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Commentaries and editorials

Our Rivers, Our Dams

by Bohrmann Dieter
Tri-City Herald, March 24, 2007

As recently as November, special interest groups stormed Congress to push for removal of the lower Snake River dams. Save Our Wild Salmon, or SOWS, and Columbia Intertribal Fish Commission held a salmon rally and bake at a Portland waterfront park this past fall to promote dam breaching.

Meanwhile, EarthJustice, SOWS and other environmental groups are reaching out to farmers in Franklin PUD territory suggesting that farming and fish can prosper together even with removal of the Snake River dams.

It is time to step up to the plate on this contentious issue and let these folks know we value our river, our dams and our quality of life here in Tri-Cities. And that breaching the four lower Snake River dams is not an option. While salmon have become an icon for the region, the real backbone to our economy is the hydroelectric system that supplies low-cost, reliable power as well as transportation, flood control, recreation and significant other benefits.

Franklin and Benton PUDs have been actively involved with Northwest RiverPartners, a coalition of organizations and businesses that support science-based measures and a holistic approach to salmon recovery. This organization has established itself as the organization advocating for cost-effective improvements in salmon protection. NWRP was formed specifically to provide a balanced picture for dam breaching efforts and to give the true picture of all factors affecting fish.

To achieve optimal salmon survival, hydroelectric operations and facility upgrades, habitat restoration, harvest restrictions, and new fishing technologies and hatchery reform - also called the 4-H strategy - must play a role in recovery.

Dam breaching advocates claim the decline in juvenile fish survival in the 1970s was due to the building of the Snake River dams. Improvements at the dams have increased survival threefold since the 1970s, according to the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association. Survival today is as high, or higher, than it was in the 1960s, before the last four dams were built. Recent numbers provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association confirm that fish survival past the dams has improved. Most fish runs are near or above their 10-year averages. Keep in mind that these survival rates are comparable to those in rivers without dams. But this has come with a tremendous cost in dollars.

You and I pay for most fish and wildlife programs. Bonneville Power Administration has invested billions of our dollars in salmon and steelhead recovery activities. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council's 2006 annual report to Northwest governors shows that BPA spent more than $490 million in 2004 and over $575 million in 2005 to implement the council's fish and wildlife program. BPA's overall 1978-2005 spending for fish and wildlife is at $7.8 billion. This was paid for through your electric bill. (bluefish notes: most BPA power is consumed in Washington state).

We need our hydropower - it is one of the drivers of our low-cost electricity in the Pacific Northwest. We also need irrigated agriculture, a navigable river system and a water supply for homes and industries. We can preserve the region's fish and wildlife heritage and also embrace the opportunities made available by the river systems.

Franklin PUD will continue to work with Northwest RiverPartners this year to show our support of the dams. But we want your support as well. Northwest RiverPartners is planning to launch a campaign in May to focus on the importance of our dams.

Watch this newspaper and our newsletters and Web site for more information about a regionwide campaign that you can become involved with to protect our four lower Snake River dams. They are the lifeblood of our future.

Bohrmann Dieter
Our Rivers, Our Dams
Tri-City Herald, March 24, 2007

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