How Salmon Hit Your Walletby Editors
Albany Democrat-Herald, December 20, 2005
Most people's heating bills in Oregon soared this month while the temperature hovered near freezing. So this is a good time to reflect on the demand to spill more water over the dams in the Columbia hydropower system in order to benefit juvenile salmon.
Jim Redden, a senior federal judge in Portland, says he likely will order the government to spill more water this coming spring and summer. More spilling means less power production. Less hydropower means that more power has to be generated otherwise. In the Northwest that includes generators powered by natural gas. Burning more gas to generate electricity, besides wasting energy, also raises the price of gas. The higher price is what you pay if you heat your house with gas. And that is how trying to save some salmon runs is costing you hundreds of dollars per year.
It would be one thing if the judge's order actually saved the salmon. Then you could be happy that you're helping the salmon fishing industry and some Indian tribes while you're depleting your bank account to cover the heating bill.
But there is no assurance that the salmon can be saved, at least not all the endangered runs in the Columbia system that might be affected by more spilling over the dams.
Fish scientists at Oregon State and elsewhere in the Northwest have concluded that nothing short of extraordinary measures can save the salmon in the face of increasing population in our main river basins. These measures might include setting aside some coastal basins as reserves and letting the other areas go.
So it's not likely that spilling all that water will have any permanently better results than the various measures -- such as changed dam operations and barging of young salmon downriver -- the government would like to take in the same cause.
The main difference is that the judge's likely course will cost you more money, and not just a couple of bucks.
Natural gas is going out of sight, mainly because of demand for competition for its use. Anything that keeps the demand high, such as not using river water to generate power, will prolong the time that you have to pay through the nose.
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