Don't expect any surprises in salmon and dam politics in 2008

Remember when George Bush stood at Ice Harbor Dam and told Pacific Northwest residents he wouldn’t remove dams to save salmon?

The second biological open released by his administration came out this week and he has stood by his pledge. The federal officials who work for him also believe they have done what is necessary to protect and restore salmon.

Bob Lohn, Pacific Northwest director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, was rightly proud of his agency’s effort to look at each of the 13 salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia Basin and determine the limiting factors for each. We have to wait until independent scientists and fisheries biologists from the states and the tribes grade his agency's work.

But just looking at the challenges of individual populations will help the region focus on the individual problems. He talked about sockeye salmon, which he described as “functionally extinct.” So few fish have returned really since the 1970s that the Snake River sockeye may be so weakened genetically that even clearing the mainstem passage to the Pacific won’t restore the hardy stock of sockeye that was able to swim 900 miles, climb 6,500 feet.

He also talked about the Upper Columbia steelhead, which also suffers genetic problems. Years of releasing hatchery-raised coastal steelhead stocks into the rivers with the native steelhead, has slowly wiped away the traits that allowed the native Upper Columbia steelhead to thrive.

Dams remain the major limiting factor for Snake River spring-summer Chinook, fall Chinook and Snake River steelhead. Lohn and his team say the measures they are taking are enough to put Idaho’s fish on the road to recovery. But opponents are skeptical.

Scientists like salmon guru Don Chapman of Eagle , who long opposed breaching, say removing the four Snake River dams in Washington may be the only way to preserve those fish who spawn in the best protected habitat left in the region.

The problem Lohn and Bush face is that if they believe sockeye is functionally extinct, the Endangered Species Act dictates that they should organize an Endangered Species Committee, made up of scientists cabinet members and others to acknowledge that fact and accept the reality that the building of the dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers sent the sockeye into extinction.

Unfortunately, that would mean admitting that Bush didn’t keep his pledge.

We might see a Republican candidate make the same promise that Bush did. It remains good politics for Republicans in the region and why not? With climate change, electric energy sources that produce less carbon are even more valuable.

Not a single sitting governor or senator from either party supports breaching the four dams. As long as that’s the case it’s unlikely a Democrat will join environmentalists, Indians, fishermen and salmon-dependent communities and businesses in calling for breaching the four Snake River dams. Al Gore was unwilling to take that stand in 2000, so was John Kerry in 2004.

But environmentalists can dream.

Imagine Barack Obama, who opened an office in Boise Thursday, standing on Ice Harbor Dam. At his side would be dam breaching advocates former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

“Neither George Bush nor Mrs. Clinton’s husband had the courage to do what it takes to save Snake River salmon and help the Northwest get free of this issue,” He would say using his current rhetorical theme. “I do.

“Mr. President, take down these dams.”

But then, what if he lost?

Then What?

So tomorrow we bust the dams. Then what?

How are we going to replace the electricty lost by less hydropower?
How are we going to get the steady supply of irrigation water for our farmers in the affected regions?

I suppose it will be easy to do without the water recreation provided by the resevoirs, but a solution has to be found for economic impacts of lost irrigation and electricity. What are the proposals for those problems?

Then What?

Regarding the water recreation part of your question, UDAPIMP. Removing these dams will provide a milieu of opportunities for white water enthusiasts. Jobs will be created with rafting outfitters running river trips as well as fishing outfitters also benefiting from the increased salmonid runs.

Fantastic to see that Barack has opened up an office in the State. Things were getting awfully boring around here.

Rocky, are in-stream electric turbines a viable option?

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs - modernization to the rescue.

22 million compact fluorescent light bulbs would replace the power produced by the four Lower Snake River dams and reservoirs. I have verified this with the NW Energy Council - call them yourself if you like.

So where do we get the money to buy 22 million CFL's? Consider that the Residential Exchange fund earns $250 million per year (curiously equivalent to the value of power from the LSR dams). This year's funds have not been distributed due to legal issues and for now BPA is just holding on to the funds.

When I lived in Chicago, the power company sent by mail, an old-style bulb about twice a year. Personally, instead of seeing a small credit on my Idaho Power bill, I would rather see a coupon for a CFL bulb. I have asked Idaho Power about it but no response so far.

Yes, this solution seems far to easy to be believable - a carbon-neutral solution. To quote from the film RedFish BlueFish:

On screen text:
Lighting consumes a quarter of this nation's electricity
If utilities sold light rather than electricity,
we would surely use compact fluorescents
and use a fifth of the electricity.

Jimmy Fairchild (Narrator):
There is profit in the inefficiency on the consuming side of the line. One sides profit is the other sides loss.

The film is available at
I am hoping this post will provoke some discussion.

Then what?

The 35,000 acres of irrigated lands in Washington would require new pumps to get the water out of the lowered Snake. No Idaho farmers would be impacted and indeed less water from Idaho would be needed for the salmon.

There would have to be a power offset. Salmon advocates say it could come from renewables and conservation. BPA suggests the amount of electricity generated by two big coal or nuclear power plants would be needed.