Idaho's Water Will Not Save Salmonby R. L. "Nick" Nicholson, President Idaho Steelhead & Salmon Unlimited, McCall
Letters to the Editor, The Star-News, July 11, 2002
Once again Idaho's political leaders want to "shoot the messenger" rather than address the cause of the message. We hear over and over again that "Salmon are draining Idaho's reservoirs." The fish are not the reason Lake Cascade, Dworshak, and other reservoirs will be drained this summer.
Scientists have determined that a water flow velocity of 100,000 cubic feet per second is required in the lower Snake River to overcome the effects of federal dams built in the 1970s.
Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental, and Ice Harbor dams constructed on the lower Snake River between Lewiston and Pasco, Wash., have created a hot water slough the delays and kills salmon smolt migrating to the ocean. In fact, these dams have proven so lethal to Idaho's salmon that today all of Idaho's wild steelhead and salmon are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
The federal government has determined that Idaho water is needed to overcome the effects of these lethal structures. Ironically, Idaho's political leadership, including the governor, supports the federal plan.
Idaho sport fishermen and Idaho conservation groups disagree. It would take 12 million to 16 million acre feet of water to meet the flow requirements of the fish with the lower Snake River dams in place. That amount of water is not available in water storage reservoirs in Idaho. Therefore if Idaho drained all its water it still could not meet the needs of the fish.
Idaho fishing and conservation groups have long advocated bypassing the four above mentioned dams to allow the river to flow more naturally. It is well-documented that natural flow would require a mere fraction of the water now needed.
In fact, Idaho Steelhead & Salmon Unlimited believes it would require no additional Idaho storage water. However Idaho politicians continue to fight vehemently to protect these Washington dams - even at Idaho's expense.
Past citizen polling confirms that nearly one-half of Idahoans agree with bypassing the Washington dams, in spite of the fact there is not political leadership advocating that. Nearly all Idahoans agree - Idaho water is not a long-term solution to fixing the problem with the federal dams. Yet Idaho's politicians do nothing to solve this problem. It appears their solutions is to let our salmon and steelhead go extinct.
Because Idaho cannot provide the water needed to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, the feds just ignore the law. Pending litigation could quite possibly change all this. If the courts rule in favor of the fish, and Idaho politicians continue to support the lower Snake River dams, the only solution will be that Idaho must provide the needed water to meet the biological needs of the fish or let them go extinct.
Neither option is acceptable to Idaho Steelhead & Salmon Unlimited. Why not undo what has been proven to be a colossal mistake? The fish will come back, the farmers will have their water, and people will recreate on our lakes and streams. Breach the dams.
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