: It is a significant step that should only be seriously considered as a last resort.
That's a thought that the "thinkers" at RAND should have pondered.
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