Salmon simplification

 

The article, “Salmon Salvation” offers a simple answer to a complex problem (HCN, 5/11/09). “Many scientists,” it says (without naming any), think taking out the four Lower Snake River dams will simply bring back salmon. That’s like saying many people voted for John McCain: perhaps true, but blind to the big picture.
 
Scientists realize 150 years of European-American development has had many effects on Northwest salmon. If the Snake River dams were the overriding negative factor, why are more than a dozen other West Coast salmon stocks – some on undammed rivers – listed under the Endangered Species Act? The reason is that many factors harm salmon – dams, yes, but also habitat destruction, pollution, indiscriminate fishing, predation and genetic dilution from hatcheries. Even in the Columbia system, nine of 13 listed salmon do not return to the Snake River and are unaffected by dams there.
 
The article also suggests wind power could replace energy from dams. That’s impossible, because wind doesn’t blow all the time. Wind has grown quickly in the Northwest because hydroelectric dams provide ideal backup energy that can ramp up quickly when wind stops blowing, and vice versa. Groups who want dams removed acknowledge that replacement energy would come from burning more fossil fuel, releasing greenhouse gases that cause their own harm to salmon through global warming.
 
Protecting and recovering salmon involves many actions across the landscape and, unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet. Even those choices, such as dam removal, that look like silver bullets have hard tradeoffs more accurately portrayed as environment versus environment than fish versus dams. Depicting dam breaching as an easy fix does readers, and salmon, a disservice.
 
Sincerely,
 
Gregory K. Delwiche
Vice President, Environment, Fish and Wildlife
Bonneville Power Administration
 
Other inaccuracies in the article:
 
1) Federal agencies have spent $8 billion with “little consequent improvement in the fortunes of wild fish.”
 
Actually, many Columbia wild salmon stocks, including those on the Snake have following a generally positive trend for several years. The numbers of Snake River spring/summer and fall chinook are both are many times higher than they were when listed in the 1990s. These counts are wild fish. Biologists believe that significant improvements in dam passage has contributed to that. They are not recovered, but they are improving, so the article is inaccurate in saying they’re not.
 
2) “For decades, many Northwestern politicians have tried to avoid the dam removal question, not wanting to draw attention to the publicly subsidized hydropower that the region enjoys at national taxpayer expense.”
 
The hydropower is not subsidized. Neither BPA nor the rest of the hydropower system receives taxpayer funds. BPA pays the costs of operating the hydropower system with ratepayer revenues, not federal funds. The Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation receive some appropriated money to cover other purposes of the dams, such as flood control, but not for hydropower.
(Reference:   DOE Budget, 2010, http://www.cfo.doe.gov/budget/10budget/Content/Volumes/Volume6.pdf)
 
3) Reservoirs do not increase the migration time of juvenile salmon anywhere close to three months.
(Reference: "Survival estimates for the passage of spring-migrating juvenile salmonids through Snake and Columbia dams and reservoirs," 2007, Fish Ecology Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center.)
 
4) “The agencies have relied on barging and trucking juvenile fish around the dams -- an expensive process that many scientists say can kill even more fish.”
 
This implies that barging and trucking is the only way agencies help fish past dams, but that’s not at all true. Agencies do transport some fish at times of the year when science has shown that it boosts fish survival. However, for many years (including long prior to court orders) the agencies have spilled water to help fish downstream. This is a “spread the risk” strategy that independent scientists have endorsed. The agencies have also made numerous improvements at the dams, such as upgraded turbines and fish passageways, which have dramatically improved survival for fish that remain in the river. Who are the scientists who say barging kills more fish and where has this science appeared? We monitor survival carefully and if this were true we wouldn’t be doing it.
 
5) “In the case of the four lower Snake dams, 1,000 megawatts of power and 140 miles of barge transportation are pitted against salmon access to 70 percent of the remaining intact spawning habitat in the Columbia River basin.”
 
