Will It Cost Jobs To Remove the Dams on the Lower Snake River?


he Snake River joins the Columbia River in southeastern Washington state near the cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco (see map on next page). Snake River steelhead salmon, prized by anglers for their strength and beauty, have finally been listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The ESA requires that we take action to prevent a species, in this case salmon, from going extinct.

One of the options being investigated to recover Snake River steelhead has been the removal of the dams on the Lower Snake River. There are four dams on the lower Snake and four more on the lower Columbia that are not merely barriers to salmon movement, they change the ecology of the river: the temperature of the water; flow rate and seasonal variation; the nutrient and sediment levels in the water, and even the plants and animals that live in the river.

Salmon eggs hatch in gravel beds in shallow, cold, fast moving freshwater. Young salmon spend their first years in freshwater growing, learning how to survive, and working their way downstream closer to the sea. After two years in the river salmon undergo a series of physiological changes to their gills, blood, and kidneys, that allow them to live in saltwater. They typically spend three years in the open ocean before returning to their natal stream to reproduce.

Like other proposals for salmon recovery dam removal has brought out the worst in our political ecology. Candidate Bush and then-Senator Gorton (R-Washington) used dam removal during the recent campaign as a wedge issue to divide urban from rural voters and liberals from conservatives. By the same token, dam removal has become a rallying cry for environmental activists.

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