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Leland Miyawaki 01-04-2005 09:47 PM

Salmon and Dams
This was in this mornings Seattle Times:

An administration roadmap to salmon extinction

By Bruce Babbitt

Wild salmon are drifting toward extinction in the northern Rocky Mountains. Last fall, the Bush administration delivered a decision that will be the death blow, if it stands: Four obsolete dams on the Snake River in eastern Washington state will not be dismantled.

The Snake River dams were conceived on a field of industrial dreams. The idea took root in the 1960s, when local boosters persuaded Congress to authorize a huge project to transform Lewiston, Idaho, 400 miles from the Pacific, into a seaport.

The Army Corps of Engineers then proceeded to subdue 140 miles of the wild Snake, remaking it into a slack-water barge channel.

The dream soon turned into a nightmare for people and towns that depend on wild salmon. The fish began disappearing from the lakes and rivers upstream from the dams.

In one year, only a single sockeye managed to find its way up to Redfish Lake, in the Sawtooth Mountains, to spawn.

Prized chinook runs vanished throughout central Idaho. Fisheries and fishing jobs in the Northwest and as far away as Alaska, tribal fisheries included, declined with them.

Meanwhile, the promised inland seaport boom did not arrive.

The volume of barge shipments never reached expectations, in part because many farmers in the region still found it cheaper to ship by rail to the deep-water port at Tacoma.

That didn't deter the corps, which continues to spend $36 million a year to operate and maintain the four Snake River dams, their locks and the navigation channel.

Yet, even at this late date, there is still a chance to save the salmon. The corps, the farmers and the fishermen could cooperate to get the wheat off the river and onto railroads where it belongs.

The track is in place. The mainlines of the Burlington Northern and the Union Pacific run right through this wheat country and then west to Washington ports at Pasco, Vancouver and Tacoma, and Portland, Ore.

The state of Washington just purchased the short lines that feed the mainlines. This system already ships a lot of local wheat, and, with modest further investment, the Burlington Northern says it will be ready and willing to handle what is now shipped by river.

Farmers near the river who use the channel to transport grain are the main voice for keeping the dams, because they save 3 to 7 cents per bushel compared with shipping by rail. What stands between waters alive with salmon and the silent expanses of extinction is that 3 to 7 cents per bushel.

All of this cries out for a common-sense solution that takes all sides into account. There is one that has yet to be considered: Simply shut down the barge traffic, take out the dams and then dedicate a small part of the annual $36 million that would be saved to making up the shipping differential with the farmers.

In contrast, the administration's plan to keep the dams and "save" the salmon has an estimated total cost of $6 billion over the next 10 years. Much of that would go to various schemes to barge, truck, pipe and steer migrating salmon around the dams.

Scientists have repeatedly concluded that these proposals offer little hope of restoring the wild salmon to fishable abundance.

Neither science nor logic nor economic theory supports the administration's plan. The dams could be dismantled, the farmers who ship on the river compensated and the relatively small amount of electricity the dams generate replaced, for about one-third of the $6 billion. A restored fishery would be worth at least $1 billion a year to Pacific Northwest states.

The administration's plan is a very expensive roadmap to salmon extinction. It's time to admit a mistake and set about fixing it for the sake of fishermen, farmers, Native Americans, the salmon, the inland Pacific Northwest ecosystem and the taxpayers.

Bruce Babbitt was secretary of the Department of Interior from 1993 to 2001. He is a former governor and attorney general of Arizona.

juro 01-04-2005 10:13 PM

Bruce Babbitt is a man I look up to more than any president during my adult life. Thanks for posting Leland, it's good to see there are some people involved in a political career worthy of a sportsman's deepest respect and admiration although it's a shame that he is no longer our Secretary of the Interior.

link 01-05-2005 11:22 AM

Snake River Dams
Right on about Babbitt. Look who our secretary is now, a former lobbiest for the timber industry! If that's not the fox supervising the chickens, I don't what is.

One important point that I always mention when debating this issue with the Save Our Dams advocates is this is only partial dam removal. All of the four lower Snake River Dams are composed of a concrete structure on one side of the river and a huge earthen berm extending the rest of the way across the river. Only the dirt is to be removed. The concrete structure including the power house, turbines, locks and fish ladders will be mothballed. These valuable infractures will not be dismantled. They will be left in place and the dams could easily be rebuilt if we wished to do so in the future, all it takes is dirt. What does it take to rebuild a salmon?

I have read studies that claim the cost of removing the dirt from all four dams is less than the annual current cost of dam maintenace and dam improvements to make them more fish friendly.

How can any sensible individual refute temporary dam removal as a remedy in the face of salmon extinction?

This important aspect of the dam removal arguement for salmon recovery usually mollifies any fervent dam surporter, if not, take a 4 inch large arbor reel and....


Luv2flyfish 01-09-2005 02:48 AM

Great Post Leland!

I also read not too long ago alot of this information in greater detail in David James Duncan's book, "My Story as told by Water." Those 4 snake dams generate something like 4 or 6% of the regions power at an Astronomical price. A 6 billion dollar bandaide, vs. moving some dirt, paying a few hundred bucks to each farmer who will loose a few pennies per bushel seems to make PERFECT sense to it should the rest of Tax Paying America. However, Its been proven time and again that Common Sense has NO PLACE in our current environmental policies or future policies.

As for someone's mention thats its time to fess up to a failed scheme and start fixing it..........That'll be the day! Its more profitable to keep leaching the pockets of blue collar America.

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