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Breaching Snake River Dams
Would Help Endangered Salmon, Report Says

by N.S. Nokkentved
Times-News, December 18, 1999

TWIN FALLS -- One federal agency Friday said clearly that the best way to recover endangered Idaho salmon would be to breach four federal dams on the lower Snake River.

"A free-flowing river is better than a dammed river, that should not be a surprise to anyone," Anne Badgley, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told a Portland, Ore., news conference Friday morning.

But Badgley noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' report on salmon recovery is still a draft and does not consider economic and social costs of removing the four dams.

Badgley and other federal officials spoke in a static-plagued telephone conference Friday, announcing the Corps' five-year, $20 million study on breaching Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams on the Snake River in southeastern Washington.

The report apparently took other federal officials off guard. Will Stelle, regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, said the science remains unclear. But to be effective any recovery plan must be comprehensive.

"The idea that we will let the salmon go extinct is not acceptable," Stelle said.

Analysis included in the Corps' report suggest that recovering salmon will take a combination of actions. It is unlikely that any of the alternatives alone, including dam breaching, could recover the salmon -- some alternatives would benefit some salmon runs more than others.

Recovery measures -- restrictions on land uses that affect streams, deep cuts in fishing and changes or elimination of hatcheries -- by themselves might keep fish from going extinct. But they would not recover fish, the document says.

Conversely, breaching by itself will not recover salmon, Stelle said.

But the Corps' document and federal officials did not take a stand on the direction salmon recovery should take.

In addition to not identifying a preferred alternative, the impact statement did not analyze the costs of other alternatives -- only the cost of dam breaching, Scott Bosse of Idaho Rivers United said following the conference.

"How do they expect the region to pick the best alternative, if they only put a price tag on one alternative," Bosse said.

The Corps overestimated the costs and underestimated the benefits, but breaching still is an affordable alternative, he said.

One thing not covered in the impact statement was an analysis of the costs and effects of taking additional water from southern Idaho. Adding the cost of acquiring water and storage right and the lost agricultural income would make any alternative that includes increased flow in the lower river the most expensive proposal.

And if the dams stay in place the Fisheries Service will be looking for ways to increase flows in the lower Snake River, Brian Brown, assistant regional administrator for hydro operations with the Fisheries Service, said in an interview earlier this week.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' environmental impact statement on breaching the four federal dams in the lower Snake River looks at four alternatives:

Related Links:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla 509-527-7015, or 509-527-7020.

N.S. Nokkentved
Opening Dams Can Help Save Salmon
Times-News, December 18, 1999

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