Federal salmon plan opens the door to breaching dams

A “strengthened plan” to restore salmon runs on the Columbia River opens the door, for the first time, to the idea of breaching dams on the Snake River.

But neither side in the contentious debate believes the administration has taken the correct approach.

The Adaptive Management Implementation Plan would call for dam-breaching only if “more aggressive” measures fail to reverse declines in salmon populations, according to a news release issued this morning by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The plan responds to a letter from federal District Judge James A. Redden, who said a biological opinion issued by the federal government would not restore Columbia River salmon runs, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

“The time has come to move out of the courtroom and get to work recovering salmon and preserving the region’s unique way-of-life,” said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “This biological opinion, backed by sound science and tremendous state and tribal support, will help preserve the vibrancy and vitality of the Columbia and Snake River basins for generations to come.”

Supporters of dam removal blasted the plan, saying it continues a flawed policy. See the news release from a coalition of groups.

Here’s what Zeke Grader, executive director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, had to say:

“This was a test for Commerce Secretary Gary Locke — on both economics and science — and this plan failed on both accounts. This decision will no doubt leave salmon in the perilous decline they have been in for years and communities up and down the coast and inland to Idaho will continue to suffer. For an administration so set on protecting and restoring jobs, this decision is a huge mistake and a clear signal to fishermen that their jobs don’t count.”

From Bill Arthur, deputy national field director for the Sierra Club:

“Although the Bush administration is gone, unfortunately it looks like its policies will live on for Columbia-Snake salmon. It’s a bit like the Night of the Living Dead; we keep fighting these failed and illegal salmon plans, but they continue to spring back to life… It’s now time for the Judge to bury this plan for good, and provide a fresh opportunity to get it right for the people, communities and magnificent salmon and steelhead of the Northwest.”

In a news release, U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, attacked the Obama administration for opening the door to dam removal, even a crack:

“The Obama Administration has put dam removal back on the table and delivered just what dam removal extremists have been demanding. No one should be fooled by talk of dam removal as a last resort when the Obama Administration is immediately launching studies and plans for such action.

“The extremists who brought this lawsuit may be critical about this plan because dam removal wasn’t delivered on a silver platter with promises of wrecking balls arriving next week, but they got what they wanted from the Obama Administration and they’ll try and convince Judge Redden to give them even more…

“I warned the Obama Administration that opening the door to dam removal even just a crack would incite dam removal extremists to keep fighting and divert time, attention and resources away from real solutions to recover salmon.”

Terry Flores, executive director of a user coalition called Northwest RiverPartners:

“This plan – while expensive – holds the most promise for the region to move forward collectively to do things that actually benefit fish… We support restoring wild salmon runs, and experience shows that dams and fish are co-existing, but this is an unprecedented cost people are being asked to bear in extremely tough economic times”

To view documents filed with the court today, visit the Federal Caucus Web site.

Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman
William McCall, Associated Press
William Yardley, New York Times
Editorial Board, The Oregonian
Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian
Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times
Editorial Board, Yakima Herald-Republic
Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman
Erik Robinson, The Columbian, Vancouver
Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian
Tom Banse, NPR, KUOW
Steve Scher, KUOW

8 thoughts on “Federal salmon plan opens the door to breaching dams

  1. Where do we get power and electricity without the dams?
    Why consider ripping our dams out, have our need for power changed?

    Isn’t it time to stop looking backward and wasting funds undoing when original thought could come up with other, better ideas. We must get the backward stepping folks out and the forward thinking people in.
    Sharon O’Hara

  2. The Columbia hydro dams are very important and generate a ton of power. The Lower Snake dams – the last ones added in the whole Columbia hydro system – generate far less power. And they generate primarily when the region doesn’t need it (fall and spring).
    I’m a huge fan of hydro, when it’s done well and in the right places. These dams were not built primarily for hydro but for barge navigation, to give Idaho a deep-water seaport with subsidized shipping rates. This would unlock a golden future for Lewiston, said the Corps. A generation later, that simply hasn’t happened, although giant corporate wheat farms appreciate the subsidized shipping.
    To see how we can replace the Snake River power, see http://www.lightintheriver.org/reports.html and click on the Bright Future report.
    As for “wasting funds” – BPA has spent, by its own estimate, some 8 billion in salmon “recovery” efforts since the first run was listed in the early 90s. Now 12 or 13 runs are listed. Not one has been “recovered.” Sounds like BPA has been wasting funds hand over fist.
    Finally – it seems to me that keeping commercially and culturally important species from going extinct is indeed looking forward, before it’s too late.

  3. BPA may well have wasted taxpayer dollars…they’re in good company…unless that organization happens to be private industry.

    Bright Future is a nice site, full of information. I’m curious and want to know what will be done with the information gathered by placing chips in appliances.

    “Within the next 10 years, most energy-intensive appliances – including furnaces, water heaters, refrigerators, freezers, etc. – will be manufactured with chips that will connect them to the meter through a wireless home or business network.”

    I stopped eating seafood except on rare occasions… and don’t like the taste, smell or feel of the farmed salmon. Eating fish living in polluted waterways seems foolish.

    “…keeping commercially and culturally important species from going extinct…”

    With all due respect… the horse was once a commercial and culturally important species and it went by the wayside, replaced by the automobile.

