The dam breaching debate has hit a standstill in the Northwest, partly because Idaho politicians have been unwilling to support a step that may give Idaho salmon their best and only shot at recovery.
Instead, Idaho politicians have parroted the downstream company line, defending the dams.
The debate has to change sometime, one candidate at a time, and is a breakthrough in Idaho's 2nd Congressional District. Democratic candidate David Sneddon says he supports breaching the eastern Washington dams, saying a free-flowing river system is "necessary" to help Idaho salmon migrate to the Pacific Ocean and back.
"We're losing our wild stocks," Sneddon said in a Statesman editorial board meeting a week ago.
Sneddon stands alone among the candidates in the 2nd District, which encompasses salmon spawning grounds such as the fabled Redfish Lake near Stanley. Fellow Democrat Deborah Holmes said she isn't sure breaching would help salmon, and said she supports any energy source "that isn't using carbon-based fuels." Republican incumbent Mike Simpson and challengers Jack Wayne Chappell and Gregory Nemitz all oppose breaching.
Sneddon also is the first major-party candidate in Idaho to take a pro-breaching position since 1998, when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Robert Huntley supported breaching. It's considerably easier for a Second District candidate to support breaching, however; opposition to breaching is strongest in and around Lewiston, which would lose its seaport if the dams come down.
Since 1997, our paper has argued for the removal of these dams — saying the power and the slackwater shipping provided by these dams can be replaced. We have also argued that breaching will help the region wean itself from boosting salmon numbers through costly and sometimes counterproductive hatchery production, a strategy underscored by the federal government's recent $900 million deal with downstream Indian tribes and a separate $65 million deal with Idaho.
Sneddon's support of breaching certainly was a factor in our endorsement in the 2nd District Sunday. More importantly, a pro-breaching congressional candidate could help revitalize the breaching debate.