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Commentaries and editorials

Breaching Dams is No Answer for Salmon

by Glenn Vanselow
The Oregonian, January 7, 2005

These days, it is difficult to take seriously the doomsayers who claim that salmon are sliding to extinction. For the fourth consecutive year, salmon and steelhead returned to the Columbia and Snake rivers in record numbers, resulting in longer fishing seasons and bigger harvests for commercial and sport fishers throughout the Northwest. While there is work still to be done for fish in the region, clearly the massive citizen effort over time is making a difference.

While the runs look healthier with each passing year, some would have the region believe that long-term salmon recovery can be achieved only by removing dams on the Snake River ("Time to remove the dams", Jan. 4). They claim that dam breaching is the silver bullet that will guarantee recovery and prosperity for all. But the science says otherwise about the results of such a drastic action for fish, and the economics of this supposed silver bullet simply don't pencil out.

Numerous studies have raised concerns about the effect of dam breaching on migrating salmon and steelhead. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers feasibility study indicated that dam breaching would result in the release of 75 million cubic yards of silt that has built up behind the dams, increasing exposure to toxics and creating murky waters not suitable for fish. A study published in the journal Science in 2000 showed that dam removal would be ineffective at alleviating risks to the fish. And in each year since 2000, counts of adult Chinook salmon passing Ice Harbor Dam, the first dam on the Snake River that adult fish reach on their journey back upstream, were more than double what they were in 1964, the first year records were kept at the dam. Virtually all stocks of fish in the Columbia and Snake river basin have enjoyed similar -- or better -- returns in recent years. And these fish are drifting to extinction?

So the effect of dam removal on fish is far from certain and may even hurt them. But the impact of such an action to the region's economy and livelihood is certain -- and severe.

Dam removal advocates would have you think it is a relatively simple process to uproot an economy built up over decades. The truth is that the inland barge system supports almost $15 billion in international trade. The Columbia River, fed by the Snake, is one of the most important export gateways in the United States, ranking number one in the country for wheat and barley, number two for corn, and number one on the West Coast for bulk minerals, forest products and paper products. It accounts for more than 40,000 jobs in the Portland area alone, not to mention the thousands of workers, families and businesses that depend on the river in communities throughout the inland Northwest.

(bluefish notes: Removal of four Lower Snake River dams will not remove the Columbia River barge system, only the Snake River barge system. See Navigation Tonnage Summary by Commodity).

Indeed, it is the family farms -- the mom and pop businesses -- that would suffer most if these dams were removed.

(bluefish notes: 13 farms irrigate from Ice Harbor reservoir. See Irrigation from 4 Lower Snake River Reservoirs and Addressing Irrigators' Concerns).

Our environment would also pay. Four million tons of commodities currently barged on the river would be shifted suddenly to other modes of transportation with five to nine times the harmful emissions. Increased truck transportation would put an additional 4.2 million tons of pollutants into our air each year, according to the Corps' feasibility study. And the energy generation lost if the dams were removed -- enough to light a city the size of Seattle -- would have to be replaced at a higher cost to ratepayers, most likely by fossil fuels. (See 2,800 aMW of Conservation Through 2025 and Energy Surplus Predicted to Last).

Breaching dams is not the answer. This is not a matter of fish versus the economy. Destroying dams would be extreme and risky to both.

Glenn Vanselow is executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, which represents agriculture, forest products, navigation and electric utility interests in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Northern California.
Breaching Dams is No Answer for Salmon
The Oregonian, January 7, 2005

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