The lower four Snake River dams have caused the near destruction of salmon and steelhead in the Snake River basin. Some adult fish do pass the dams over ladders heading upstream. But more than 50 percent of salmon and steelhead smolts are killed on their downstream journey by turbines and the warm, slack water created by Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams. Because so few smolt make it to the ocean, adult returns are only around 1 percent, below the 2 percent returns required to maintain populations. To rebuild our stocks, we need returns of around 5 percent.
The Snake River Basin is the last, best habitat for salmon and steelhead in the lower 48. Getting the lower four out is fundamental to preserving our salmon and steelhead harvest in Idaho. To be clear, the proposal is not perfect. The guaranteed 35-year relicensing of other dams in the system is bad news for science-based evaluation of our hydro system.
However, moving Bonneville Power Administration out of the fish management business is long overdue. BPA, an offshoot of the federal government, has spent upwards of $17 billion on hatcheries and other failed salmon mitigation projects. The lower four dams, and BPA as an institution, are a broken federal bureaucracy. I’m sure that many people will be advocating to keep the dams. But we have to ask ourselves, should the federal government be in the business of competing against private industry in the power generation market? Should BPA, as a federal agency, be spending billions of dollars on raising hatchery fish that return at much lower rates than wild fish? Should we keep aging, fish killing infrastructure, or should we find new, better ways to make Idaho a leader in water management?
Simpson’s proposal is good news for Idaho. This is a step toward saving our salmon, modernizing our infrastructure, updating our power grid, and jump starting our Idaho economy.
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