WJ Editorial
WJ Editorial

No Compelling Reasons To Remove Snake River Dams

With its report from the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) last September representing the administration’s rationale, the Biden administration formally took the side of those salmon advocates who want to tear down four dams on the river—Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite—although it had been signaling its intent for months.

Biden claimed in March that taking down the dams would bring “healthy and abundant salmon runs back to the [Columbia] River system.” The report itself argues, “The increasing role of deteriorating ocean or freshwater conditions from climate change on the health of salmon and steelhead stocks does not diminish the importance or necessity of taking meaningful actions in areas society has more direct influence over.” So it admits there are factors impinging on salmonid populations that have nothing to do with the four dams.

Would breaching the dams actually aid fish populations? Despite claims that “the science” supports removing these dams, the evidence is equivocal at best. “[T]here are some uncertainties on the full extent of the benefits of dam breach for native aquatic species, and short-term negative effects are expected,” the report concedes. It can’t provide any hard numbers for its hoped-for benefits. It also doesn’t address why salmon populations are also declining in other West Coast river systems without dams.

Given that the report blames climate change for the salmon’s plight, it’s puzzling that it wants to remove clean hydropower electricity, when the likelihood of its being replaced by equally clean energy is not great.

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Against the certainty of severe economic dislocations, increased emissions from more truck traffic and the loss of 3,000 megawatts of clean electricity, the CEQ study offers only a hope that maybe, somehow, some fish species might benefit.  That’s a slim basis for making such a drastic change.

Since these four dams were authorized by Congress, only Congress, not the president, has the authority to decommission them. Let’s hope that common sense prevails in its halls.