Guest Opinions

Dam removal is poised for a breakthrough

Roger Rankin
Roger Rankin

At one time the Columbia River drainage was one of the largest salmon-producing rivers in the world. Sadly, many of the salmon runs, especially salmon returning to Idaho to spawn, are on the endangered list.

In 2008, one salmon returned to Redfish Lake, a lake so named because of the huge number of sockeye salmon returning from the Pacific Ocean. The single male sockeye is known as Lonesome Larry. This summer, 97 percent of returning salmon died in the Columbia due to river water being too hot for salmon to survive.

A federal judge has ruled for the fourth time that the U.S. government’s plan to recover salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River basin fails to address the federal hydropower dams’ effect on fish.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon on Wednesday gave the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration two years to write a new plan that does more to protect fish.

Simon criticized the current plan for underestimating the effects of climate change on fish survival and criticized the feds for insisting the plan is helping fish despite data that shows “very little actual improvements in fish abundance.”

The ruling marks the latest turn in a legal fight that’s dragged on for more than two decades, ever since the federal agency in 1992 issued a “biological opinion” declaring that the dams would not imperil salmon or steelhead.

As a result of this ruling, 15 public hearings scheduled in four Western states will be held for input from citizens concerning the devastating loss of salmon and steelhead.

Hearings will be held in Lewiston on Nov. 16 and in Boise on Nov. 29 to address the issue of the dams on the Columbia River. Research has documented that four dams on the Lower Snake River are largely responsible for the demise of salmon and steelhead returning to Idaho. We need 4 percent of the returning salmon and steelhead to negotiate the four dams just to maintain the current level of endangered fish. We currently get less than 1 percent returning as a result of the four dams.

Your input is critical to this issue. Please attend one of these hearings and voice your concern on the role the four dams play on salmon and steelhead returning to Idaho. Additionally, Idaho Rivers United is providing Idaho residents an opportunity to voice your opinion by supporting a letter to be delivered at the Boise hearing. Please visit the Idaho Rivers United website at to sign the letter. Additional facts and data are available related to the outdated dams’ electrical output, the decrease in barging on the river, the role they play in hot water and the cost of maintaining the dams.

Roger Rankin is a retired professor of education at Idaho State University and lives in Pocatello.