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Commentaries and editorials

Salmon Slide

by Editors
The Columbian, November 19, 2004

This $13 million weir is being fabricated at a Vancouver, Wash., shop and is to be installed at Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River next spring. You think theme parks for humans are expensive these days? How about a $12 million, 1.7-million-pound water slide for juvenile fish?

That's the layman's explanation of the metal monster that's being built at the Thompson Metal Fab Inc. plant in Vancouver. The huge contraption will be barged upriver next spring and installed at the Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River near Tri-Cities. It's designed to help salmon smolts navigate past the dam in their instinctive rush to the ocean.

Predictably for both parties, Republicans praise the weir as testimony to President Bush's commitment to preserve both salmon and dams. Likewise, Democrats assail the weir as a too-little, too-late solution to the problem of endangered salmon species.

Before engaging in the political spat, however, we see plenty of encouraging aspects of this particular project. We like the fact, for example, that it created 50 jobs here, as The Columbian's Erik Robinson reported Wednesday. We feel a bit nostalgic about the fact that the weir is being fabricated at the Columbia River site of the old Kaiser Shipyard. It reminds Clark County residents of a time when almost 40,000 workers rushed here during World War II and built 144 military ships in 44 months.

It's also encouraging that the salmon smolts, instead of having to enter the dam's spillways or shoot down past the turbines, can enter the weir and scoot more comfortably down to the river's lower level.

The track record of these fish weirs, albeit only short-term so far, has been impressive. Bob Lohn, regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, said a similar weir at Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River increased the salmon survival rate from 93 percent to 98 percent.

The Columbian and others have favored breaching Snake River dams as a means of protecting endangered salmon species. But that solution appears unlikely. Some consolation can be found in the installation of the innovative fish weir.

Salmon Slide
The Columbian, November 19, 2004

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