Restoring habitats is reasonable, crippling humans’ electricity and irrigation isn’t | Don Brunell’s Business View

Some activists believe there is no such thing as a good dam, that we should destroy all dams to restore fish runs, no questions asked.

Some activists believe there is no such thing as a good dam, that we should destroy all dams to restore fish runs, no questions asked.

A more balanced approach would be identifying dams we can live with, and dams we can live without.

When the Elwha Dam was completed in 1913, people cared more about electrifying the Olympic Peninsula than protecting migrating salmon. After all, salmon were plentiful and electricity was the force driving economic growth. But the dam denied salmon and steelhead access to their traditional spawning grounds about 50 miles upriver.

Last year all that began to change. Both the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams were demolished with the hope that the fish will return.

A similar story unfolded last year when the Condit Dam was breached, opening miles of old spawning streams on the upper White Salmon River in the Columbia River Gorge. While dam busting has its place, it is only one option.

For example, the Condit Dam was owned by PacifiCorp, as are the Merwin, Yale and Swift dams on the north fork of the Lewis River. Even though they are owned and operated by the same company, their situations are very different. 

The Lewis River dams were constructed between 1931 and 1958 with no fish passages. As part of the new 50 year operating license, PacifiCorp agreed to spend a $120 million to return fish runs above the Swift, the upper most of the trio.

This is how it works: Adult salmon and steelhead heading up the river to spawn are collected below Merwin, the first dam, and trucked to Swift Reservoir where they are released to continue their spawning swim.

The downstream migration is a little trickier. Juveniles, which are more elusive, are collected at the head of Swift Dam and trucked down river to the release point below Merwin.

On the Columbia and the Lower Snake rivers, adult salmon and steelhead use fish ladders to bypass the concrete barriers. But for fish heading out to sea, one of the best options has been to collect and barge the fish around the dams.

Even though barging young fish has been around since 1955, some feel it is unnatural. Others say fish released from a barge or truck lose their homing instinct and are confused when they return from the ocean to spawn.

Over the years, transporting fish has improved greatly. Each year, more than 20 million fish travel by barge, dodging predators and deadly turbines. Barging appears to work best for steelhead and spring Chinook, which spend a year in the fresh waters before heading out to sea.
That makes sense since they grow bigger and stronger before making the trek.

The point is, 100 years makes a tremendous difference. If the dams on the Elwha and White Salmon rivers were constructed today, they would have included fish passage systems. Because they did not, they came down.

But not all dams have to come down. When fish passages are an option, it is worth the investment to enhance fish habitat while providing low-cost electricity for our growing economy.

In 1910, there were just over 1.1 million people in our state, and our economy was just developing. Today, we have 6.7 million who depend upon low-cost electricity for our homes, businesses, hospitals, schools and factories — but we also have much better science that enables us to make more precise and site — and species-specific decisions.

So removing all of the dams — dams that provide electricity, irrigation, flood control and commercial water transportation — is not an option. But restoring habitat and giving ocean-going fish a short ride to safety is.

More in Opinion

Even with postage paid, voters couldn’t send ballots on time

While those ballots don’t get counted, taxpayers still must pay the Postal Service for delivering them.

Spotting outsiders in our little city

There’s always a way to tell who’s new and who’s ‘in-the-know’ in Enumclaw.

We must move away from identity politics

Mr. Trump recognized the legitimate concerns of the “working class” and socio-economic middle class which have born a disproportionate negative impact from many of Washington’s policies.

Polarizing politics works to squash the moderate middle

The definition of identity politics: “Political attitudes or positions that focus on… Continue reading

Enumclaw VFW cites long list of community service

Our post, although one of the smallest in the state, consistently ranks near the top of all state VFW posts in the amount of community service we provide.

A victory they didn’t want means a fight they worked to avoid

De-Escalate Washington needs to restart the machinery of a campaign to pass I-940.

Windows over Cole Street

Some of you have probably seen me early in the afternoon sitting in storefront windows of The Local Coffee House or Ann’s Bakery or, my favorite perch, the corner windows in Jackson’s.

Deeply held religious beliefs do good in the world

It is truly disheartening to see the eagerness with which people jump on the bandwagon to Christian bash.

Economy rises and falls, regardless of who’s in the Oval Office

History from the time of Harry Truman teaches us that presidents have very little influence on the economy.

SPLC accurately labels hate organizations and people

The SPLC has received my support for many years and will continue to receive my support for their efforts to defend the civil rights of all persons.

Rumbling and rambling on the way to November

The short columns for the upcoming mid-terms.

Shakespeare and sex jokes, Act II

How exactly did you think he became popular with the masses back in the time of the Plague?