The Pacific Northwest does not have to choose between strong salmon runs and a good economy, a representative of a regional economic group told a congressional hearing on Saturday.
The region can have both, but must decide soon how its salmon recovery will proceed, said Bruce Lovelin, executive director of the Columbia River Alliance, in remarks prepared for the hearing of the House Water and Power subcommittee.
The subcommittee held a hearing on Snake River salmon recovery and the impacts that dam drawdown would have on the region. Among those attending was Rep. Michael Crapo.
“Dam removal would not aid the salmon, but would actually reduce the numbers of salmon in the river,” Lovelin said. He pointed to a recent study commissioned by the Corps of Engineers that said dam removal would produce the lowest juvenile salmon survival rate and would impede adult salmon migration.
Lovelin said dam removal would cost the region between $585 million and $835 million per year and would halt commodity navigation between Portland and Lewiston. Improving the current system that collects juvenile salmon and barges them down the river system would produce more fish at a cost of $225 million per year, he said.
“Wild fish transported in barges as juveniles survived at a rate 170 percent greater than those juvenile fish that migrated in the river,” Lovelin said.
A representative of Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited had less faith in barging salmon around the dams.
In prepared remarks, Executive Coordinator Mitch Sanchotena said the river must be restored to a normal condition so juvenile fish can migrate to the ocean, if society wants to restore the fish.
Sanchotena said when society gets to a crossroad, everybody will agree that restoring steelhead and salmon and the related fishing economies that come with it is the best choice.
Rep. Helen Chenoweth, a member of the subcommittee, said the “natural river” option, breaching some of the dams on the ColumbiaSnake system, appears to be the only option under study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “and that scares the life out of me!”
“In my mind, this issue is not an ‘either-or’ situation. And I am deeply disturbed that the federal entities appear to be making it such,” she said.
Chenoweth said a University of Idaho study in May linked 4,830 high-paying jobs to three ports: Lewiston, Clarkston and Whitman County in Washington.
“Now that may not sound like a lot of jobs to an Easterner, but here in Lewiston, the loss of these jobs would be devastating to the region and to my state of Idaho,” she said.