the film
Commentaries and editorials

Speaker Broaches Touchy Subject
of Dam Breaching

by Julie Pence
The Times News, February 24, 2006

TWIN FALLS -- If you come to Twin Falls to discuss dam breaching, be advised that wearing a Kevlar vest for protection might be in your best interest.

At least, that's how Don Chapman prefaced a speech he presented last week to the Twin Falls Rotary Club.

Nonetheless, Chapman ventured south beyond the Perrine Bridge to the Turf Club, where he delivered his message -- sans the vest. He laid out in blunt terms and technical evidence that not only would southern Idaho irrigators benefit from breaching the four lower dams on the Snake and Columbia river system, but also the salmon population would be a lot better off, too.

Rest assured, said Chapman -- a salmon consultant with a doctorate from Oregon State University -- that the dams are not to blame entirely for the lowering of the salmon population. Global warming, he said, is a major culprit.

"The polar ice cap has shrunk since 1979 by 7.8 percent (and) the level of dependable snowmaking in the Colorado Rockies has risen from 8,000 to 9,000 feet," Chapman said. "And the Fraser River, the large undammed system to the north of the Columbia River, rose in summer temperature by 1.1 degrees Celsius in the last half century."

The result for salmon is that migration starts up to six weeks earlier and can suffer up to 90 percent pre-spawning mortality. Stress levels and disease likelihood increase, contributing to the high mortality.

But also, "you all know that Chinook salmon and steelhead once swarmed upstream as far as Shoshone Falls in the Snake River and such streams as the Boise, Malheur, Owyhee and Powder rivers before Hells Canyon dams were built," Chapman said. "Those runs are gone forever, along with the habitat quality that supported them."

Yes, Twin Falls, Boise and Ontario and other towns upstream from the blockages are prospering without the salmon and steelhead.

"So, what's the big deal about losing wild salmon in downstream tributaries?" he asked. "The big deal for me is the legacy we leave. Do we want to be remembered as the generations that extinguished the listed wild stocks?"

Chapman said he thinks breaching the four lower Snake River dams would cut smolt mortality in the Snake River by half and virtually eliminate dam-caused mortality in adults.

He admitted breaching would create winners and losers, but ironically some big winners would be southern Idaho irrigators because they would no longer have to deliver 487,000 acre-feet of flush flow.

"Why have irrigators down here failed to support breaching?" Chapman asked. "Darned if I know. Could it be they can make more money selling water than farming?"

He noted that northern Idaho farmers prosper from sending their farm products by barge to Portland, but he said that's no bargain for southern Idaho growers.

In addition, the amount of electricity the four dams produce only takes care of 4 percent of the amount needed by Idaho, Oregon and Washington -- which, to his mind, isn't worth what society gives up in losing the genes of wild salmon stock. Rotarians were noticeably quiet with no questions after Chapman's provocative speech. But President Mark Koffer of Walker Water Systems did admit afterward that Chapman delivered "good information."

Regarding Chapman's comments on protecting wild salmon,Koffer also said that "Biodiversity is important (and it) contributes to a stable ecology."

Julie Pence
Speaker Broaches Touchy Subject of Dam Breaching
The Times News, February 24, 2006

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation