By Don Chapman
Feb 27, 2020
Idaho Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy and Washington Sen. Mark Schoesler, I read your co-authored article in the Feb. 18 Lewiston Tribune, which opposed Rep. Mike Simpson’s dam-breaching plan. I am quite disturbed with the eagerness of you and other dam supporters — including Gov. Brad Little — to reject the proposal out of hand.
With respect to alternative power sources, for example, have you researched why the Bonneville Power Administration is going broke? Do you know why power contracts in the West are turning to sources much cheaper than BPA energy?
Do you oppose the use of modular nuclear power units? Have you sought information on cost and safety of those units? Do you have data on battery development to store wind and solar energy? Do you know what it will cost to upgrade the four Snake River dams if remain intact? Do you know the annualized cost of dredging sediments to keep barge traffic possible? Those and similar questions will be discussed during the period before a final decision is made by Congress.
Have you examined the economic benefits associated with a free-flowing lower Snake River? What are the net gains or losses if breaching becomes reality? Is $33 billion such a terrifying figure?
The current total expenditure to date for salmon passage exceeds $17 billion for measures that have not restored salmon and steelhead. If you have not researched the costs and benefits of a reservoir and reservoir-free lower Snake River, you have not done your homework or have accepted what commodity advocates have told you.
Are the dams really the problem? The mantra thrown out by commodity lobbying groups cites the work of British Columbia scientist David Welch, a consulting contractor for BPA who is supposedly the expert on ocean problems as the reason for salmon declines. Did you know how thoroughly Welch’s work has been debunked by Northwest scientists?
Did you know that salmon smolts die in a pool and dam passage rate of 8 percent per dam; a total loss between Lewiston and Bonneville tailrace of 50 percent? Do you realize that Northwest River Partners and other commodity groups try to convince the public the each dam passage kills only 2.5 percent of smolts? You may not know that the loss rate between Whitebird trap and Ice Harbor Dam (before the other three dams upriver from Ice Harbor were built) was 11 percent.
Your opinion piece asked: “Why target the Lower Snake Dams?”
You asked why the Idaho Power Co. dam complex above the Salmon River is not targeted?
You clearly need to do more homework on this issue. The Hells Canyon dams are high dams, not the 100-foot structures on the Lower Snake. Passage is not biologically feasible because smolt passage through the long and deep reservoirs is impossible (tested shorty after these projects were completed).
Dworshak is another infeasible prospect for fish passage. I spent a year studying, as a consultant for Idaho Power relicensing, the potential for fish passage at the Hells Canyon dams and concluded it was not feasible.
Have you wondered why smolt-to-adult survival percentages have been much higher in the John Day and Yakima rivers (four Columbia River dams) than in the Snake River (eight dams)? Are you aware that the regionally accepted goal is a mean SAR of 4 percent and that salmon SARs have not exceeded 1 percent for more than two decades in Snake River system?
Are you willing to see wild salmon and steelhead numbers fall until fish are functionally extinct?? I am not.
The governor took dam removal off the table when he sent his salmon workgroup off to deliberate. He appointed a group whose makeup would assure what I term an insipid report (my terminology). The result, as expected, was a determination that the region could make-do with habitat improvement and hatcheries.
I remind those who oppose dam removal that habitat in Idaho’s wilderness and primitive areas is pristine, such as the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, and does not need habitat improvement; it needs more returning salmon.
The workgroup report recommended more hatchery output of salmon and steelhead. That approach will not help Endangered Species Act-listed wild fish at all. More likely it will result in damage to wild gene pools and higher harvest-related mortality, even in catch-and-release sport fisheries.
Genetic makeup of hatchery salmon changes with domestication and fish used as broodstock are not the same as the genetic makeup of wild fish, with 25 separate unique genetic characteristics of ESA-listed fish.
Barge and river traffic are a concern to you. So why have you not examined the alternatives carefully? It has always nonplussed me to see railway service lines that go far up the Snake and Clearwater rivers unused. If they were used to transport goods, what is the economic difference between rail and barging? Why is wheat shipment declining from the Port of Lewiston?
Have you been persuaded by barge advocates? If you check, I think I recall that some estimates show every barge load of wheat from Lewiston downstream costs about $25,000 in federal subsidies.
Have you looked at information on the impending removal of the several Klamath River dams that block salmon passage to the Upper Klamath? Have you read about dam breaching in other rivers and what benefits and costs were involved?
I suggest you broaden you approach to Simpson’s proposal while keeping an open mind instead of listening to Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, commodity voices and our governor.
Please do more research before you write opinions.
Chapman studied and taught fish management and ecology for 50 years, with most of that effort devoted to salmon and steelhead of the Columbia River basin. He lives in McCall.