LOWER GRANITE DAM, Idaho - A stiff wind blows from the west this blustery fall day, but it doesn't bother John McKern. Wearing a hard hat with his name in black letters across the front, the clean-cut, burly 54-year-old looks like a sea captain as he leans against a railing and gazes down at the dark blue waters below.
But McKern is nowhere near the ocean.
Rolling hills of blond and chocolate wheat fields surround this
"ship," which is in fact an immobile concretion known as the Lower
Granite Dam. It is the uppermost of four federal dams that block
the Snake River in eastern Washington on its way toward the mighty
Columbia River. Built in the 1960s and "70s, the dams produce some
of the Pacific Northwest's vaunted cheap electricity and create
deep waters for barges to carry grain and lumber from this interior
outpost to the world beyond.
McKern is a fish
biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and, in a way, he
is the captain of the Snake River dams. For in this brave new
post-dam-building age, biologists have an increasing say in how
federal dams are run. They have taken over because the famous
salmon and steelhead runs that have used this stretch of river for
tens of thousands of years on their way to and from the ocean
continue to spiral toward extinction, and the dams have proven to
be one engine of their destruction.
River run of coho (also called "king') salmon has already vanished,
probably in the mid-1980s. In this decade, Northwestern tribes and
conservationists convinced the federal government to give the four
remaining stocks of Snake River salmon protection under the
Endangered Species Act. The listings have pushed the federal
agencies in charge of the river to make all sorts of adjustments to
the four dams to help fish survive, and McKern, a 30-year veteran
of the Corps, has been in on all of them.
he and Nola Conway, a public-relations specialist with the Corps'
Walla Walla District, descend into the bowels of Lower Granite to
show off one of 12 enormous, 60-ton fish screens. The screens
deflect more than half of the juvenile salmon, or smolts, away from
the dam's turbines and into a narrow pool of water, where they are
sucked into a pipe and carried hundreds of yards below the dam.
Most of these collected fish are piped onto a fleet of barges and
trucks, then floated or driven past eight federal dams to the
waters beyond the Bonneville Dam, on the Columbia River, 50 miles
west of Portland.
The Corps started transporting
fish in 1968. This year it spent $3.5 million to barge and truck
19.3 million fish, and McKern says 98 percent of those fish
survived, a rate that "might be as high as when the river flowed
naturally." Fish barging may have saved some of the Snake River
runs from extinction already, McKern claims, especially during the
drought years of the 1970s, when flows were very low and
temperatures in the reservoirs were high enough to kill fish. If he
had his way, the Corps would be allowed to barge every fish it
But these days McKern and his barges
sail against a strengthening headwind, even within his own agency.
He and the communities and industries that rely on the federal
waterway are being forced to envision the day when the dams will
stand functionless, like mothballed battleships in a harbor. Many
scientists and conservationists believe the dams still kill
inordinate numbers of young salmon, because the number of returning
adults continues to drop. All the technological tinkering in the
world won't bring the runs back, they contend, and only one bold
approach will: bulldozing the earthen portion of the four dams so
that this 140-mile stretch of the Snake can once again flow as a
Conservationists call the concept
"partial breaching," because the dams will still stand. But the
term makes McKern bristle. "Partial breaching is sort of like being
a little bit pregnant," he says. "The fish-passage system and the
turbines will be left high and dry," and the river will flow around
Five years ago, breaching was
considered so radical few environmentalists would touch it. Today,
it is center stage in a natural-resource debate more fierce and
complex than that over the spotted owl.
deadline drives the issue: This spring, the Clinton administration
must decide which measures are needed to restore the runs under the
Endangered Species Act. The federal agencies that run the
hydrosystem - the Army Corps, the Bonneville Power Administration,
which markets power from federal dams, and the National Marine
Fisheries Service - are racing to finish a couple of massive
studies on the various options to recover the fish and assess their
potential economic impact on the region.
each passing day, the tension builds in places like Lewiston,
Idaho, an inland "seaport" 30 miles above the Lower Granite Dam and
465 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Industries that rely on the dams
run ads in the local paper, touting the wonders of barging and the
plight of wheat farmers who will suffer without cheap barge
transportation. Conservationists, Native American tribes and
fisheries organizations counter with full-page ads in The New York
Times condemning the dams as fish killers and calling on
presidential candidate Al Gore to take a stand. Both sides bury
reporters in a blizzard of scientific and economic
As crunch time approaches, the Clinton
administration and the federal agencies are looking for a way to
delay the dam-breaching decision, at least until after the 2000
presidential election. No one can predict what kind of bounces
election-year politics will bring, but thus far, the tribes and
environmentalists have not succeeded in making salmon a national
issue, the way "ancient forests' became national in the late 1980s
and early 1990s.
