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Don’t Blow Up the Dams

April 22, 2021

These past few months, I have received many calls and emails about the recent proposal from my colleague Mike Simpson to breach the four dams on the Lower Snake River in an attempt to improve salmon populations.

I support conversations and collaborative efforts to find ways to help restore Idaho’s iconic salmon populations. However, experience tells me this proposal, which is estimated to cost more than $30 billion, has too many generalities and uncontrolled variables to succeed and Idaho has too much to lose for me to back it.

To state it simply: I oppose, and have always opposed, dam breaching. Removing the lower four dams would be a mistake.

Mike has correctly conceded that his dam removal proposal, if enacted, might not save salmon runs. And science supports that likelihood.

For one thing, salmon and steelhead have a higher than 95 percent passage rate through each dam on average. These dams have some of the best fish passage in the world and targeting them makes little sense.

For another, the Columbia-Snake is not the only river system with declining salmon runs. The Fraser River in Canada, which runs parallel to the Columbia-Snake, faces the same cyclical rise and fall in salmon runs and the same challenge of declining returns. However, there is a key difference between the two rivers: the Fraser does not have dams.

Other factors beyond the dams – such as predation and ocean conditions – are more likely the cause of declining salmon runs in rivers across the Northwest.

Mike deserves credit for attempting to solve a problem that has vexed our region for too long. However, spending billions of dollars to tear out critical infrastructure with no guarantee it will accomplish what it sets out to do is not in our best interest. The benefits these dams provide still far outweigh arguments for their removal.

We can and should work to save Northwest salmon while ensuring our existing system, and all who rely on it, remains whole.