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Public Input Sought on Plan to Breach Snake River Dams

The public is getting get a chance to weigh on the idea of breaching four dams on the Snake River. One hearing was held in Spokane this week. The hearings were ordered by a federal judge, who ruled that a federal plan to save salmon was inadequate, and should at least consider breaching of the dams.

The dam breaching issue is one that seems to rear its head every few years. It has been touted as a way to restore endangered salmon and steelhead runs on the lower Snake River. The return of the proposal was sparked last spring by U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon, who sided with fishing groups, environmentalists, the state of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe, finding that the latest of five federal plans for protecting the fish wasn’t adequate.

The judge said the federal agencies had “done their utmost” to avoid considering breaching the Snake River dams, ignoring strong suggestions to do so by a previous federal judge.

The Snake River dams, which were completed in 1975, have created a navigable river system that allows grain growers to ship their products from the port of Lewiston to the Pacific coast.

Glenn Squires, COE of the Washington Grain commission says, “In the state of Washington, 60-65 percent of our wheat moves by truck barge, moves by the river system. Agriculture sees the river system as needed capacity for moving crops, and that’s just one component, it’s the hydropower, the recreation, and some element of flood control.”

But Sam Mace of the group Save Our Wild Salmon says the dams have taken a big toll on the salmon runs.  “Scientists tell us that removing the dams is the single best thing we can do to restore salmon and steelhead, meanwhile the benefit of the dams is in steep decline, Barging is down 70 percent on the lower Snake as farmers shift to other forms of transportation, they are primarily for barging and the energy is minimal.”

The four dams produce about 1,000 megawatts of electricity on average, or about 5 percent of that used in the region. 

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.