Time Waits for no Fish

(Bob Brawday/The Tri-City Herald via AP, File)

The pool hall is closed, the streets are quiet but there’s still work to do. You should be reading the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Columbia River System and submitting a comment. The deadline is April 13th, so get on it.

This report was speeded up by a presidential order back in October 2018. Some have asked for extending the comment period, but like me, I’ll bet you have the time right now. The salmon are waiting. Get on it.

You could go fishing instead. Idaho Fish and Game allowed a steelhead season this year; hatchery fish only. But if you care about the future of Idaho salmon, I suggest you read the report and comment.

The full report is available online, but I would recommend the Executive Summary (it’s only 35 pages). The detail and extensive analysis are impressive. I just disagree with their conclusion.

The conclusion of The Army Corps of Engineers (who build and run dams) and the Bonneville Power Administration (who buy and sell electricity) is that bypassing the lower four Snake dams would cost too much. Power costs would go up, and transportation costs would go up. But they clearly conclude, breaching would have the greatest improvement for salmon survival.

“Breaching” isn’t dam removal, it’s just opening up the bypasses that were used when the dams were built. The dams would still be there, the river would just go around them. They couldn’t generate electricity, they couldn’t stop floods and they couldn’t hoist or lower barges. But the young salmon would get a boost to the ocean. And the adults could come home easier.

The Corps and BPA argue for more “mitigation”; like the barging of smolts we do now and the modification of flows. We have already spent $17 billion on these strategies. They still think in that box.

There is no doubt a lot of the predictions about what will help Idaho salmon recover are unknown, just like we don’t really know how many ventilators we will need next month for COVID patients. But we do our best, don’t we?

If salmon recovery is important to you, why not chose the best option?

There is strong evidence that those four dams take a big toll on our salmon. In the Yakima River, where the fish have to pass four Columbia dams, regeneration is over twice as high as in Idaho. In the John Day and the Deschutes Rivers, with only three and two dams to pass, salmon have three time’s Idaho’s regeneration. Idaho’s rivers have had a regeneration rate well below sustainability for a long time. Hatchery fish have kept the seasons going. I want to keep fishing.

I am amazed at how this has been politicized. The first time I ran for county coroner, back in the 1990’s, I attended all the community forums, though I was unopposed and unaffiliated. If the crowd questions waned, I would ask the legislative candidates what they thought of the lower four Snake dams. The Republicans all had similar phrases, how vital they were to our economy. And since Palouse farmers love that cheap shipping, it made sense. It wasn’t long until I started seeing the “Save our Dams” bumper sticker. It was like somebody was planning to dynamite them. It’s been years now, and the discussion has continued. That’s good.

I have been encouraged that one of our deep Red and all Republican congressional delegation is willing to consider the question. Congressman Mike Simpson has stated he wants to see salmon recover. He has not endorsed any plan, but he has said he wants healthy salmon runs in Idaho. The other three are strongly with BPA and the Corps.

So, spend some time on the report and send in your comment. I did. It was sure easier than catching a steelhead; but not as much fun.

About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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