Posts Tagged With: Snake River

DEMOLSHING DAMS

Earlier this year we visited a museum showing pictures of Native Americans fishing for salmon on the Columbia River. Their whole life style revolved around the salmon including  religious rituals. It fed them and the bears, the eagles, otter and numerous other species plus provided fertile ground around the river bank from the millions of dead salmon after the spawn.  Then settlers moved into the west and greed and competition took hold. They put fish wheels on the rivers.  By some historic reports, they caught so many fish, so easily,  half of each catch was wasted. They couldn’t give it away because everybody wanted to be in the fish business. 
Not until canneries opened did it become super profitable and then fishing with wheels practically decimated salmon populations by 1906. On the Columbia River, one single fish wheel near The Dalles pulled 418,000 pounds of salmon out of the river in 1906 alone, and it was just one of more than 75 fish wheels working the river that year.
Conventional wisdom  blames over fishing  for salmon decline, and when it became obvious something had to be done, no one wanted to be blamed.  The gillnet  fishing boat operators of the lower Columbia and the fish-wheel operators farther upstream, each blamed the other for its dwindling salmon catch. In the 1908 Oregon election, the two sides sponsored competing ballot measures, one banning fish wheels and the other making gillnetting illegal.  Both bills passed, but were thrown out by courts. 

Isn’t that wonderful?  The courts sometimes have as much sense as our current court which insists a corporation has the same rights as an individual which allows  the huge amounts of money we now have in our election process.

It took until 1935 for fish wheels to be banned completely on the Columbia, but by this time the Grand Coulee Dam had been built without fish ladders, cutting off access to slews of spawning grounds. Salmon  never rebounded to anywhere near  historic levels.

I read this piece in the Washington Post about two weeks ago with a feeling of satisfaction and relief: 
The largest dam demolition in the nation’s history will begin Saturday when an excavator claws away at the concrete supports for Washington’s 108-foot Elwha River Dam, a ceremonial act of destruction that will signal not only the structure’s demise but the latest step in a broad shift in the way Americans are managing rivers. Faced with aging infrastructure and declining fish stocks, communities are tearing down dams across the country in key waterways that can generate more economic benefits when they are removed than when the rivers are controlled.
“What once seemed radical is now mainstream,” said  American Rivers President Bob Irvin, whose group has advocated dam removal for environmental reasons. “All of these are experiments in how nature can restore itself, and the Elwha is the biggest example of that.” The pace of removal has quickened, with 241 dams demolished between 2006 and 2010, more than a 40 percent increase over the previous five years. Many of them are in the East and Midwest, having powered everything, including textile mills and paper operations at the turn of the 20th century. A drumbeat of litigation by tribes and environmental groups has pushed federal officials to dismantle some dams that otherwise would have remained in place. Although this has led to political fights in regions where dams matter the most, such as the Pacific Northwest, it has also forged historic compromises.“The Elwha River restoration marks a new era of river restoration in which broad community support provides the bedrock for work to sustain our rivers and the communities that rely on them,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement. Although estimates vary on the economic value of restoring a river’s natural flow, it creates construction jobs in the short term and eventually restores depleted commercial fisheries. It also draws tourists — anglers, rafters and kayakers. Federal officials estimate that restoring the Elwha river  will generate at least 760 jobs during  the clean up which will take over two years, and 446 annual jobs in recreation and tourism once it’s finished.Demolishing dams is not popular with some State and Federal policy makers. But, considering that Dams once played an outsize role in the nation’s energy supply, providing 40 percent of U.S. electricity in 1940. Now they account for 7 to 10 percent, with only 3 percent of the nation’s dams with adequate generating capacity. And, many policy makers do not consider the cost of the electricity when the dam upkeep is taken into the equation. We recently visited the Bonneville dam, two dams, actually because they are spread from a man made river Island to both banks of the Columbia. The dam impedes boat and barge transportation. In fact, the locks, are no longer used because there isn’t enough boat transportation to keep them running.

Glen Canyon Dam, was built in 1966. It supplies recreation on Lake Powell, but the dam destroyed some of the most beautiful scenery on the Colorado River. Senator Goldwater pushed for the project and later stated if he had seen the scenery before he voted he wouldn’t have voted for it. It doesn’t supply significant electricity, but it does provide recreation. The problem is it keeps natural silt from the river and the native plants and fish are suffering.  It is costing millions  to counteract the affects of the dam on the Grand Canyon.

Even though laws mandate mitigation for lost habitat, we still have overgrazed, over fished, flood prone, destroyed wetlands, because of dams. Unfortunately, not much is being done. Costs to maintain the dams are often not considered in the proposals to build dams because riparian rights are not recognized by our political system.

My rant for the day.

 

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