In fact, salmon already have access to as much habitat as is available beyond the dams, because the dams have very effective fish passage that has been dramatically improved in recent years. BPA and others have invested great amounts of money and resources in repairing damage to that habitat from grazing and other impacts. Finally, access to much of that 70 percent of habitat mentioned in the article is blocked not by the four Snake dams, but by the privately-owned Hells Canyon dams, which have no fish passage and were not mentioned in the article.
 
6) “Remove four dams on the Lower Snake River so the fish can reach millions of acres of pristine habitat in central Idaho and northeast Oregon.”
 
Again, this habitat is already accessible. By saying the dams must be removed so fish can reach habitat, the article gives readers the false impression that fish cannot pass these dams. Also, much of this habitat is not pristine – spawning and rearing habitat in many tributaries has been damaged by grazing, for instance. Much of this habitat is not in wilderness but actually on private and public land further upstream. BPA and others continue to put great effort into restoring this habitat.
 
7) “That means putting every drop of water through turbines.”
 
The federal agencies operating the hydro system never put “every drop of water” through turbines. It is common practice to spill water around turbines for fish. In 2008, for example, BPA spent $275 million buying replacement power to make up for power not generated at the dams because water was being diverted for fish. Another $274 million worth of electricity could have been generated if not for fish protections. These costs were covered by Northwest ratepayers. This isn’t to say that fish protections aren’t worth it – they are. But by leaving out these important facts, the story gives readers a false impression.
(Reference: 2008 Annual Report, http://www.bpa.gov/corporate/Finance/A_Report/)
 

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a development professional to coordinate the organization's individual giving program. The position description is available at http://greateryellowstone.org/careers Please email a letter...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. At least 8-10 years of experience...
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER AND BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring for two positions. We seek a Communications Manager to execute inspiring and impactful communications...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • FISHERIES BIOLOGIST
    Under the direct supervision of the Director of Shoshone-Paiute Tribe's Fish, Wildlife & Parks, in coordination with the Tribal Programs Administrator and the Tribal Chairman,...
  • REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NORTHERN ROCKIES, PRAIRIES & PACIFIC REGION
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • STEWARDSHIP MANAGER
    STEWARDSHIP MANAGER Job Vacancy and Description Posted June 2, 2021: Open until filled The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a non-profit, regional land trust...
  • KSJD - MORNING EDITION HOST/REPORTER
    KSJD is seeking a host/reporter. Please see for www.ksjd.org for more information. EEO compliant.
  • ON THE EDGE OF CEDAR MESA/BEARS EARS
    Quiet, comfy house for rent in Bluff, Utah. Walk to San Juan River. Bike or hike to many nearby ruins and rock art sites. Beautiful...
  • CARPENTER AND LABORER WANTED.
    Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rain forest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg meadows,...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Title: Project Manager Reports To: Program Director Salary Range: Negotiable; starting at $60,000 Location: Bend, OR The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Project Manager to...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Program Director to join our dynamic team in restoring streamflow and improving water quality in the Deschutes Basin. WHO...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - TWISPWORKS
    Established healthy nonprofit in the Methow Valley of Washington state, TwispWorks is hiring the next Executive Director. Terrific opportunity to strive for our mission to...
  • BOARD DIRECTOR
    Help us achieve our mission of promoting excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship, science and education to ensure the life-sustaining benefits of wilderness....
  • TEMPORARY FULL-TIME RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking to immediately fill a Temporary Full-Time employment position as Ranch Operations Assistant for Facilities, Equipment, Land, and...
  • RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking an individual to fill the Regular Full-Time position of Resident Operations Assistant for Technology, Hospitality, Gardening, and...
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Conservation Project Manager Position Description Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for...
  • NOVA SCOTIA OCEAN FRONT
    Camp or Build on 2+ acres in Guysborough. FSBO. $36,000 US firm. Laurie's phone: 585-226-2993 EST.
  • POEM+ NEWSLETTER
    Start each month with a poem in your inbox by signing up for Taylor S. Winchell's monthly Poem+ Newsletter. No frills. No news. No politics....