By David Mack
December 21, 2018
In the Dec. 5 issue of the Herald-Republic, the editorial board praised the recommendations of the Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force. But the task force provided weak recommendations, including the long-term reduction of pollution and allowing additional water to flow over some dams.
Notably, the task force failed to meaningfully address the central problem pushing the orcas into extinction: a lack of salmon.
Biologists and engineers who study salmon populations recommend bypassing the four dams on the Lower Snake River. The dams kill large numbers of smolts and restrict access to pristine breeding habitat near the river’s headwaters. Removing the dams would provide the largest benefit in the shortest amount of time.
This issue hits home for me. I grew up in Yakima and worked on farms in the summer. The welfare of farmers is near and dear to my heart. No profession is more dependent on a functioning ecology. I’ve also spent many early mornings fishing with my dad and have been captivated by the orcas, commonly known as killer whales, for as long as I can remember. It frustrates me to watch lobbyists and politicians pit farmers and salmon against each other.
Lobbyists, such as the Farm Bureau, present Washingtonians with a false choice between “fish or farmers.” They argue that removal of the dams will cripple farmers and cause energy rates to drastically increase. These claims are false.
First, the increasing efficiency of appliances and an abundance of clean energy sources — including natural gas, solar and wind — make the dams unnecessary. Washington has long been an exporter of energy; we produce far more than we need. Regardless, the dams in question are “run of the river” dams. This means they have little capacity to store water to produce power when water levels are low, during the summer and winter. Taxpayers get back only 50 cents for every dollar invested in the dams. In short, the dams are a terrible investment.
Second, freight shipped using the Lower Snake River system has declined more than 70 percent since the year 2000. The cost to barge products is competitive only because of taxpayer subsidies. These dollars could instead fund the expansion of rail lines to provide alternate shipping options.
Lastly, only one of the four dams — Ice Harbor — provides irrigation for nearby farms. The removal of this dam could be mitigated with extended piping and additional pumps to transport water at relatively low costs.
Taxpayers have spent approximately $15 billion attempting to mitigate the harm caused by these dams, with nothing to show for it. The dams on the Lower Snake River are destroying native salmon populations and pushing the southern resident orcas to extinction.
Removing the four dams on the Lower Snake River presents an opportunity to restore salmon populations and provide food for the orcas — without hurting farmers or giving up clean, affordable energy.
I respectfully ask my fellow Washingtonians to reject the false choice between “fish or farmers” and instead support a future in which the two can thrive together.
David Mack is a Yakima resident.