Elwah river between the dams

o mykiss

Active Member
You're the man, Bob. The Snake River dams, which generate around 3% of our region's electricity and are not designed to offer flood protection, give us nothing we couldn't have without the dams other than an inland "seaport", which benefits no one other than the barging trade, and indirectly, the agricultural interests who rely on it. Meanwhile, these dams are wiping out wild salmonid stocks - some coho stocks are gone forever, sockeye are on the brink of extinction, and reliable estimates are that there will be no wild salmon or steelhead left on the Snake within the next 15 - 20 years. We (i.e., U.S. taxpayers) spend billions trying to stave off that eventuality on asinine things like trucking smolts around dams - a near complete waste of money - just so the barging industry, which probably employs a couple hundred people at most, can keep plying these waters. Without the dams, farmers could still pull water from the Snake to irrigate their crops and ship their crops by rail and truck, our region could absorb the nominal loss of power generation, we'd create an environment where wild salmon and steelhead could not only survive but thrive, we'd avoid the billions in salmon-related expenditures we currently incur to subsidize the barging industry, and we'd lay the groundwork for a sportfishing and tourism-based industry that would more than make up for the loss of the barging industry.
The locals around the dams would undoubtedly vote to keep the dams. They have homes on the reservoirs that are shoreline now but would be high and dry if the river returns. Also, there are a few water skiers who ply the lakes in the summer. The big issue is that many locals who fish know about the rather splendid fishing that can be had in the hike in area. If the dams are breached, these trout, they fear, will return to the sea and be lost just like all the salmonids these days. There are the barge boys, the dam gangsters, and the freeloading
farmers who want to irrigate at the expense of tourism, the return of the anadromous fish, and free rivers for kayak guys to run wild on. They are out to stop any dam removal, no matter where. They contribute big bucks for the multi-million dollar campaigns needed to get elected these days. The man with the most bribe money wins.
Damn sorry state of affairs, these damn dams, and like the Old Man, who knows every river and rill, every pond and lake on both sides of the Cascades, I don't see it happening in our lifetime.
You should visit the dams at the Elwha sometime. Bring a sharp stick to poke around with. Poke the dam and you'll see how rotten it is. Be careful, you might just breach the dams for nuttin'.

o mykiss

Active Member
Bob, I'm assuming you're joking about locals' fear that breaching of the Elwha dams will ruin the splendid trout fishing in the hike-in area. One need only go to Alaska to see what great trout fishing can be had on a healthy anadromous fish-bearing system. Breaching those dams will if anything make the trout fishing even better. Although the current administration is doing its damnedest to roll back progressive environmental policies and enforcement (including diverting EPA enforcement personnel to drive Christine Todd Whitman to Starbucks and pick up her drycleaning), I am hopeful that not even these clowns will be able to stop the removal of the Elwha dams, and that it will happen soon and certainly in my (and even your) lifetime.

The Snake River dams are a much bigger longshot, but I am not without hope that if broad enough coalitions can be forged, the few groups (like bargers, electricity producers and the Army Corps of Engineers) whose existence is more directly dependent on the dams isolated, and others reassured that they will be able to maintain their livelihoods despite the breaching of the dams, that it too could happen. If we need to take some of the billions in taxpayer money that we spend on salmon recovery in the Snake system for the sole (true) purpose of subsidizing the barge trade (and keeping a few Army Corps employees employed), and use it to help pay for new irrigation systems and to compensate or relocate to lower ground the people who are left high and dry, that is money well spent in my book. (Remember, there were lots of people displaced, and entire cultures virtually destroyed, by the building of these dams in the first place.)

