My problem with dams is simple, the decision to put dams in place denigrates the river system already in place and promises are made that never come true and almost always the people buy into these false promises and dams are built. (Mankind's hubris is typically on full display when dams are being planned)
Now, the non-fish killing dams (and by non-fish killing, I mean the dams that aren't making valuable species of fish go extinct, all dams kill fish) I don't and won't call for the removal of those dams. I see the benefits they provide in systems without fish relying on ingress and egress to survive. Most of those dams come down to an argument of the use of eminent domain and if I am not present at the time those dams are debated, then I'm not one to call for their removal. I have called for the ending of a 20-year long harassment by some dam promoters against some landowners in Missouri and 16 years later I am happy to report my public scolding of those has yet to yield to "progress" and the Whitewater River remains as free flowing as it was the day I found it. But I am a direct descendant of the branch of my family that was smart enough to get out of the way of the Tennessee Valley Authority dam builders and not a direct descendant of those in my family who gather every year in Land Between the Lakes to lament the loss of their land to the federal government. If I do argue against the creation of dam that won't be killing off a species of fish, I typically remind all the readers that fair market value of the land today pales in comparison to the value of the land tomorrow should there be a world class lake lapping up against the shore. That argument works pretty well, but I can't be for an expanded energy portfolio (which I am) and be against all dams (which I am not, though I wouldn't be running around promoting any).
But dams that threaten important species of fish (i.e., salmon), I take another view, and really mine is the more hopeful view of mankind than those who say we just can't make it without these dams. You see, I don't view life as one failure after another. I actually see that we are quite capable of adapting to the situation at hand, if we weren't we'd be stuffed in some museum run by some chimps. (hyperbole, but I digress)
We have four dams on the lower Snake River and they will make the wild salmon, wild steelhead and other fish go extinct in the Snake River Basin. But you don't realize this because we have literally gone mad in all the things we do to show that we really care even though the end result is the same, diminishing returns of wild fish (the only ones that matter). We seem willing to do everything the imagination can conjure except that which we actually know will work.
Now, I could accept this regional insanity if these four dams provided a great deal of power, but they only provide four percent of the power in the Pacific Northwest and due to the nature of dams and the flow of water in this general area, that means these dams produce a glut of energy during a short time during the year (runoff, the freshet) and then they don't really do all that well the rest of the year. Also, the paltry amount of river traffic that I see as I fish or as I read the documents tells me that we have created quite a great indirect subsidy for a very small number of people who could without a lot of effort move their goods by rail or truck to a port on the Columbia River leaving the Snake River wild salmon and steelhead harmless.
There are two other arguments for these four dams, but they honestly deserve little attention. Irrigation is one of the arguments, but only 13 farmers irrigate from these reservoirs and quite frankly, they can irrigate from a free flowing river if they would simply buy a little more pipe. The irrigation argument is moot.
Then there is the recreation argument, and I have seen wind surfers on Lower Granite and perhaps they wouldn't be there with a free flowing river, but there were two of them, so that's not a strong argument. Boaters, I have fished this area a great deal and all I can say is if you want to see boats, go up river, they don't much hang out in the reservoir. In fact, just about all the recreation I see happening along the Snake River happens upstream of Lower Granite or happen immediately below Lower Granite Dam where the Snake is essentially a river again. You can literally be on Lower Granite Reservoir all day and not see anyone, not a fishing boat, not a swimmer, not a sunbather, not a towboat pushing barges and not another angler. I believe the recreation argument is moot, and if we actually do want more recreation, a free flowing river would provide that more than the four slackwater reservoirs.
Which brings me back to the only two viable arguments for keeping the dams in place, power and transportation. You can disagree with me on this and that's perfectly fine, but meet me halfway in admitting that keeping these dams will mean the extinction of the wild salmon and wild steelhead of the Snake River Basin, because it will. If you are willing to let that happen, then go in peace, we agree to disagree. However, if you want to tell me that hatchery fish are the same and therefore I am off my nut (thanks Jimmy Stewart), you and I have a chasm between us and I am going to remind you just how wrong you are. Argue with me, that's the point of a blog, to get a conversation/debate started, but just know we are at loggerheads. Hatchery fish are not the same and never will be and never have been.
The transportation argument seems to be withering on the vine (thanks Newt for the line). It seems to be becoming more and more important that the Port of Lewiston's river transport segment is costing more than it is worth, especially if there ever is an honest accounting of the loss of wild salmon and steelhead associated with keeping and maintaining the channel for this ever dwindling market share port. I guess it is human nature to hold onto things built and fought for longer than any accounting would merit. The port has lost some 25 percent of its river transport business in the last 10 years and about 50 percent in the last 20 years. Do we continue to watch this river transport mode of the multi-modal continue to atrophe, or do we shut it down and breach the dams before we watch the wild salmon and steelhead go extinct right around the time no one in the Palouse is using the Port at Lewiston's river mode anymore?
Power really is the crux of the issue. Energy has been at the forefront of just about every conflict during my 40+ years on this planet and this is no different. My argument is simple, we are better than this. We can breach these dams and replace the power, even increase the power by other means. All we have to do is commit to it.
My only original piece of wisdom that I have added to the human race is this, "decisions are made right by committing to them." We have the capability to further develop alternative energy sources to replace these other sources that we know are making very valuable species go extinct. Yes, there is no form of energy that is perfect, but some are better than others depending on the location and dams in the Pacific Northwest just doom the wild salmon and steelhead (especially when we just stack them up over and over again). I see we are woefully behind in our development of energy resources from the ocean's never ending wave action. We could do more in wind energy. Solar energy does have its applications for homes and businesses, but the utilities must learn to adapt to the new energy dynamic rather than doing what they do, which is applying archaic rules to punish people for using cleaner sources of energy and having the audacity to sell their overages to the grid.
You can all go around thinking of black and white decisions and gray area, but quite frankly we are dynamic creatures and the decisions we make are made right when we commit to them. They are made wrong when we don't put the resources into them that are required. If you want to argue that point with me the comment section is below this and every blog post. I don't bite, seriously, get the conversation started.
Hey, if I fail to get a conversation started here, I'll pull this and focus my attention on the website I own that I actually enjoy working on everyday www.salmonrivermountainpress.com. I do enjoy this salmon blog, but if I can't get you to converse, there really is no point (no gain) to sharing my opinions. We all have them. And the beauty of that other website is that I never share my opinion and yet it attracts tens of thousands of readers. God, I love informing people without shaping the argument. So, folks, there it is, either start conversing and adding to the content of this site with your insightfulness or I'm likely to throw this thing into mothballs. Though, just being a thorn in the side of those in "power" who want to silence anyone who wishes to be heard in this debate, might be enough for me to keep this up for another 20 years *wink*.
I love exercising my rights as a citizen to be a worthy citizen of this great nation, but if you (my readers and there are thousands of you) aren't going to do anything but read and mutter "ho, hum," then perhaps this site doesn't need to exist anymore.