    ‘Something’ wiped out the mammoth creatures who once walked this earth…they disappeared or changed form.

    We see traces of former civilizations…whatever happened to the great civilizations before this one? They add to the mystery.

    I don’t agree that cultural and commercial ways of life must be held on to no matter the cost. To destroy dams that have been in place for many years and still useful seems foolhardy and wasteful. It affects us all as a nation and I vote no.

    To move forward and change behavior leading to the destroying disrespect we’ve shown for nature and her creatures seems more worthwhile than destroying dams in use today.

    What have the salmon been doing these fifty years and more since dams were built to block their passage?

    To protect what we have and prevent the further pollution and destruction of our waterways and natural areas is a worthy goal and one I wholeheartedly support.

    Thanks for your comments…I was unaware of the history of the dams built for barge navigation in Idaho.
    Sharon O’Hara

  4. A final note: The dams have other unintended, costly, negative consequences besides killing fish.
    From the beginning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged that significant sediment would accumulate behind Lower Granite Dam, particularly at Clarkston/Lewiston where the Clearwater joins the Snake River, slows, and drops sediment, adding to the massive silt already flowing downstream in the Snake from thousands of miles of streams. The Snake’s large drainage includes the Salmon River, which is one of the longest undammed rivers and which provides the largest intact block of salmon habitat left in the lower 48 states.
    As the sediment has displaced water in the reservoir, the river level has risen. Downtown Lewiston now sits lower than the river, protected only by the levees. These levees originally were built to allow the reservoir to be longer, rather than for flood control for local communities.
    The Corps studied the sediment issue extensively in a 2002 Environ-mental Impact Statement. Sediment build-up has happened at a much
    faster pace that the Corps predicted. About 3 million cubic yards of sediment accumulates in Lower Granite Reservoir every year. The reservoir is 55 percent full of silt, obviously leaving less room for water within its banks.
    The growing sediment has reduced channel capacity and the ability of the levee system to hold back water in floods. The levees were
    originally built to have 5 feet of “freeboard,” the height of the levee above the water level. With rising waters, the freeboard is now as low as 1.5 feet in places. The Corps estimated in the 2002 EIS that nearly $2 billion worth of buildings and infrastructure sit in
    the Clarkston/Lewiston area floodplain, facing a growing threat of damage. The Corps is looking at several options: 1) raising levees, 2) dredging sediment, 3) reducing incoming sediment, or 4) a combination of These. The costs in the 2002 EIS for combined dredging and levee-raising ranged up to $916.35 million.
    So in addition to not stimulating the economy and wiping out fishing jobs, this particular dam is threatening the very existence of Lewiston/Clarkston.
    Thanks for taking the time to learn about it.

  5. Silt, yes…I had forgotten the silt dilemma. A good slap of the reality that for every action there is a reaction.

    Once, several days into a ten day raft trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, the beautiful clear water of the river changed overnight into a murky mess of silt. For the rest of the trip, each morning we loaded up and moved down river for a few hours before we caught up to the clear water and out of the murky silt. Sometime during each nights stop, the silt caught up and passed us.

    Luckily, we had a geologist, biologist and others on board who explained, among other things, the amazing rock formations, the meaning of the visible layers and how the silt was filling up Lake Mead and the river bottom as it settled on its way down into Lake Mead.

    We were told that every year, flash floods in the Little Colorado began the silt journey into the big guy, the Colorado river. At that time the silt deposit depth from the river bottom was already measured in feet.

    “…in addition to not stimulating the economy and wiping out fishing jobs, this particular dam is threatening the very existence of Lewiston/Clarkston….”

    What happens to the people who live downstream within the area now protected by the dam, if the dam is removed?

    “… With rising waters, the freeboard is now as low as 1.5 feet in places. The Corps estimated in the 2002 EIS that nearly $2 billion worth of buildings and infrastructure sit in
    the Clarkston/Lewiston area floodplain,…”

    I didn’t know that New Orleans has sister cities with the same problems. We need to save what we haven’t already destroyed if at all possible.

    “…The Snake’s large drainage includes the Salmon River, which is one of the longest undammed rivers and which provides the largest intact block of salmon habitat left in the lower 48 states.”

    Taking out the dam would produce what results…including fish benefit and related costs?
    What is the big picture of the plus and minus effect on the area and people without the dam?
    Thanks for taking the time to explain …
    Sharon O’Hara

  6. Thanks for listening, Sharon. You’re asking for rather complex answers – what costs and what results from dam removal – that don’t lend themselves to this forum.
    I can recommend http://www.wildsalmon.org as a good resource. Among other things, there’s a Rand Corporation study on costs of removal vs. costs of leaving in place. (Search for “Revenue Stream”). There’s also some stuff about replacing the hydro, and the benefits to fish.
    Hope this is helpful.

  7. Dan,

    You’ve added some valuable information to this discussion, and I appreciate your taking time to lay out some important arguments.

    For those following these developments, I’ve added six new links to the list of news stories at the bottom of my blog post, including an engaging hourlong program by Steve Scher of KUOW.

  8. My thanks, Dan…your input added immensely to the picture… proof again the value of blogs …to share information and educate us… thank you.
    Sharon O’Hara

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