Four dams on Snake River will instead be modified
SPOKANE, Wash. - Four dams on the Snake River will be modified to improve the survival of salmon, but will not be breached, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Wednesday in a widely expected decision.
The corps made essentially the same announcement in December when it released a draft plan for restoring endangered salmon runs on the Columbia-Snake river systems.
The corps' recommendation will be formally adopted later this year, spokeswoman Nola Conway said.
The corps plans to pursue technical and operational changes at the dams to improve fish survival. The work will cost about $390 million over 10 years, the decision said.
Environmental groups have vowed to continue their fight to remove the four dams, which they blame for dramatic declines in salmon runs.
"I'd say that this is disappointing but not surprising," said Melissa Pease, spokeswoman for the Seattle-based Save Our Wild Salmon coalition.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent over the past two decades in efforts to modify the dams to help salmon, she said.
"Engineering and technology are not going to save these fish," she said. "They need more natural river conditions, and they need dam removal to achieve that."
While a large number of salmon returned last year, they were overwhelmingly the less desirable hatchery fish, rather than wild salmon, Pease said. Those returning salmon also went out to the ocean in a good water year.
The number of salmon that return from last year's migration - during a drought year - will likely be far lower, Pease said.
The dams - Ice Harbor, Little Goose, Lower Granite and Lower Monumental - are located between Pasco, Wash., and Lewiston, Idaho. They were built starting in the 1960s to provide electricity and irrigation water and to make the Snake River navigable.
Each spring and summer millions of juvenile salmon and steelhead leave their home rivers in Idaho, Washington and Oregon and are flushed to the ocean, where they spend one to three years. Then they return to their places of birth to spawn.
Dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers disrupted the migration, exposing fish to predators, high water temperatures and electrical turbines. The fish were eventually placed on the endangered species list, which triggered studies on the best way to restore the fish runs.
In addition to structural and operational changes at the dams, the corps will continue to barge or truck some juvenile salmon around the dams.
The corps said key factors in its decision to avoid breaching were high current survival rates for adult salmon and steelhead through the dams, minimal economic impact to river users, compatibility with other federal salmon recovery efforts and minimal damage to the environment.
The study began in 1995 and looked at four scenarios: maintaining existing conditions; maximum barging of young salmon; major system improvements; and dam breaching.
The $24 million study drew more than 8,700 people to public hearings and prompted more than 230,000 written comments, mostly form letters.