Meanwhile, Back on the Lower Snake River

Remember our discussion about the ongoing effort by environmentalists to breach four hydroelectric dams on the Lower Snake River in eastern Washington state? Sure you do. But if not, click on and — that should refresh your memory.

So as the sun set in the West, as we wrote those posts in 2009, up in Oregon, U.S. District Judge James A. Redden was pondering the decision whether to order the breaching of those four dams. He is still pondering, although the New York Times avers that he is expected to rule soon on the government’s proposed solution to the problem of impeded migration of salmon up the river (no pun intended). So says William Yardley, Removing Barriers to Salmon Migration, N.Y. Times, July 30, 2011, at p. A10.

So far, this is old news. But this time, the Times reveals some additional factors that will affect the price to be paid if the breaching of dams proceeds apace as it appears to be doing. That’s in addition to the loss of hydroelecric power output sufficient to supply the city of Seattle, and the loss of ability to barge the Idaho crops to market. Those will have to travel by truck, adding to air polution.

We are referring to thealready-made decision to breach an additional two dams on the Elwha River. It seems that there is an Indian tribe living near the mouth of the Elwha, where it has been protected from flooding by those dams. But if the dams are removed, unpredictable flooding will return. So the project will have to include the construction of levees to protect the Indian lands. Even so, there is concern that this may or may not protect the Indians’ homes from floods.

What is conspicuous by its absence from the Times story is information on the cost of this caper. But stay tuned. Your betters in Washington have just sort of approved going into hock to the tune of another couple of trillion — that’s with a “t,” just as we were beginning to get used to saying billion, with a “b.”

Disclaimer: We are as fond of salmon as the next fellow, but even so, given that the country has just dug the gaping fiscal hole deeper, and shows no sign of being able to extricate itself from it in the foreseeable future, this may not be the wisest expenditure of increasingly shrinking public funds. In the meantime, enjoy your gravlax.

Oh, we almost forgot. Why is it that judges are deemed perfectly competenet to pass judgment on technical/scientific matters when it comes to government decisions to tear down dams, but are plumb unable to do so when it comes to decisions to put ’em up in the first place, and to condemn land for them? If you know the answer to that one, do let us know.

Follow up. For another article on this subject, see the National Geographic’s coverage of it. Ann Minard, Will Dam Removal in the West Restore Salmon, July 25, 2011 — click here . Note that in spite of this article’s generally laudatory tone, what comes through is that the dam owners are acquiescing in the tear-down because the cost of dam relicensing, if pursued, would be prohibitive. And so, much clean, sustainable electric power generation is being sacrificed for. . .what?  Check out the letters to the editor that follow the National Geographic article, for data that cast considerable doubt on the conventional wisdom underlying this effort.