Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

PacifiCorp will remove four dams by 2010

Nearby Mill Creek Dam will not be one of the dams removed
Nearby Mill Creek Dam will not be one of the dams removed

Last week PacifiCorp: the utility company that provides electricity to Walla Walla: agreed to remove four of its dams on the Klamath River in Oregon and California, as the dams have devastated the Klamath’s salmon runs.

PacifiCorp’s four hydroelectric dams block returning salmon from reaching their ancestral spawning grounds. If we want salmon to survive, we must remove more dams than just those on the Klamath.

Snake River salmon face a similar plight. The Snake flows through Idaho and eastern Washington, passing just north of Walla Walla.

Like the Klamath, the Snake used to host prolific salmon runs. Tragically, the Snake’s salmon runs have dwindled since the Bureau of Reclamation built four hydroelectric dams on the lower stretches of the river in the 1970s.

Salmon populations are dwindling nearly everywhere along the West Coast. The only truly healthy remaining salmon runs in the United States are in Alaska. California’s salmon are in such poor health that the state has canceled the commercial salmon fishing season three years in a row.

In addition to blocking migration, the tepid, slack reservoirs impounded by the dams also make the Klamath’s water less hospitable to fish. In 2001, thousands of migrating salmon died in the unnaturally shallow and warm waters of the Lower Klamath. Simply put, the dams are slaughtering the Klamath’s salmon.

PacifiCorp agreed to remove the Klamath dams after months of negotiations with a coalition of environmental organizations, agricultural groups, and the federal and state governments.

Under the agreement, PacifiCorp will operate the dams until 2020, at which point they will be demolished. The Klamath agreement is a milestone for environmental groups who have been fighting to remove the Klamath dams for over a decade.

All of the Snake River’s salmon runs are listed as endangered or threatened. According to a National Marine Fisheries Service report, a total of 23 endangered sockeye salmon passed all four Lower Snake River dams from 1990-1999: an average of about 2 fish per year.

In order to have healthy salmon runs in the Snake River, the four dams must go. But this decision is unpopular among local residents: the slogan “save our dams” graces many bumper stickers in Walla Walla.

The Bush administration resisted removing the dams. Instead, the Fish and Wildlife Service decided upon expensive measures such as trapping migrating salmon, loading the fish into tanker trucks and driving them hundreds of miles around all four dams.

The Obama administration left the Bush administration’s rules in place. The government must reevaluate its decision to leave the dams in place and seriously consider demolition.

Just as on the Klamath, the Snake’s salmon runs can’t be restored while the dams stand. The costs of dam removal will be high and debate heated, but letting salmon runs disappear would be an unforgivable tragedy.

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