However, the lack of a national
constituency doesn't mean the dams won't be breached. While some in
the Pacific Northwest fiercely oppose breaching, and have much to
lose if it happens, others in the region have much to lose if the
dams continue to stand. Electricity users, Alaskan fishermen,
loggers and ranchers will pay a heavy price if the burden of
recovery falls on them instead of on those who benefit from the
Ultimately, Congress must authorize the
removal of federal dams, and that won't happen unless there is a
consensus within the region, or a national push that breaches local
opposition. Neither exists now.
But, unlike the
spotted owl, the salmon is loved by almost everyone in the Pacific
Northwest, and no one has said they want to see it become extinct.
If the Snake River runs don't show any signs of recovering - and
soon - the region's leaders may accept breaching as the only
option. That's a possibility even the dam-building Army Corps now
recognizes, says Nola Conway.
"It's not a matter
of if we breach, but when we breach," she says, standing next to
McKern. "These dams won't be here forever, and I can foresee a time
when there isn't such polarization and we can agree on how to do
Having your fish and
eating it, too
The road toward breaching has been
long and painful. Scientists estimate that 16 million ocean-fatted
salmon once entered the mouth of the Columbia River yearly, heading
toward spawning grounds scattered across four states and a sliver
of Canada. But soon after the first salmon cannery was built in
1866, the numbers began to plummet. Early fish advocates sounded
"Nothing can stop the growth and
development of the country, which are fatal to salmon," wrote
Livingston Stone, a member of the U.S. Fish Commission, in 1892.
"Provide some refuge for the salmon, and provide it quickly, before
complications arise which may make it impracticable, or at least
very difficult. Now is the time. Delays are dangerous."
The warning was accurate. Fisheries collapsed,
and hatcheries pumping out millions of salmon each year didn't
help, and may have even hurt the wild runs. Scientsts now recognize
that hatchery fish dilute the genetic purity of the wild fish and
compete with them for limited food resources.
drive to develop the Columbia River Basin intensified with the
industrial age. Historian William G. Robbins notes that mechanized
farming and logging, large-scale industrial mining and numerous
small dams may have destroyed as much as half of the basin's fish
habitat before the 1930s.
At the heart of the
development drive lay the vision of a tamed Columbia River,
irrigating arid basins, lighting cities, running factories and
transporting goods. With the onset of the Great Depression,
regional boosters capitalized on Franklin Roosevelt's massive
public-works program to kick off a federal dam-building era. The
first dam, Bonneville, was completed in 1938, followed in 1941 by
Grand Coulee, which alone blocked off 1,100 miles of fish-spawning
The building of the dams consolidated
the Army Corps' position as the dominant waterway agency in the
region, and created a new federal entity, the Bonneville Power
Administration, which sold the electricity produced by the dams.
Together, the two agencies would dominate the
Fish advocates stood little chance
against dam-building, so they focused on trying to make the dams
fish-friendly. They forced the Corps to build a fish ladder at
Bonneville, which got adults past the dam. But the bigger problem,
and one that historian Keith Petersen says Corps officials knew
about from the start, was how to get smolts heading downriver
safely past the dams.
Not only did the pressure
generated by the dam's whirling turbines kill the smolts, but fish
that were fortunate enough to get sent over the dam's spillway away
from the turbines suffered from a form of the bends caused by the
supersaturated gas created by the plunging waters. And without a
current to push them through the reservoirs, the usually swift
14-day journey was extended by weeks, making smolts more vulnerable
to predators such as pikeminnows, which thrive in slack
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
maintained that its dams were benign. One Corps official told
Congress in 1941 that Bonneville Dam's turbines were "absolutely
incapable of hurting the fish. If you could put a mule through
there and keep him from drowning, he would go through without being
Congress authorized the four lower Snake
River dams in 1945, but for a decade Oregon's and Washington's
increasingly vocal fisheries agencies helped delay the construction
of the first Snake River dam, Ice Harbor. But, as Keith Petersen
notes in his 1995 book, River of Life, Channel of Death, fish
advocates could not outflank the Cold War: A call for more power at
the Hanford nuclear complex in central Washington eventually
convinced Congress to fund the dams.
