Busting Dams, Saving Salmonby Opinion
The Baltimore Sun, August 10, 2000
Snake River: Federally subsidized dams endanger fish survival at hefty taxpayer expense.
FOR THOUSANDS of years, Snake River wild salmon have traveled up to 900 miles from the mountains of Idaho to the Pacific Ocean, returning over the arduous course several years later as adults to spawn and renew the ecological cycle.
But this magnificent migration was doomed by construction of dams and barge locks along the Lower Snake River three decades ago. The salmon are dying out, despite a $3 billion effort to save them and a court order for effective recovery action.
There is only one way to restore the salmon, which are vital to the ecosystem, the economy and the Native American tribes with strong treaty claims on healthy fish stocks: break the dams; free the river and the salmon.
That might cost $1 billion. But it's a bargain compared to the $200 million spent each year operating the dams and barging or trucking the salmon around them.
The dams are important to people in the Pacific Northwest. They provide hydroelectric power, irrigation and barge shipping benefits for the Washington-Idaho region, but with a heavy taxpayer subsidy. Northwestern consumers pay nearly the lowest power rates in the nation; barge rates get substantial freight subsidies.
But public investments in railroad and water pumps could mitigate the loss of dams. Restored sport and commercial salmon fishing could generate about $500 million a year in economic benefits.
What must not be lost are the Snake River salmon; five species are endangered, one became extinct in 1986.
Vice President Al Gore continues to duck the issue; George W. Bush opposes breaching the dams. President Clinton's draft plan, released recently, urges more delay and tinkering. That's a breach of public trust, instead of a necessary breach in the salmon-killing dams.
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