Tucked into the state operating budget recently passed by the Legislature is $750,000 to study the removal of dams along the Snake River. Out of a two-year budget of $52.4 billion, an amount of less than $1 million is a relative pittance. Yet the item is notable for its wastefulness.
A state study of breaching dams along the Snake River amounts to a pointless gesture that ignores that state’s minimal influence on the issue, discounts previous studies, and serves as pre-emptive strike against an ongoing study.
As Republican congressional representatives Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane noted in a joint statement this year: “Congress has the sole authority to authorize breaching our federal dams … breaching them is out of the question. We commit to doing everything in our power to save our dams.”
Still, legislators found reason to follow a recommendation from a task force convened by Gov. Jay Inslee to consider the fate of the southern resident orcas that inhabit Puget Sound. Among the issues leading to the pod’s diminishing population is a declining supply of chinook salmon, the primary food source for the killer whales. The task force suggested breaching the dams to improve salmon runs and, presumably, enhance the orca population.
The goal is a noble one, but it is misguided. Federal studies in 2001 and 2010 reached largely the same conclusion — dam removal would minimally improve the orcas’ chances for survival. According to the Yakima Herald-Republic, “the dammed Snake River has similar fish survival levels as the free-flowing Fraser River in British Columbia.”
Meanwhile, a new Environmental Impact Statement about the dams is being prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is scheduled to be ready for public comment next year.
In other words, the call for yet another study appears to be little more than political posturing designed to appease environmentalists who are not happy with the conclusion of previous studies and are leery of what the upcoming examination might find.
Recommendations to breach the dams amount to an extremist position that should quickly be dismissed. In addition to providing minimal relief for salmon and orcas, it would prove devastating to the economy and an unreasonable burden for residents in Central and Eastern Washington.
At a time the state is moving toward clean energy, with a new law dictating the elimination of fossil fuels for electricity generation by 2045, hydropower will become even more essential for Washington’s prosperity. That power is necessary to heat our homes and charge our smartphones and drive our economy.
Removal of the dams also would negatively impact farmers east of the Cascade Range, altering the course of the Snake River and affecting irrigation. And it would eliminate the option of using barges to ship goods down the river, increasing the use of pollution-spewing trucks — a result that runs counter to Washington’s green-energy goals.
Undoubtedly, protecting salmon and orcas is important to both current and future Washingtonians. The species are iconic symbols of our state’s heritage and economy. But the demand for yet another study is a specious and unnecessary ploy that ignores previous findings and the economic realities of the situation.
Asking the same question over and over until you receive the answer you desire amounts to a waste of money rather than effective governance.