Today the Bend Bulletin printed a response to my recent letter from Kurt Miller, the Executive Director of Northwest RiverPartners, a group that lobbies for hydroelectric facilities on the Columbia River. Predictably, Mr. Miller takes issue with my inclusion of hydro power dams in the list of reasons that anadromous fish populations are collapsing in the Columbia River Basin.
I do respect the tone of Mr. Miller’s letter and acknowledge that this is a complex issue. In fact, in my opinion piece I gave a host of reasons for the current crisis. I also acknowledge that hydro power has a smaller carbon footprint than energy generated from fossil fuels. Nevertheless, dams on the Columbia River are clearly a major component in the crisis unfolding before us.
Dams hinder and sometimes completely block juvenile and adult fish migration. Dams create large pools of water that slow migration in the spring, disrupting the timing of bodily changes needed to adapt to salt water on the way out to the ocean. These same pools heat to lethal levels during adult returns in the summer.
The fact that dams are detrimental to salmon and steelhead is settled in scientific journals and in the courtroom, even if it remains ignored by the US government and Northwest RiverPartners. Dams clearly have some economic benefit but the cost to our iconic fish species in the Pacific Northwest will be extinction if we don’t take dramatic action soon. We can generate electricity more cheaply and in a more environmentally friendly manner. We can transport agricultural products on trains rather than barges. We can’t bring back species from the dead.
Regarding the long term financial viability of the BPA, there have been numerous articles on this topic over the recent past. I am certainly in no position to comment on the accuracy of these reports but trust that at least basic fact checking was done. Even if we speculate that the articles were shoddily written, however, it does not change the fact that dams are an important contributing factor in the collapse of Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead populations.