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Commentaries and editorials

Dams are Vital to Lewiston Area

by Keith Havens
The Spokesman-Review, June 5, 2008

The benefits of the Lower Snake River dams are integral to the economy of Lewiston and the Pacific Northwest. The Lewiston Chamber of Commerce believes that extreme environmental groups overstate the economic issues and flood risks in order to support their position to tear out dams.

Over the years, sedimentation behind Lower Granite Dam has reduced the freeboard space of the Lewiston and Clarkston levee system. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is investigating several options to reduce sediment levels. However, even with this winter's record snowpack, the Lewis/Clark Valley is not threatened by imminent flooding. While local residents do not support increasing the height of the levee system, they definitely do not support destroying dams as a solution. When the Lewiston Chamber of Commerce last polled its membership on dam breaching, 98 percent of the respondents opposed it.

According to the Corps of Engineers' Lower Snake River Juvenile Salmon Migration Feasibility Report/Environmental Impact Statement, the Lower Snake River dams provide a regional benefit of $266 million every year vs. dam breaching. Utilizing falling water to produce electricity does not produce a carbon footprint. However, environmental extremists choose to recite the same old tired mantra that dam breaching is a silver bullet for fish recovery.

Scientific evidence continues to show that the ocean, not dams, is the problem. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council is funding fish tagging research through the innovative Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking program. POST is part of a program to assess the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life in the oceans.

In a recent NPCC newsletter, Council Quarterly, George Jackson, POST senior scientist, has produced some interesting new information about the ocean survival of salmon and steelhead from rivers on Vancouver Island and from the Columbia River. Freshwater survival is generally quite good as the fish move down the rivers, through the estuary and out into the ocean. But what Jackson has found is that when fish start migrating on the continental shelf, survival is very low.

"Something is going on in this part of the world that is just hammering the fish when they are out in the ocean," Jackson said, adding that the mystery might have something to do with the impacts of global climate change.

POST research has shown that fish survival past dams does not appear to be a big problem. When you compare the raw survival estimates, there appears to be no difference in the survival of migrating fish in the Fraser River (with no dams) and the Columbia River. In fact, when you scale for distance, survival of the fish migrating out of the Columbia through eight dams is actually higher than the Fraser River. So if all of the dams on the Columbia River were removed, it may actually do no good. It may have very little effect if the real issue with salmon survival is in the ocean. Based on area commerce figures and existing research, breaching would produce a largely negative effect on the economy in our valley.

The federal action agencies recently released a "biological opinion" that lays out a 10-year plan for restoring salmon and steelhead runs. Three of the treaty tribes have signed a memorandum of agreement and the states of Idaho, Montana and Washington have voiced their support for the plan. The region has focused on river operations for more than 20 years and the new biological opinion adds much-needed attention on habitat and hatcheries as contributors to recovery.

The Lewiston Chamber of Commerce's position has always been "Fish and dams. We can have both." It is time to end the debate and get to work on fish recovery.

Keith Havens, Special to The Spokesman-Review
Dams are Vital to Lewiston Area
The Spokesman-Review, June 5, 2008

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