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Dam Salmon

On June 8, President Obama nominated Rebecca Wodder for assistant secretary of the Department of Interior. Wodder has been CEO of American Rivers since 1995 and before that was with the Wilderness Society. Even though she is eminently qualified for the post, it didn’t take long for the right-wing crisis machine to jump into gear against another lefty, socialist, enviro-Nazi nomination that may help to protect our nation’s resources.

As assistant DOI secretary, Wodder would oversee both the Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. During her tenure at American Rivers, the organization came out in favor of removing the Snake River dams so, of course, that gave business groups the perfect line of attack. If Wodder is selected, she would use her overwhelming personality and power to force removal of the dams. The economy of the northwest will be in shambles and CEOs will have to eat beans in the dark.

Last week, Flathead Electric Coop sent out a warning to its members about the nomination asking that they quickly write their senators opposing the nomination. FEC warned its members that a Wodder confirmation would “impact Flathead Electric’s access to the clean, renewable, cost effective electricity the hydroelectric system provides.” and further;

“Ms. Wodder is not recognizing the massive effort and dollars spent to protect and recover salmon species and the amazing success in increasing the returns of listed stocks.

Not surprisingly, that phrasing has shown up from various business interests in the northwest. Don Brunell, president of the Washington Association of Business wrote almost word for word in opposition saying;

“Most troubling, Ms. Wodder’s continued pursuit of dam removal and statements that extinction is imminent show she has missed or purposefully ignored the massive effort made to protect and recover salmon species and the amazing success in increasing the returns of listed stocks,”

Not that I would suggest a coordinated effort by the right wing to scuttle the nomination of a qualified Obama nominee, but nevertheless there doesn’t seem to be a lot of respect for the truth in their campaign. Let’s take a quick look at a couple of myths surrounding removal of the Snake River dams.

  • Electricity rates will go up if the dams are removed: These four dams are low-head run-of-the-river installations. They store little water and produce most of their power during the spring freshet when there is already a surplus of hydropower in the system. Indeed, with this years high flows, BPA forced the shutdown of many wind-energy installations due to the over-production of electricity by the regions dams. Estimates say that the impact on electricity customers would be less than 2-4%. It will cost ratepayers $8-9 billion over the next ten years to keep the dams operational and raise the levees around Lewiston, ID to prevent flooding due to sedimentation. These factors will impact rates far more than removal.
  • Fish are doing better due to “massive effort and dollars spent to protect and recover salmon species”: We have spent on the order of $8 billion in an attempt to recover the Snake River salmon and steelhead stocks so far. At this point, as shown in the accompanying graphic, Snake River steelhead populations are at 36% of their minimum recovery goal. Spring and summer salmon populations are at 23% of their goal.
  • On Monday, the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society issued a resolution saying in part;

Click for Big

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that based on the best scientific information available, it is the position of the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society that the four lower Snake River dams and reservoirs are a significant threat to the continued existence of remaining Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and white sturgeon; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that if society-at-large wishes to restore Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and white sturgeon to sustainable, fishable levels, then a significant portion of the lower Snake River must be returned to a free-flowing condition by breaching the four lower Snake River dams, and this action must be comprehensively planned and implemented, using appropriate techniques and management practices, in a timely manner;

Most Snake River salmon and steelhead returns remain at the same levels now as they were when first listed in the 1990s. There have been some ups and downs of hatchery returns, but native fish have seen no impact from the “massive effort“. NOAA estimates the cost of the recovery plan at $600 million per year over the next ten years.

According to the Revenue Stream study, “Dam removal will save American taxpayers and Northwest ratepayers between $2 billion  and $5 billion over  20 years, and will also  generate at least $9  billion in new revenue. The cost of salmon recovery with the dams in place ranges between about $8-9 billion in the next 10 years to $16-18 billion over the next 20 years.

According to a new DOI study, recreation in Idaho already provides more jobs than grazing, mining and energy combined.  There is no biological or monetary reason for keeping the Snake River dams. They were built during the cold war between 1961 and 1975 to provide power for the Hanford Nuclear Weapons facility near the tri-cities and really don’t serve a useful purpose since the nuclear facility became a Super Fund site and closed down. The amount of power they provide is trivial and the problems they cause for both people and fish multiply each year they continue to exist. As the planet continues to warm over the next decades, Snake River salmon and steelhead stocks need access to higher, cooler habitat in the upper river drainage if they are to survive. Tweaking around the edges has failed so far and will continue to fail until this precious resource is lost forever.

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