A recent Associated Press article (Oct. 30) tying the Snake River Dams to the livelihood of the Puget Sound Orcas left me scratching my head. Activists on the Seattle waterfront said the best way to save the Orcas is to restore the salmon runs that provide their food -- mostly by removing the lower Snake River Dams.
That is where the head scratching began. The inland waterway of British Columbia and Washington, the Salish Sea, is the favored habitat of the Orcas and where they spend most of their time. That obviously means the bulk of their salmon diet comes from the rivers emptying into those waters. The Columbia/Snake River system is not connected to that habitat favored by the Orcas.
Breaching dams on a river system that does not connect to the main habitat of the whales is pointless. The geography doesn’t work and the science is questionable (see NOAA Fisheries Service Report “Southern Resident Killer Whales and Snake River Dams” 2016). The activists described in the article on the Seattle waterfront were staring at the real problems and they are not the Snake River dams. The activists said nothing about the overwater structures, seawalls, bank armoring, bulkheads, breakwaters and filled estuaries that have decimated the nearshore ecosystem around Puget Sound.
They said nothing about the destruction of ecological functions of the rivers and streams around Puget Sound. Those rivers and streams directly impact the whales because they are a major part of their favored habitat. To ensure the long-term survival of the whales, restoring the Puget Sound shoreline habitat and rivers must be the priority. The vital nursery, rearing and feeding areas for juvenile salmon along with migration routes in the sound have been totally disrupted.
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The lack of a natural habitat for salmon along the shoreline of Puget Sound has hurt well-being of the whales. Instead of wasting money on the Snake River Dams, put it to better use in the whale’s front yard and do something to directly benefit them. The whales are swimming in sewage from the Victoria outfalls and all the filth oozing into the Sound from surrounding urban areas. Carkeek Park creek in north Seattle has a sign warning people to avoid the water because of the fecal matter in the creek. All this waste matter is fouling the whales' habitat.
Removing the Snake River Dams will not stop the fouling of the Puget Sound waters. Cleaning up superfund sites in the Sound is good but how about also restoring the estuary around the mouth of the Duwamish River. How many of the Puget Sound rivers are dammed? Would removing the Howard Hanson dam or part of the six dams on the Skagit River system help with river restoration? Would closing the mouth of the Duwamish River to boat and ship traffic during the migration periods for salmon improve their survival rates?
These are the issues that should be addressed. If we are truly interested in helping the Orcas let’s focus our limited resources on improving conditions in the Salish Sea, the home of the Orcas. The Snake River Dams are just a distraction from what really needs to be done.
Dave McDonald has been the Pasco City Planner for 31 years and possesses a Masters of Science Degree.