Inland Empire Waterways Association, a coalition of farmers and
entrepreneurs in eastern Washington, the new dams were a ticket to
prosperity. The chain of reservoirs created by the dams - Ice
Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite, in
ascending order - turned the Snake into a river of commerce for
farmers; entrepreneurs hoped that new industries would soon gather
on its banks to take advantage of cheap electricity and cheap
But fish advocates did not give
up. In 1970, the Northwest Steelheaders Council and seven other
conservation groups sued the Corps to stop the fourth dam, Lower
Granite, and a fifth dam planned farther upstream. Larry Smith, a
Spokane-based lawyer who represented the Steelheaders, says, "We
never expected to win, but we hoped to raise awareness about the
impact of dams. In some ways we succeeded, because that was it for
dams - the fifth dam was never built."
avid fisherman and bird hunter who used to haunt the rich
bottomlands of the Snake before the dams flooded them, says he is
happy to see fish advocates once again aiming their sights on the
"I'm all for breaching," he says. "Those
dams should never have been built in the first place."
That's a sentiment also held by Michelle DeHart,
who heads the Fish Passage Center in Portland, which monitors the
number of returning Columbia River salmon. "How do we admit that we
went too far in developing this system?" DeHart asks. "How do we
admit that we need to undo something we've done?"
From barging to
Steve Pettit remembers well the day in
1975 when the waters behind Lower Granite Dam backed up into
"I cried my eyes out," says the
bearded, curly-haired fish biologist for the Idaho Department of
Fish and Game. "I was in a jet boat and we went down the river
below Lewiston to where the slack waters were surging and we just
rode them back toward Lewiston.
"I was thinking
of how the beautiful stretches of water where I had caught
steelhead after steelhead on a fly the year before were now a
hundred feet underwater."
Pettit didn't know it
at the time, but his professional life was destined to become
intertwined with Snake River salmon. He became the state's fish
passage specialist in 1981, when there was great optimism for the
Snake River salmon. Congress had just passed the Northwest Power
Act, granting the native fish equal footing with power production
at the federal dams.
To strike the balance, the
law created the Northwest Power Planning Council, composed of two
governor-appointed members from the states of Washington, Oregon,
Idaho and Montana. One of the first things the planning council did
was endorse the Army Corps of Engineers' growing fish-barging
program led by John McKern. Biologist Pettit was an early
"The federal agencies predicted that
with barging, Snake River runs would double in 10 years," says
Pettit. "I believed them."
A decade later, when
the first of the Snake River stocks were listed under the
Endangered Species Act in 1991, the bottom had fallen out. The
number of sockeye salmon making it back to Lower Granite Dam dove
from a high of 531 fish in 1976 to zero in 1990. (The number has
hovered in single digits ever since, despite a captive breeding
program, leading scientists to call the sockeye "functionally
extinct." ) Wild fall chinook had tumbled from 428 adults at Lower
Granite in 1983 to just 78 in 1990. Wild spring/summer chinook had
dipped from a high of 21,870 fish at Lower Granite in 1988 to 8,457
Nonetheless, barging remained the
central fish-recovery tool, along with providing more water from
upstream dams in Idaho to "flush" the smolts more quickly through
the filled reservoirs.
Flushing stung Idaho
hard. Not only had the dams been the coup de grëce for its
salmon runs - by 1978 the number of returning adults was so low
that officials closed the general fishing seasons - but the federal
agencies kept demanding more of the state's water for their
unproven flush technique.
When the National
Marine Fisheries Service determined in its annual Biological
Opinion that the Corps' 1992 plan for operating the dams would not
jeopardize the listed stocks, Idaho took the agency to court. In
1994, federal judge Malcolm Marsh ruled that the federal agencies
were taking little steps "when the situation literally cries out
for a major overhaul." He ordered federal biologists to work on a
new plan with state and tribal biologists (HCN,
The judge's decision created an
opening for an idea that had been first floated publicly in 1990 by
then-Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus. It was called drawdown - the rapid
lowering of reservoirs to recreate riverlike conditions. Fish
advocates rallied to the new cause, and in the late winter of 1992,
the Army Corps of Engineers conducted a month-long test drawdown of
Lower Granite Dam.
"We were left with a stinky
hole filled with 20 years' worth of mud and muck and trash,"
recalls David Doeringsfeld, the director of the Port of
But the idea wouldn't die. In 1995, the
NMFS (pronounced "nymphs') directed the Army Corps to further study
drawdown and make a recommendation by the end of 1999. The Corps'
initial studies showed that lowering the reservoirs for part of the
year would destroy the barging industry, seriously reduce power
production, and require $5 billion to redo the dams, McKern says.
