Don't Wait 30 Years to Help Fish Passageby Editors
Idaho State Journal, February 1, 2006
Would installing fish ladders on Idaho Power Company's three dams on the Snake River improve the odds of restoring the state's endangered salmon runs, which now are blocked at Hells Canyon? The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency charged with looking after the fish, doesn't think so.
The agency's reasoning: The river upstream of the dams is in such bad shape environmentally that it would be a waste of $100 million or so to require Idaho Power to install the fish ladders at Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams. Instead, the Fisheries Service wants the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has the final say on relicensing the 50-year-old dams, to make Idaho Power pay for upstream remediation. The cost of that is estimated at "the low hundreds of millions of dollars" to remediate "horrible degradation" of the river upstream so that it would one day provide good habitat for salmon and steelhead, which at one time thrived.
Once that is accomplished, NMFS says, fish ladders at the dams could be considered.
Idaho Power is not enthusiastic about that idea, noting that its relicensing application already calls for setting aside $324 million to offset environmental impacts. Spokesman Dennis Lopez is correct when he says agriculture and municipalities are the guilty parties in contaminating the river - not Idaho Power.
"We add or remove nothing from the river," said Lopez. "When you continue to stack on things in the relicensing process, that ultimately will have an impact on rates for our customers."
What Lopez didn't mention is that the utility's dams significantly slow the flow and raise the temperature of the river. And without the dam ladders, anadromous fish cannot reach their historic spawning habitat in the Snake and its tributaries. According to American Rivers environmental group, the dams block 80 percent of historic habitat for fall Chinook. It is problematical whether salmon can survive another 30 years until the next relicensing deadline for the dams.
It is significant that both the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Shoshone Bannock Indians want the fish ladders now. "Studies need to start immediately, so we don't have to wait another 30 years to address this issue," said Claudeo Broncho, tribal fisheries policy representative.
Coincidentally, the same day NMFS said it would not require the fish ladders, the Bush administration said it will seek to shut down some hatcheries that are harming wild spawning fish by weakening them genetically.
Reducing harvests, protecting the genetics and cleaning up watersheds are all worthwhile, but they are not going to recover salmon.
More than anything else, these migratory fish need the literal roadblocks to their recovery removed. Build the fish ladders, bring back the fish - and the dollars that come with them - then fix the smaller problems.
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