Salmon Issue Heats Up . . .
By N.S. Nokkentved, Times-News - July 30, 1999
TWIN FALLS -- Alternatives to help threatened and endangered salmon presented by Idaho's delegation this week resemble an option already under study that includes taking 1 million to 3 million acre feet of irrigation water from the Upper Snake River Basin.
But neither Sen. Larry Craig or Rep. Mike Simpson support any proposal that would take irrigation water from southern and eastern Idaho, they said Thursday. Nor do they support any proposal that would breach four federal dams on the lower Snake River to improve passage for salmon.
Taking that much irrigation water would from southern and eastern Idaho would dry up as much farmland as that irrigated by the Twin Falls Canal Co. and the North Side Canal Co. together.
The exact effects on the Magic Valley would depend on what land is dried up, but storing that much water for salmon would reduce the space available for irrigation water storage in Upper Snake River reservoirs, and it has the potential to reduce the Twin Falls Canal Co. water supply.
Most scientists agree that dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers have decimated once teeming runs of salmon in the Snake River into Idaho. Keeping those declining salmon populations from extinction has become one of the most contentious environmental issues the Pacific Northwest has seen.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is completing an environmental impact study of three options to improve salmon passage in the lower Snake River. That study is expected to be completed this fall or winter.
One option is to continue with present efforts that rely on flushing fish with stored water from Idaho, collecting young fish and barging them past all the dams and releasing them below the Bonneville Dam.
The second option would rely on more flushing water from Idaho, improved collection and barging systems, improved dam bypass and increased hatchery efforts.
The third option would take out the earthen sections of the four federal dams on the lower Snake River. Most scientists say this option gives the salmon their best chance of recovering.
The National Marine Fisheries Service expects to make a decision based on that impact study before the salmon migration season next spring. But the Fisheries Service also expects to release additional information this fall that it hopes will help the Pacific Northwest residents understand the salmon issue better, said Danny Consenstein, Columbia Basin coordinator with the Fisheries Service.
Craig and Simpson this week presented three methods they say will help salmon without having to breach the dams. The proposed alternatives to dam breaching would create new hatcheries in-stream, migration routes that bypass dams and strobe lighting to guide fish down the river.
Both said this week they wanted to bring public attention to alternatives other than breaching dams to help salmon.
But their statement was nothing more than an attempt to mislead the public, said Scott Bosse of Idaho Rivers United. Dam breaching needs to be the cornerstone -- not the only component -- of any recovery plan, he said.
Craig spokesman Mike Tracy says Bosse is ignoring "scientific alternatives, steps that clearly should be evaluated in the recovery effort."
The steps do not have broad support by scientists, Bosse said. What they propose is an effort to save dams not salmon.
Bosse is not interested in anything but destroying the dams, Tracy said.
Most northwest scientists agree that breaching the dams would give the salmon the best chance of recovery. While they acknowledge that recovery is not certain, scientists also note that waiting for additional scientific study increases the risk that the salmon would become extinct before effective recovery efforts are started.
Simpson said the methods presented should be considered among the alternatives to breaching, and there is no single solution to the issue.
The most extreme proposal is to breach the dams. Other things should be tried, he said. But even if breaching were chosen, it would be eight years before the dams are breached and another two to five years before any benefit would be seen for the salmon. In the meantime, why not do something now to help the salmon, he said.
He suggested that proponents of dam breaching are afraid some of those other efforts might work.
Bosse said what the delegation is proposing is political posturing that would only lull people into thinking that something was being done for the salmon.
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