Environmental groups pushing to improve fish runs by breaching Snake River dams have revived their mission, and now the simmering issue is once again one of the hottest debates affecting the region.
Referring to decades of lawsuits, environmental studies and fish recovery efforts, Darryll Olsen of the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association said, “We shouldn’t even be here.”
He is right, of course.
Nevertheless, here we are — so we had better prepare once again for a tough battle.
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The myopic perspective that breaching dams is the only way to save Northwest fish is a driving force that will not go away, despite recent evidence showing an increase in fish survival rates.
Conservationists who continue their lawsuits want the dams gone — period.
But breaching the dams also could unleash economic havoc, and that is our concern. Irrigators, farmers, barging companies and those in the power industry are fearful of what would happen to the financial stability of our region.
Particularly, there is concern about how breaching the dams would affect the power grid and the ability to quickly meet surges in demand. Wind and solar power are not consistent forms of energy, utility officials say, and hydropower is needed as backup.
Such considerations should be part of the discussion, but it will be up to communities like ours to make that happen.
Tri-Citians will have a chance to do their part Monday at a public meeting in Pasco. The Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration will gather comments on the federal hydrosystem in an open-house style event at the Holiday Inn Express from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
There are at least 15 such meetings scheduled around the Northwest. The Tri-City location was added at the last minute by pressure from Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.
We are relieved that he was able to make it happen, and we hope the meeting here is well attended.
Those who want to breach the Snake River dams are well-organized, and they have momentum behind them.
In May, a federal judge in Portland ruled that the massive habitat restoration effort by the U.S. government does not do nearly enough to improve Northwest salmon runs. The judge ordered the government to come up with a new plan by March 2018.
That ruling is prompting the meeting Monday, as well as the resurgence by environmental groups that want to see the dams destroyed.
It is critical that our community speak out, especially since our viewpoint may be in the minority around the Northwest.
We all want our native fish to thrive, but we want to make it happen without harming our economy.
Billions of dollars have been spent already on fish passage, and the effort is working, according to Olsen.
He said it has been “proven that if fish get in the river, we can protect them. If the ocean does not yield them, that’s not our fault.”
Environmental groups don’t see it that way, however. They believe the fish are on the brink of extinction and the only way to save them is to breach the Snake River dams.
This is an emotional issue that we have seen discussed over and over. As tiresome as it is, we must continue the struggle. A good start will be making sure our community’s voice is heard at Monday’s meeting.