Dams must go to save Snake River salmon

Conservationists have called for a decision to be taken on the removal of dams on the Lower Snake River by 2005, and not to be delayed until 2010, as recommended by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to recommend delaying until 2010 a decision about removal of four dams on the Lower Snake River in Washington. Under the federal agency’s new plan, dam removal would be needed to boost salmon populations – unless certain ‘performance measures’ are met.

But a US conservation group, American Rivers, has cited reports that show the risk of the extinction of salmon in the Snake River is greater than previously thought, and that dam removal is needed to save the four Snake River salmon runs listed under the US Endangered Species Act.

Last month, American Rivers released a report showing that, for the second year running, the Lower Snake River is the most threatened river in the US (see related story). The report shows that the four dams on the river have driven salmon and steelhead to the brink of extinction. American Rivers say investment in transportation, power and irrigation infrastructures can replace the benefits the dams provide and protect rural communities.

According to scientific analysis cited by American Rivers, only dam removal would enable populations of salmon to recover. The conservation group claims that other measures, such as hatchery reforms, harvest reductions or improvements to the dams’ fish passage facilities are insufficient to reduce the risk of salmon extinction.

“The science is clear – dam removal must be the cornerstone of our salmon recovery efforts, and delay significantly increases the likelihood of extinction,” said Rob Masonis of American Rivers.

“NMFS’ plan to delay a decision on whether to remove the dams for up to 10 years ignores the conclusions of the agency’s own scientists – that we must act now to avoid extinction. Virtually every fish management agency in the Basin has called for dam removal,” he added.

Masonis urged President Clinton to order federal agencies to use the next four years to complete engineering plans for dam removal, and to develop an economic mitigation plan to replace the benefits the four dams provide – four percent of the region’s hydropower, barge transportation of commodities, and irrigation for 13 farms. American Rives say that independent studies have found affordable replacements for all of these services.

An American Rivers spokesperson told edie that their demands are getting a sympathetic hearing in other Government agencies. “Recently, support has been growing for dam removal among the federal agencies themselves: the Environmental Protection Agency has just said the dams must come down because that is the only way we can comply with the Clean Water Act and save the salmon. US Fish and Wildlife Service scientists have already said that without dam removal, no other measures are sufficient to bring the salmon back.”

The spokesperson said that replacement measures would include investments in rail, truck, irrigation, and power infrastructure; encouragement of boating, paddling, fishing, hunting, and tourism. “The return of the salmon fishery would be worth millions a year to local economies. If the dams are removed, local electriity users would pay just $1 to $3 a month more for electricity and would still have the lowest electricity rates in the United States.”

Masonis also urged the Congress to authorise dam removal in the Water Resources Development Act, so that removal can proceed quickly if salmon populations do not recover by 2005. “We must be ready to remove the dams in 2005,” he said. “If we wait five or 10 years to decide, President Clinton’s environmental legacy will almost certainly be the extinction of Snake River salmon.”

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