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Re: NFC: Fw: RiverCurrents for the Week of December 22, 2000
I just wanted to weigh in on the Snake River dam removal proposal.
For five years I lived within a couple of miles of the confluence of the
Snake and Columbia rivers in the state of Washington. While I am no
scientist, I thought it might be helpful to provide a few first-hand
observations (and maybe a few personal opinions along the way! ;).
An avid fisherman and duck hunter, I spent many hours along the shores of
both streams. I gained a lot of respect for the size of these great rivers
and the volume of water that flows out of the Rocky Mountains, through the
Great Basin, and finally to the Pacific Ocean.
I am afraid that I have to admit that I do not know whether removing the
Snake River dams would help the salmon; it may or it may not. I would
propose that nobody knows for sure. It's a gamble.
It is absolutely certain that removing the dams would do the following:
Destroy a certain percentage of the area's power production.
Destroy the ability of commodity barges to negotiate the river as far
upstream as Lewiston, Idaho, thus increasing the cost of transportation for
agricultural producers in the area (and potentially the price of food on our
Destroy the recreational facility (boating, water-skiing and fishing) that
is now in place in the form of slack-water pools above the dams.
Destroy waterfowl habitat.
Compromise the ability of farmers to obtain irrigation water. This is a
desert. Without irrigation there is little or no agriculture.
Create at least a one-time release (per dam) of a tremendous amount of silt
that has been deposited behind the dams for all these years. This silt has
the potential to compromise the survival of a number of native species,
including sturgeon, steelhead and a variety of cyprinids, suckers and
I don't doubt that the dams probably deserve some of the blame for the
plight of the Snake River salmon population. By the way, there is a strong
tendency on the part of certain parties to refer to these populations as
species. This is not correct terminology. Chinook salmon represent a
single species, whether they spawn in Alaska or Oregon. It's very possible
that there are genetic differences between some populations, but they are
not separate species.
A number of 'non-dam' factors exist that are seldom, if ever, mentioned in
dominant information sources. One of these is the over-population of marine
mammals. Sea lions and seals love to dine on fresh salmon. They have
learned when the fish migrate, and wait at the mouths of rivers for the
spawning runs to materialize. Then they gorge themselves on the fish as
they congregate. Scientists have observed sea lions grabbing salmon,
shaking the eggs out of them, then discarding the now-dead fish in favor of
the more flavorful eggs. Once the eggs are eaten, the animal moves on to
the next fish, and the process is repeated. It takes a lot of salmon eggs
to fill up a sea lion. Completely protected by federal law, there is
nothing that can be done to alleviate the slaughter.
Another strike against the salmon is in the form of fish-eating terns that
have shown up on the Columbia and lower Snake river in ever-increasing
numbers. I recently read an account of 40,000 of these birds being captured
and moved back to the ocean. Now that's efficient. I wonder how many days
it took the birds to fly back upriver. These birds, somewhat like
kingfishers, dive into the water from high in the air in pursuit of 'eatin'
size' fish. Salmon smolts fit the bill (no pun intended) quite nicely.
Now this one is very politically incorrect, and I don't doubt that some will
be angered that I even bring this up, but it's a tragedy that should be
alleviated. I invite you to drive along the Columbia river during the
Chinook salmon run. Any free-flowing section between the dams that exist on
the lower Columbia is quite literally laced with a large number of gill
nets. These are placed by American Indians, who are allowed to catch enough
salmon each year for 'ceremonial' purposes.
If you ever see the gamut these fish have to run to just get past the
gillnets, you'll wonder that ANY survive to spawn further upstream.
The sad fact is that most of the fish thus killed are smoked and sold for
food (and profit). I know this because I talked to a distributor of this
product, who boasted that his salmon were Columbia River fish that he
purchased from Native American fishermen. So much for 'ceremonial
Before I could agree that the dams should be removed, I would need the
1. Explain to me why the Columbia River salmon population is doing
relatively well, despite the fact that they have to negotiate 4 major dams
on the Columbia in order to reach their spawning ground.
2. Limit Native Americans to the aforementioned 'ceremonial' needs, and
limit take methods to those that allow most of the fish to migrate freely.
3. Make a real and concerted effort to control predation from marine
mammals. It's time the population of these wonderful but overly abundant
creatures was brought within the bounds of the environment's capacity.
4. Likewise control the population of fish-eating terns in a permanent and
Failing, or perhaps in addition to, all of that, another alternative exists
- the construction of a side-stream to carry perhaps 20% of the Snake
river's water around the dams. This would be an expensive alternative to
dam removal, but probably no more than the cost of the dam removal itself.
In closing, I'll just say that any objective, comprehensive review of the
facts surrounding the Snake River Chinook salmon population must come to the
conclusion that there are a number of factors that contribute to the low
population that we see at this time. I would like to point out that last
season was a banner year for salmon returning to Idaho's Clearwater River (a
tributary of the Snake), by far the best run in recent memory. I hope this
is a sign that the fish are coming back.
Whoa! I'd better stop before I fill up someone's server completely. I
apologize for the length of this, but I've needed to get this out of my
system for a long time!
>River News for the Week of December 22, 2000
>SNAKE RIVER DAMS: National environmental leaders were encouraged this
>week to see that the Clinton Administration's final plan to save
>endangered Columbia Basin salmon will keep alive the option of removing
>four dams on the Lower Snake River. It does so by creating a framework
>which provides that Congress may be asked as soon as three years from now
>to authorize dam removal, if near-term measures fail to meet the plan's
>new performance standards for wild salmon recovery.
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