The cost of breaching all four dams, on the other hand, was around
Suddenly, breaching didn't seem
like such a wild idea.
Breaching gained more
credibility in 1996, when a group of independent scientists
commissioned by the Northwest Power Planning Council released its
Return to the River report. The report advocated restoring more
"normative" ecosystem conditions to rivers as the best way to help
salmon and steelhead.
Meanwhile, a multi-agency
team of scientists convened by NMFS released studies showing that
breaching was the surest and quickest way to restore Snake River
salmon. The PATH team (named for the model it adopted, Process for
Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses) found that breaching has an 80
percent probability of recovering spring/summer chinook, and a 100
percent probability of recovering fall chinook, within 24
The PATH team's conclusions rested on
comparisons with other Columbia River salmon stocks that must
negotiate the four lower Columbia River dams, but do not face the
four lower Snake River dams. This includes the vigorous run of
chinook in the Hanford Reach section of the
"Our fish in Idaho are performing three
to 10 times worse than lower stocks, even though they face the same
environment below the Snake River, including the lower dams, the
estuary, and the ocean," says Charlie Petrosky, an Idaho fish
biologist on the PATH team. "What is it that is selectively killing
the Snake River runs? It's got to be the dams."
In July of 1997, the scientific case for
breaching spilled onto the pages of the Idaho Statesman in Boise,
the largest paper in the state and part of the Gannett chain. In a
brash, three-day series of editorials, the Statesman became the
first in the region to advocate breaching. Not only would breaching
recover fish, the editorial staff said, but it would benefit the
region's economy (HCN,
Fear on the
It would be hard to convince Roger and Mary
Dye that breaching will help the economy. The Dyes,
third-generation wheat and grass-seed farmers, live on the rich
uplands south of the Lower Granite Dam, and, like most of the
dryland wheat farmers within 50 miles of the lower Snake River,
transport their wheat to market via river barge. Most of it ends up
at the factories of noodle makers in the Far East, especially
Japan, India and Pakistan.
These days, the price
of wheat is at a 20-year low, and Mary Dye says dam removal would
force her family to truck its wheat to the Port of Pasco on the
"I called a local trucker and he
said our costs would go up 35 cents a bushel," she says. For the
Dyes, that translates into an extra $20,000 a
Roger Dye says the breaching debate has
caught most farmers by surprise: "Farmers around here used to laugh
at dam breaching - 'Ha! ha! what a stupid idea. It will never
happen," "''''says Dye. "But we're not laughing now."
Dye says he has no doubts that environmentalists
will go after other dams if they succeed in breaching the four on
the lower Snake. Why did they start with this 140-mile stretch of
river? "Because there are only 1,500 people in Pomeroy and 2,000 in
Dayton," Dye speculates. "This is the easiest place for
environmentalists to target."
The wheat farmers
are part of a larger economic community that relies on the Snake
River waterway. Five ports handle roughly 3.8 million tons of grain
bound for deep-water ports on the lower Columbia River. Farther
downriver, another group of farmers pipe water from the Ice Harbor
reservoir to irrigate some 37,000 acres of land reclaimed from the
high desert steppe country in the 1960s. And the Potlatch
Corporation's pulp and paper mill in Lewiston, with more than 2,000
employees, also sends one-third of its chips, paper products and
lumber downriver via barge.
who oversees 250 employees at the Port of Lewiston, says a
University of Idaho study commissioned by three of the ports showed
that breaching would cost the Lewiston-Clarkston area between 1,580
and 4,800 jobs.
"Breaching would send this
community back three decades," says
In its mammoth draft Lower Snake
River Juvenile Salmon Migration Feasibility Study, due out by
Christmas, the Army Corps is expected to show that the economy in
the vicinity of the dams and the reservoirs, as well as the port
town of Lewiston, would be hit hard. But fishing and tourism
industries upstream and downstream would prosper with a revitalized
fishery. Overall, the region would lose 492 jobs over 20 years,
according to Corps projections.
The loss of power
production from the dams - about 4 percent of the region's supply -
would cost the region $251 million to $291 million annually,
according to the Corps. That could mean residential electricity
bills climbing anywhere from $1.50 to $5.30 a month. The large
aluminum companies that sit on the Columbia River could see their
monthly electric bills rising anywhere from $222,000 to $758,000 a
Conservationists say the Corps' analysis
needs to be compared to the $3 billion the region has already spent
over the last decade to restore salmon and the billions more it
will likely spend if the fish are not recovered. Also missing from
the current debate, they say, is a discussion of how federal and
state monies could ease the economic pain.
conservation group, American Rivers, has hired economists to figure
out how investments in transportation alternatives to barging -
namely railroads and trucks - and water pumps at Ice Harbor could
"keep farmers whole." One of the studies estimated that
transportation rates for farmers would not go up if the federal and
state governments invested $272 million in rebuilding railroad
tracks and upgrading roads.