The thing that I most fear is that state and federal officials are in a four corner stall, knowing that if they obfuscate long enough and dump enough hatchery zombies into this system, the clock will run out, the wild stocks will become extinct and there will be nothing left to fight about. And believe me, when the government no longer needs to spend billions on hatchery programs, scientific studies, salmon barging, and other cockeyed diversion technologies just to deflect the heat it takes on the decimation of wild stocks, it will not for long feel like it needs to keep those programs alive (and losing money hand over fist) just to keep collecting $30 license fees from a few hundred thousand people in the region. They will spend a lot of money to keep many (most?) sport (and commercial) anglers on the sidelines of the wild fish debate by making hatchery fish available to us while the wild fish go extinct, but not too long after the wild fish are gone, I am sure the government will look upon these hatchery programs and other dam-mitigating schemes as money-losing luxuries that (like a decent public education) we can no longer afford. And then we'll all be stuck fishing for carp and spiny rays in the slackwater behind these dams, eating farm-raised Atlantic salmon, and lamenting the days we sat by and watched our government kill off our Pacific salmon. Or, if we choose to participate in this debate, not.
I must respond to your thinking that I'm joking about the locals. Absolutely not! My stock broker (I fired him, of course, for wiping out my life savings) was but one of these people. He said he had many friends who felt as he did (he is based in Port Angeles). Signs along the 101 in front of motels exclaim, Save Our Dams." Some people even think that they will be blown out when the dams are dynamited. Others think that Ediz Spit will gather so much sediment that the harbor will be closed and the town will dry up. This is stupid, of course, but then it takes all kinds as they say.
Myself, I live close enough to the Elwha to consider her my home water. She means a lot to me.
By the way, your comments are very cogent and well-written. I admire your style. And what you say is definitely word. So many feel as we do, but apparently we are not enough. I thought it was a done deal, and then I found out Slade Gorton (R) was sitting on the money because of some jerkwater committee he was on. Bill Clinton (D) had authorized the money. Then Gorton was defeated and I thought now the dams will come down.
But now, Pres. Bush (R) is not moving on the issue and I fear for its actuation. Time will tell I guess.
I thought(I could be wrong) that Gorton passed a bill(or ryder)that indicated; no dams on the columbia could be breeched (inculding the snake) if the Elwha dams were taken out? I remember the lower dam on the elwha was ready to go but the upper Glines Canyon dam wsnot part of the deal--does not make sense?

Maybe somebosy out there "in the know" can turn some light to this.

great discussion--looking forward to hearing more.


o mykiss

Active Member
Don't get me started on Gorton. The grim reaper did try to link funding for Elwha dam removal to restrictions on the Snake that went way beyond putting Snake River dam removals off limits. Fortunately, there was a big enough hue and cry that he ended up backing off. I think he tried to accomplish something similar in a BPA funding bill but am not sure where it ended up. (I believe that failed too, as evidenced by the passing of the 2000 salmon plan.) Thanks for reminding why I am so happy that bastard is out of office.

To find out what is happening with the Snake, check out this website. http://www.columbia-snake.org.

There is currently a house bill, the 2003 Salmon Action Plan, pending somewhere in Congress. Seems to be a pretty modest bill designed to get the feds -- who've footdragged on implementing the 2000 salmon plan -- off their asses, get some independent scientific input on recovery efforts from the National Academy of Sciences, and provide Congressional authority for removal of the dams (which the Army Corps claims it needs) if the pre-dam removal efforts do not prove successful. Not surprisingly, the only representative from WA or ID supporting it is Jim McDermott. Check it out - there's lots of info on the website mentioned above. If you think it's worth your support, write your representative and ask him or her to support it.
Even if they breach the damns on the Elwha, what makes anyone think that special interest won't take control and turn it into a laboratory for habitat restoration (e.g. Spirit Lake)? Just a thought. Moreover, if doing so (lab work) would increase our knowledge of how to restor fish and habitate wouldn't it be worth it? Also, I thought that the general concensus was that the rainbows in the Elwha were trapped SH and that that genetic stock would be used to revive the runs. If not, isn't it just another stocked pond?? Just food for thought. I would love to see them come down even though I really enjoy the river as is.

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
In the past I complained to Dr Brian Winter, who runs the Elwha Project, and John Meyer, NPS Fisheries Biologist, about the harvest of the Elwha rainbows and how they may be the genetic foundation for the recovery of anadromous steelhead there in the future. It was believed that the Elwha rainbows had more in common with cutthroats than with steelhead. But they have taken the issue seriously and are protecting the Elwha rainbows within the park now from harvest. So that is a good beginning. There may be a time when we can not fish there during restoration but that has not been seriously plotted out or scheduled formally.It is just a possibility depending on how the fish do during the project. I am in favor of sanctuarying one river in America for the grand experiment of seeing what can happen when we don't intervene and screw things up. I think much of the opposition to the Elwha project is about not wanting that kind of progress around here and if it works it will make other dams look bad. Like the Edwards dam removal on the Kennebec River in Maine- scores of fish now spawn in what was once a fetid pool of slackwater and filth.