By Ray Hughes
In the 20th century, dams became a big part of the Northwest. We use them for power, navigation and irrigation.
Ever since we put dams in the Columbia and Snake rivers, salmon runs have decreased. With the decreasing salmon runs, people have thought about taking out the dams. Dams do cause problems, but would removing them be the answer?
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is constantly working to improve salmon runs. The engineers installed screens that direct fingerlings away from the turbines. They also take fish by truck and barge down past the dams and release them.
The water going over the spillway raises the nitrogen levels in the water, giving fish a disease similar to the bends disease in people. They put slabs of concrete in the spillway called flip lips to break the fall of the water.
When you think about the loss of salmon, you need to look at the four Hs: hatchery, habitat, harvest and hydro. Fish from hatcheries are not as strong as the native fish. The mixing of hatchery and wild stocks weakens the wild gene pool. Hatchery salmon are less stream smart, less instinctual and less alert.
As human population increases and develops, habitat for the salmon is either lost or destroyed. When salmon are born, they face a lot of predators. In the river, bears, hawks and eagles can eat them. When they get in the ocean, seals, whales and larger fish feast on the salmon. Commercial fishing boats bring in salmon by the net load. In the Columbia River Gorge, American Indians put nets into the river, which can cause problems for the salmon when they get caught in the nets.
Hydroelectric dams can block migration. The main dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers all have fish ladders to help guide fish through the dam, but the small dams up-stream do not have fish ladders.
Dams produce millions of horsepower in electric power. If the dams are breached, we will lose that power. We will have to make it up by burning more fossil fuel. Breaching the dams would allow the water level to drop so far that irrigation would be impossible. The tons of mud and sediment built up behind the four lower Snake River dams would wash down the river. The extremely muddy river water could wipe out salmon and other fish, and it would take years for the river to recover.
People use the gorge for a place to go for the weekend and have fun. If the dams arenbreached, people won’t be able to go boating or windsurfing be cause the water current would be too strong.
Breaching would make navigation for tugboats and ships impossible. If the barges are shut down, this would make the roads and railways more crowded. Placing the commodities that are now on barges onto rail or trucks will result in more air pollution. We rely on dams to make clean electricity and keep the barging industry from going out of business.
Dams provide clean power using a renewable source. They provide a navigation system that is more fuel efficient and results in less air pollution. Removing the dams is not the silver bullet it is hailed to be and will result in serious consequences to the people of the Northwest.
July 10, 2000