"We've postulated the
question: If you could have all the benefits that you receive now
from the dams without the dams, is there any reason we can't
proceed with fish recovery?" says Justin Hayes of American Rivers,
who grew up in rural Idaho. "We'd love to sit down at the table and
figure all of this out."
"I don't think American
Rivers knows anything about farming or the transportation of
grain," says Doeringsfeld.
Frank Carroll, a
former Forest Service employee who now works for Potlatch Corp. in
Lewiston, says most of the mitigation ideas "are coming from a
group of people that have never produced anything." But he says he
has met informally with Hayes, and gives American Rivers muted
praise for acknowledging that "it's not OK to hurt people to save
"If that message spreads," says Carroll,
"then we might be able to have a different kind of discussion."
Most economic players, however, aren't giving an
inch, even those who are potentially big winners of a free-flowing
lower Snake. The ports of Kennewick, Pasco and Benton on the
Columbia River could see a substantial increase in business if
farmers can no longer use the ports on the Snake. Yet in an essay
in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the directors of the three ports
slammed the American Rivers plan as unaffordable and based on one
unproven assumption: that dam removal will actually save
"Recent analyses by the National Marine
Fisheries Service have indicated little value to fish recovery
associated with dam removal," the directors wrote. "To date, the
case has not been made."
Two years ago, the scientific
case for breaching laid down by the PATH team appeared to be
unshakable, but sometime in 1998, with the 1999 decision date for
breaching drawing near, the federal agencies "went into their own
little world again and started throwing some curve balls," says
fish biologist Charlie Petrosky.
The first break
appeared last April, when NMFS released an appendix to the Corps'
EIS which cited data - the same touted by John McKern - showing
that barged fish are surviving the ride down the Snake and Columbia
much better than ever. If that's true, the report said, then
something else must be killing a lot of the fish. Fix these other
problems and breaching might not be
NMFS recommended another five to 10
years of study to help it figure out whether the barged fish were
really surviving, or whether many were dying quickly after being
released, as the PATH science predicted.
continue to triage these species for a period of time while we
continue to answer the unanswered questions," Rick Illgenfritz,
NMFS" director of external affairs, told the Associated
"What's another 10 years of study going to
do for the salmon?" asks Steve Pettit. "I'm convinced the federal
government didn't think breaching would gain as much momentum as it
has. All of a sudden it's staring them in the face, so they come up
with new science to say we need more time to study the situation."
The step back from dam-breaching pleased
Northwest politicians, not one of whom has come out for breaching.
In July, Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, R, pronounced the dam-removal
discussion "essentially over."
administration denied that it had made up its mind, but in November
it released the first draft of a long-awaited report that once
again raised the possibility that breaching was unnecessary. The
so-called 4H paper, a precursor to the Biological Opinion expected
in April, examines the four main causes of salmon mortality:
hatcheries, harvest, habitat and hydropower. It lays out several
scenarios for fish recovery, including one that calls for
improvements in habitat without breaching.
already improved the hydrosystem and reduced the harvest about as
much as we can," says Lori Bodi, a BPA policy expert who sits on
the team of federal agencies that produced the 4H paper. "We would
ask: Where are the comparable improvements in habitat?"
Fish advocates agree that habitat degradation is
a huge problem for salmon, but they say the 4H paper is slim on
science and details.
"Nowhere does NMFS say what
projects it would do to improve habitat," says Justin Hayes of
American Rivers. "Will we stop timber and grazing in the Snake
River Basin, or stop irrigation to control water pollution? If
improving the Columbia River estuary is important, how will that be
achieved? Will the Port of Portland have to stop dredging?"
