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Ward explains that his group hadn't actually identified the dams in question before, and hadn't extended its concern to sturgeon and lampreys. Also, the fisheries experts were in a position now to point out that things done over the past decade hadn't really worked. They said that "wild Snake River salmon and steelhead have continued to decline as a result of delayed mortality from the hydropower system, despite recent improvements in ocean productivity, passage and adult returns." And they noted that "the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lower Snake River Compensation Plan Office, charged with compensating for salmon and steelhead losses associated with turbine mortality at the four lower Snake River dams, has concluded it cannot meet its salmon compensation objectives."
The fishery experts could acknowledged the recent rise in salmon returns, but warned people not to assume things are getting better. "[D]espite recent years of relatively large runs of some salmon and steelhead populations, and good flow and ocean conditions," they said, "it is prudent to expect a repeat of extended periods of smaller runs, and poor flow and ocean conditions, coupled with continued gradual warming of water temperatures."
They also argue that dam breaching wouldn't be all that draconian. They point out that "economic analyses have shown that river shippers pay only 9% of the total costs of maintaining and operating the lower Snake River navigation system (far exceeding subsidies for rail and highway freight transportation), and the remainder is subsidized by electric ratepayers and federal taxpayers." So it's really just a question of what the body politic decides to subsidize.
In addition, they say that "the power generation of the four lower Snake River dams has constituted an average of 4% of the Pacific Northwest power needs (mostly during spring runoff when it is least needed and most replaceable), while only producing about 1% of regional power needs during high demand periods." It's legitimate to ask whether, if global climate change is really the main threat facing Pacific salmon and all the rest of us, breaching four functioning hydropower dams is really the right thing to do (although some of the people asking that are a bit suspect). But the economic impact would be trivial. In 2009, Northwest Power and Conservation Council modelers found that breaching the dams would boost the average Northwestern ratepayer's bill by less than 1%.
Redden has already made it clear that breaching should be on the table, at least as a contingency. In his 2009 letter to the attorneys, he wrote that the "BiOp does not articulate a rational contingency plan for threatened and endangered species in the event that the proposed habitat improvements and other remedial actions fail to achieve the survival benefits necessary to avoid jeopardy.” In case they do fail, Redden proposed “developing a . . . plan to study specific, alternative hydro actions, such as flow augmentation and/or reservoir drawdowns, as well as what it will take to breach the lower Snake River dams if all other measures fail.”
Does Ward think the fishery group's resolution resolution on breaching will have much political impact? No, he's not delusional. Realistically, he says, "when agencies see this, they'll just ignore it." The big question is whether or not they'll basically ignore Redden pointed statements, too.
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