Dams and ditches

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board April 30, 2012 09:28 am

Baker City Herald Editorial Board

We hope a recent comment from retired U.S. District Judge James Redden isn’t indicative of the level of consideration he gave to the question of salmon conservation while he was on the bench in Portland.

 

Redden earned a reputation for rejecting as inadequate the federal government’s proposals to protect salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River basin.

He was in that role nothing if not consistent (and bi-partisan). Redden tossed out proposals from each of the past three presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Redden has turned over the salmon case to Judge Michael Simon.

Among the major issues in that case is the future of four hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River in Southeastern Washington that are impediments to salmon and steelhead: Lower Granite, Little Goose, Ice Harbor and Lower Monumental.

In a recent interview for the Outdoor Idaho program on Idaho Public Television, Redden said, in reference to the four dams: “I think we need to take those dams down. Trying to take out a dam is not, not very difficult. You don’t just take the whole thing down, you just let the water go around it. You just dig out the ditch and let it go around.”

Notwithstanding Redden’s oversimplification of the engineering involved — there’s a tad more to the matter than digging four ditches — we’re troubled by what seems the judge’s dismissive attitude about the effects of tearing out four dams that produce enough electricity to power Seattle.

Wheat farmers and the myriad other businesspeople who rely on the Port of Lewiston in Idaho could talk at great length about the detrimental effects of severing the link to the Pacific that the lower Snake dams created.

Breaching the dams would also harm businesses that depend on boaters and other recreationists.

Redden certainly understands that dams and sustainable populations of anadromous fish needn’t be mutually exclusive.

In fact it was the judge’s order in 2006, requiring more water to be spilled from the dams rather than diverted to their power turbines, that biologists have credited with contributing to healthier salmon and steelhead runs on the Snake.

Redden has more recently said he’s not convinced that tinkering with dams will ultimately save the fish. That’s a legitimate opinion, and one he shares with many people and organizations.

But we expected more from a judge than the implication that getting rid of four vital dams is little more than shovel work.