The following editorial first appeared in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
The four dams on the lower Snake River should not be torn down.
That was the conclusion of a four-year environmental study adopted by three federal agencies recently. Will this put to rest efforts to breach dams in the Pacific Northwest? Of course not.
Those seeking to remove the dams are driven by politics and ideology. Those efforts won’t be curbed or stopped by the study or the reasonable actions that will now be taken to help juvenile fish in their journey downstream.
But the decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration is a positive step forward.
“This selected alternative provides the best balanced and flexible approach to meeting the needs of the human and natural environment in the basin, both now and into the future,” said Brig. Gen. D. Peter Helmlinger, commander of the Corps of Engineers’ Northwestern Division. “Our decision benefits the public interest, treaty resources and iconic fish species of the Pacific Northwest.”
The federal agencies will increase the amount of water spilled over dams each spring in the Columbia River hydrosystem, which includes Snake River dams, to aid fish. In addition, BPA will fund further efforts to boost the fish runs.
As noted by Gen. Helmlinger, this decision and the study it was based on took into account the impact on humans — that’s as it should be. The economic and social consequences of dam breaching would be vast. For example, the generation of clean, efficient and cheap electricity would be reduced. That’s bad for the environment and the economy. Hydropower is a renewable resource.
Removing the dams would also increase the region’s carbon footprint as crops and goods now barged on the rivers would have to be moved by train and truck. This would mean more traffic and more fuel consumption.
Beyond that, unleashing the water behind the dams would flood farms, roadways, cities, homes and everything else in its path.
“The clean power and efficient commerce provided by the system’s hydroelectric dams and navigation locks are key to our region’s ability to reduce our carbon footprint — one of the most important steps in the fight against climate change,” Kristin Meira, of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, told the Tri-City Herald.
The federal agencies that did the study and then rejected the call for dam breaching made the best decision for the region.