August 23, 2020
Last month, federal agencies delivered their final environmental impact statement, which was supposed to transparently evaluate the Lower Snake River dams’ impacts on Columbia River salmon.
Not surprisingly, the federal recommendation was to maintain the dams, a decision that was cheered for the “cheap energy” the dams provide. The impact statement utterly failed to do a comprehensive calculation of the cost-benefit analysis that would have pointed our region in a different direction.
For those who know that our fisheries are a priceless resource, this impact statement is flawed from the get-go. The evaluation doesn’t acknowledge or factor the true value of salmon to our region. Consider the value of sports fishing alone: Nearly 950,000 anglers spent $1.5 billion while fishing in Washington.
Sport fishing is a profitable economy that brings jobs to rural communities across the region. It brings revenue streams via licenses and excise taxes. Meanwhile, if we were to flip the equation, imagine what we could do with the $17 billion spent over two decades to restore salmon runs with no long-term success. This is a pretty high price for failure. In private industry, heads would roll.
Defenders of the dams like to distract us, citing various alternative scenarios for the declining salmon runs, such as ocean conditions, predation, even overfishing. We can readily unpack these myths if we look to a Washington Department of Fisheries report, dated 1949, which was well before the final construction of the dams. It provided a clear-eyed analysis if proposed construction of the Snake River dams were to go forward: “Construction of dams on the lower Snake River would devastate salmon and fisheries in the Snake and Columbia Rivers.”
Here we are more than 70 years later, and these dams have destroyed salmon runs that friends, business partners, and the economically important companies I’ve worked for depend on. During my 40-year career I’ve witnessed many fishing-related businesses decline or fail all together due to the decline of salmon.
Meanwhile we’ll be spending $1 billion for upgrades and turbine replacements for the four dams, gold plating some would say, in addition to at least $245 million every year just to maintain them. Do the math and this looks more like a bloated welfare program for outdated dams that offer little in return as compared to the economic boom healthy fisheries would provide.
We can’t afford to ignore the inconvenient truth: These dams are too “dam expensive.”
Meanwhile, salmon runs are on brink of collapse due to the cumulative effect of too many dams killing them as migrating smolt and returning adults.
Scientists agree that restoring the river is our best hope. Our industry is tired of these dams killing too many salmon to allow fishing. Let’s turn to Congress and support the elected leaders who are willing to step up and lead the charge to restore salmon.
Buzz Ramsey of Klickitat is a trout, steelhead and salmon sport fishing authority. He is a member of The Association of Northwest Steelheaders Hall of Fame and the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.