Lt. Colonel Vail responds to opponents of Snake River Dams, USACE, November 5, 2015

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Opinion Article by Lt. Colonel Vail, US Army Corps of Engineers

I find it interesting that some fish advocates clamor for the removal of the Corps’ four dams on the lower Snake River at a time when the region is experiencing record fish returns.

I too am a fish advocate and so are the hundreds of scientists, biologists, and engineers from federal, state, tribal, and local partners dedicated to fish recovery in the Northwest. We operate the Nation’s largest fish conservation effort while balancing competing interests within a complex ecological system.

We let science show us the path to fish recovery and our actions, combined with favorable ocean conditions and investments by the American people are paying dividends. Chinook, sockeye and coho salmon, three of the four Snake River Endangered Species Act-listed fish all experienced record fish returns past Bonneville Dam in 2014. Since 2009 we’ve seen record returns for steelhead, sockeye and coho past Lower Granite Dam.

Fish runs were dramatically affected in the Northwest starting in the 1800s due to pollution and silting from mining operations; habitat destruction from logging; and overfishing when Columbia River cannery operations grew from one cannery in 1866 to more than 50 by 1900. Also, numerous private and public dams cut off access to historical fish spawning grounds because those dams were built without fish ladders, unlike the Lower Snake River Dams.

Biologists and engineers have reduced the effects of dam building and operations by researching, designing, building and equipping the lower Snake River Dams with the world’s most advanced fish passage systems. Spillway weirs, which have a fish survival rate of 95-100%, help juvenile fish get downstream to the ocean. After spending two to five years in the ocean, adult fish return to their spawning grounds using fish ladders to swim through the lower Snake River dams. Adult fish survival through the Snake River dams’ fish ladders exceeds 99%.

This year hot weather and drought conditions presented challenges to fish passage and survival. Conditions were unfavorable throughout the West, but in the Lower Snake River fish managers were able to improve conditions by modifying spill patterns and by releasing cool water from Dworshak Reservoir to moderate temperatures affecting fish in the lower Snake River.

Corps scientists, biologists and engineers team with our many partners to prove that dams and fish can coexist. We are on track to meet performance standards of 96% survival for spring migrating juvenile fish and 93% for summer migrants through each lower Snake River Dam. The next generation power turbines are coming to Ice Harbor Dam starting this winter. Meanwhile, we are upgrading Lower Granite Dam’s Juvenile Fish Facility.

But fish aren’t the only reason we operate the Snake River Dams. Snake River dams deliver clean, renewable hydropower, an efficient marine transportation corridor, and valuable recreation opportunities.

The American people invest about $62 million a year in the Snake River Dams. In return these projects generate about $200 million annually in electricity and help move 3.5 million tons of cargo, worth $1.5 billion, to regional markets. In 2012 alone, nearly 10% of the nation’s wheat exports moved through this infrastructure. These dams also provide 2.8 million visitors a year with recreation opportunities and benefit the environment by avoiding 7,300 kilotons of carbon dioxide pollution coal-fired power plants would emit to generate the same amount of power.

Our science-based approach is working and we’ll continue pursuing smart solutions that provide outstanding value to the American people.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]