Dam Breaching is Too High a Price to Pay
by Dan Watkins
Idaho Farm Bureau, June, 2000
Most Idahoans support solutions that will lead to the recovery of the state's salmon runs. I know I do. However, I do not believe dam breaching and continued flow augmentation are visible solutions.
Idahoans have made a strong commitment to irrigated agriculture. That is why dam breaching advocates are trying to drive a wedge between us by asserting that if the lower Snake River dams are breached, eastern Idaho irrigators won't have to supply more water to flush smolts out to sea. The truth behind the proposal to breach the dams is that if the dams go, so must an additional one million-acre feet of easterrn Idaho's storage water.
Inaccurate and misleading assertion that portray dam breaching and flow augmentation as potential solutions to the salmon problem threaten not only Idaho's economy, but also the livelihoods of all Idaho farm families and the people who process and distribute agricultural products.
Mandated flow augmentation continues to be unrealistic and without scientific basis. Idaho has supplied more than 10 million acre-feet of water in the past five years and it has resulted in no measurable benefit to salmon. Taking an additional million acre-feet of Idaho water will dry up 600,000 acres of productive farmland, or 150 percent of all potato production acreage.
Tearing out dams will also result in an increase in power costs. Breaching these four dams could result in a 12 to 13 percent increase in wholesale power rates, a backbreaking blow to economically-strapped growers.
Dam breaching is a drastic option. There is no empirical evidence that shows it would recover fish populatioins. Salmon are already on the brink of extinction. Breaching takes a leap of faith that is not reasonable. Salmon recovery is a complex issue, and there is no silver bullet that will work.
We should support turbine modifications, fish screens, spillway modification, fish ladder and bypass improvements that will give the salmon a better chance of reaching the ocean as juveniles and returning to spawn as adults. Furthermore, funds for researching the ocean and estuary conditions, and the relationship between salmon and predators, including deep-sea commercial fishing, are in order.
The proposal to breach the four lower Snake River dams and augment flow with water that belongs to Idaho's farm families will devastate our state's economy, unravel the social fabric of our people, and bankrupt already struggling farm families. That is too high a price to pay for a plan that won't recover the salmon.
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