Conservationists and tribal leaders note with
irony that NMFS is being asked to give its approval to a Corps plan
to dredge the channel of the lower Columbia River, even as it
builds its case for improving habitat in the same stretch of
NMFS director Will Stelle says his agency
would only recommend against breaching this April if it thought
other steps the region takes would be sufficient to save the
salmon. "Are the governments of the region willing to make
commitments necessary to recover these stocks without removing the
dams? That's an open question," Stelle said at a November news
conference. It was a remark some interpreted as putting pressure on
the states to lay out what they'd do to improve
What those commitments will be has many
in the region worried, and it's these worries that keep breaching
"Is it sensible for taxpayers and
ratepayers to maintain dams that deliver only 5 percent of the
region's power and the nation's cheapest power rates, while
continuing to pour millions of dollars into technological fixes
that have so far resulted in $3 billion worth of failure at the
dams?" asked a Nov. 18 Idaho Statesman editorial. "That's the
economic tradeoff the region faces."
Lovelin of the Columbia River Alliance, a group representing a wide
range of river users, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
"Frankly, this could mean a regional civil war."
Fish advocates say they are prepared
for the Clinton administration, through NMFS, to punt on dam
breaching this April. But they remain optimistic about their
longer-term prospects, because they see the playing field shifting
in their favor.
For one thing, the Indian tribes
are getting more aggressive, and some of them have gambling wealth
to give them legal and political clout. Four Indian tribes - the
Umatilla, the Warm Springs, Nez Perce and Yakama - say they may sue
the federal government for breaking treaty rights if it makes a
"In 1855, we gave away more
than 40 million acres for the right to keep fishing as we always
have," says Donald Sampson, an Umatilla Indian who now heads the
Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission. "If the fish aren't
there, then the treaty is broken."
he has a team of 15 lawyers working on a "war plan." Damages owed
the tribes could run into the "multiple billions," he
Then there are the Alaskans, whose powerful
fishing industry fears that if the federal agencies avoid dam
breaching, they will compensate by further restricting the
harvesting of salmon in the Pacific. In a letter to Washington Gov.
Gary Locke and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, Alaska's Gov. Tony
Knowles urged the Pacific Northwest to get on with the task of
making the rivers safe for salmon. Snake River salmon "face a
"killing field" of dams, turbines and reservoirs," he wrote. "As we
all know, Alaska fisheries barely scratch this salmon population,
accounting for only three-tenths of 1 percent of the human-caused
mortality. Clearly, fishing is not the problem."
Backing Knowles is the state's congressional
delegation, which has never hesitated to flex its muscle to defend
Alaska's fishing industry.
The federal agencies
are also changing. The Army Corps now looks at river restoration as
its future, says Corps spokeswoman Nola Conway, pointing to the
Corps' work in Florida to restore the channelized Kissimmee
And the Bonneville Power Administration,
which supplies close to 45 percent of the Northwest's electricity,
may well find it cheaper to lose a small portion of its power
generation capacity than to continue spending hundreds of millions
each year on a black hole of salmon recovery, says Pat Ford, the
director of the Save Our Wild Salmon
Some utilities that buy power from BPA
have already started to worry that if the salmon don't recover or
go extinct, Congress - led by delegations in the Northeast and
Midwest, where electricity rates are high - will take away their
very low preferred-customer rates. One is Oregon's Emerald People's
Utility District, which serves customers outside the Eugene area.
Last May, Emerald shook the power establishment by supporting dam
"Should the U.S. Government ... fail
to take steps necessary to protect the biological integrity of the
Columbia and Snake rivers, the benefits that BPA has afforded the
people of the Pacific Northwest will be taken away," the utility's
board of directors wrote to President Clinton.
While other nonprofit public utility districts,
co-ops and municipalities that buy BPA power have not followed
Emerald's lead, several, including Seattle City Light, have said
that breaching should be an option.
is not much time for the region and the federal agencies to come up
with a solution that everyone can live with. Longtime salmon
combatants say that what's needed is fresh leadership. Oregon's
Kitzhaber has made some efforts to bring the region's governors
together to take on the salmon issue. But so far the other
governors have shown little enthusiasm.
since the fish were listed under the ESA, people have retreated to
their trenches," says Lori Bodi, who was the executive director of
American Rivers before taking her current job with the BPA. "We've
forgotten how to work together."
But, as every
journalist knows, nothing motivates like a
"People are so worn out that maybe
they're ready for a solution," says Bodi. "If not, we'll be back in
Fish advocates say any solution must
eventually include breaching.
"We have a window
of five to 10 years," says Scott Bosse, a biologist with Idaho
Rivers United. "Breaching is not only possible, it is inevitable."
Paul Larmer is the senior
editor of High Country News. John Rosapepe contributed to this
You can contact
* Save Our Salmon Coalition, 206/286-4455
* Public Affairs Office,
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla District, 509/527-7020
* National Marine Fisheries
Service, Protected Resources Office, Seattle, 206/526-6147