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Commentaries and editorials

More Voices for Dam-Breaching

by Editors

Idaho Mountain Express, September 11, 2002

If Idaho’s political policymakers are devout guardians of the public trust as they boast, then they’d seize on two studies that support breaching or removal of four Snake River dams and take them seriously.

But let’s not be naive. Elected Idaho officials who’re dead set against dam-breaching are inclined to shrug off facts that interfere with their political mindsets.

So, these studies documenting robust economic and environmental benefits from breaching or removing the dams probably will be dismissed.

However, the studies will be useful tools for Idahoans dedicated to overturning resistance to dam breaching and exposing questionable, gloomy arguments of dam supporters.

The most prestigious of the studies, by California-based RAND and funded by the Pew Charitable Trust, has special credibility. It wasn’t intended as a study about dam impact at all, but an analysis of why Northwest states should reduce their 82 percent dependence on hydropower and begin a gradual shift to more use of wind and solar power with a mix of natural gas generation.

But in the course of research, RAND ( discovered widespread long-term benefits from removing the dams, including restoring the natural habitat of salmon, increasing recreational uses on the Snake, increased commercial fishing, new jobs, gradual elimination of costs of dam maintenance and horrendous expense of barging salmon around the dams as a dubious strategy, and gradual shifts to energy more reliable than the frequently drought-damaged hydropower.

In losses vs. benefits, RAND itemized annual losses of $70.9 million if the dams are removed, but $179 million per year in benefits thereafter.

In the other voluminous study, the Eagle, Idaho-based Northwest Resource Information Center ( found that Army Corps of Engineers economic statistics are inaccurate. Instead of losses created by breaching the Snake River dams, Idaho would gain $93 million annually in economic benefits. The NWRIC’s calculations were focused on Idaho, whereas RAND computed findings on the region served by the Snake River in Idaho and Washington.

Both studies recognized downsides: some jobs related to shipping on the Snake would be lost and Idaho farmers would pay more for shipping via train or truck rather than water.

But long term pluses are overwhelming: The heartbreaking extinction of the vanishing salmon would be headed off, and new commercial fishing industries and increased recreation activities plus work involved in breaching or removing the dams would demand hundreds, perhaps thousands, of new jobs in the area.

Surely, such compelling opportunities for Idaho’s future can’t be forever rejected, can they?

More Voices for Dam-Breaching
Idaho Mountain Express - September 11, 2002

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