Reading the Dec. 4 Idaho Mountain Express (“Idaho Power dismisses lawsuit against EPA over dams”) reveals just one of the many serious travesties of our time. Shame on the EPA to allow warmer water temperatures where federally listed and protected fall Chinook salmon reproduce. Fall is a critical time for fall Chinook spawning that would help boost numbers of naturally reproducing spawning fish.
The new proposed fall temperatures would allow a 2.6-degree increase. It would also allow Idaho Power to spend less on mitigation to meet standards that are never met anyway. Idaho and Oregon must sign on to the new temperature standard, which Idaho has already done. Shame on the state of Idaho!
The only plausible solution to recovering central Idaho salmonids is removing the lower four Snake River dams (Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite) if we are to prevent extinction and have fish return to central Idaho in sustainable numbers, particularly in the face of a warming climate.
Unless we take the four lower Snake River dams down, I am certain that in my lifetime I will see Chinook salmon and steelhead go extinct from central Idaho. Of the 730,000 young sockeye released in Idaho in 2017, only 17 survived the journey to the ocean and back again to their spawning grounds in the Sawtooth Valley. In days gone by, central Idaho used to see 150,000-plus sockeye return to the region.
Dams are so destructive to fish in so many ways: slowing the flow of rivers, disorienting fish, allowing sediment to build and fill spawning gravels, lowering oxygen levels which impact reproductive processes, killing and injuring fish in their turbines, obstructing migration, preventing nutrient-rich sediment and woody debris needed for habitat complexity, favoring species better suited for warm water and lake-like conditions, which often out-compete river species, and weakening natural populations with hatchery fish.
The lower Snake River dams have outlived their useful life—they provide only about 4 percent of the region’s electricity, barge traffic has declined and the dams are wholly responsible for the decline of our salmon species.
Central Idaho has some of the best habitat conditions in the country—we are ready for their return but the dams must go! Dam removal is doable and affordable while Bonneville Power is going under and spending billions to mitigate the dams’ impacts with no noticeable improvement in salmonid recovery. It’s time for BPA to get out of the way. The lower Snake River dams should be replaced with conservation measures and a mix of solar and wind-generated power.
Kaz Thea is a resident of Hailey.