Brunell’s Business View: Shrewdness necessary in choosing which dams to demolish

Demolishing the two dams on the Elwha River west of Port Angeles is a good thing and, hopefully the salmon and steelhead will return in record numbers. But breaching the four lower Snake River dams is an entirely different matter.

There are dams that should come down and those that shouldn’t.

Demolishing the two dams on the Elwha River west of Port Angeles is a good thing and, hopefully the salmon and steelhead will return in record numbers. The dams were built in the early 1900s to bring electricity to the Olympic Peninsula at a time when salmon and steelhead were plentiful in other Pacific Northwest rivers.

On the Elwha River, the issue was clear: Two barriers were blocking salmon from moving upstream. The care with which the demolition was planned, studied and implemented is a credit to all involved, and now fish can swim up to the high mountain tributaries in the Olympics to spawn and start the lifecycle over again.

But breaching the four lower Snake River dams is an entirely different matter. For one thing, the billions of dollars paid by Bonneville Power ratepayers to improve fish passage and spawning habitat throughout the Columbia and Snake River system is now paying off — salmon are moving up the Columbia and Snake rivers in great numbers.

For example, in 1992, a single male sockeye salmon dubbed Lonesome Larry managed to swim 900 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River to Redfish Lake in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains to spawn. Last year, the Idaho Fish and Game Department reported that 1,070 sockeye returned to Redfish, and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission counted more than 27,000 adult fall Chinook above the Lower Granite dam, the uppermost dam on the river.

Another major difference: While the Elwha dams produced very little electricity, replacing the electricity generated by the Snake River dams would take two nuclear plants, three coal-fired generators and six gas-fired power plants. Hydropower is the most efficient way to generate electricity, capable of converting 90 percent of the available energy into clean electricity. Wind turbines, on the other hand, are only about 30 percent efficient at best.

Another difference between the Elwha and Snake River dams:  Ice Harbor, the westerly most of the lower Snake River dams, irrigates 36,000 acres of farmland, vineyards and orchards.

Consider also the marine highway created by the Columbia and Snake rivers is the most environmentally friendly way to move cargo from Lewiston to Astoria. Barging keeps 700,000 trucks off Northwest highways every year, and barges are extremely fuel-efficient, moving a ton of goods 576 miles on a gallon of fuel, compared with 413 miles for rail and 155 miles for trucks.

A plan exists to carefully manage the Columbia and Snake rivers for the benefit of both fish and people. Years ago, fisheries scientists from tribes, federal and state agencies and thousands of people whose lives depend on those two rivers came together to develop a comprehensive management plan which became known as the Biological Opinion or “Bi-Op.”

The Bi-Op was supposed to be implemented two years ago, but U.S. District Judge James Redden, who recently retired, blocked it saying that spilling water to allow young salmon to migrate to the ocean wasn’t good enough. He told Idaho Public TV reporter Aaron Kunz that there was no need to go the expense of demolishing the dams. “You just dig a ditch and let the river go around them.”

All this nonsense about digging a ditch around those four massive structures is just that — nonsense. We should thank our lucky stars the four lower Snake River dams are there and get on with implementing the cooperative management plant that allows both fish and families to thrive.

More in Business

Remember 1993

Twenty-five years ago, business took a beating in Olympia. The swing to the left in the 1992 general election was swift and potent. It drove higher costs to employers and more government regulations.

Rural prosperity essential to Washington

While Seattle is growing rapidly, our rural areas continue to struggle. They don’t have the corporate giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing creating jobs and economic opportunities. Farms are predominantly family-owned.

Amazon’s plan reminiscent Boeing’s Chicago move

Last year, Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates wrote about the similarities and differences between Boeing’s corporate office move to Chicago and Amazon’s plan for a second headquarters.

LiveLocal98022 meeting cancelled

Bob Green, the night’s speaker, notified the organization he couldn’t attend due to an illness.

Expanded Panama Canal among challenges for Washington Ports

The $5.4 billion spent to expand the Panama Canal is paying off for East Coast and Gulf of Mexico seaports; however, it is putting more pressure on the Northwest to remain competitive.

Players taking a knee hurting the NFL | Don Brunell

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Portland, a young woman stepped onto the playing field at the beginning of the University of Montana vs Portland State football game and started singing our national anthem. She immediately drew a blank on the words and briefly stopped, but as she started apologizing, the fans spontaneously took up the singing.

New metal collecting machine may clean up contaminated waters

There is a new machine being tested in Montana which could decontaminate toxic mine tailings while recovering valuable precious minerals for everyday use.

Workshop will focus on business, social media

All are invited to learn how social media can impact business and how it can be used to create a positive experience for customers.

Impact of Hirst decision must be address

In Washington, the legislative stalemate over permitting new household wells and the state’s construction budget has not only delayed needed funding for public projects, but triggered yet another salvo in the wider conflict over future supplies of fresh water for people, fish and farms.

Mitigate massive wildfire danger | Don Brunell

At last count firefighters were battling 82 major wildfires in 10 western states. The fires have already scorched 2,300 square miles of forests and range lands, dislocated thousands of people, and burned hundreds of homes and buildings.

Silver linings to Hurricane Harvey | Don Brunell

All of the things that went wrong in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, appear to have been corrected with Houston’s recent Hurricane Harvey. Chalk it up to a series of important lessons learned.

Workshops aim to help small business owners and startups | Pierce County Library System

Pierce County Library System, in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), is offering two workshops to help entrepreneurs start and grow a successful business as well as share tips to advance existing small businesses.