— Part Five + final
The number one question I hear when people are learning about the effects of a dam on a river is, "are all dams destructive?" For me, the short answer has to be a yes. Anything that blocks a river like a dam does is impeding the natural flow of sediment that feeds our ecosystem while blocking migration of fish species at risk of extinction. Finding unnatural cement ladders to get past multiple dams in flooded river reservoirs full of warm stagnant water is nothing but an obstacle compared to a free flowing river.
But are some dams necessary? Again, that's a contradictory yes for me too, because dams have played a vital economic role in our nation's history. As for today, there are many with aging infrastructure and evolving economic benefits, or lack there of.
The eight dams on the Columbia/Snake River system are not created equal. The four on the Columbia have brought both benefits and disasters, as well as being retrofitted to accommodate safer salmon passage. The four dams of the lower Snake River are an agonizingly different story.
These dams have been heavily debated long before ever coming online, even by the Army Corps of Engineers who later built them. A cold war era of fear and a close proximity to Hanford Nuclear brought their Congressional approval online in 1962, 1969, 1970, and 1975.
Few people realize that the Snake River dams are of a type known as "run of the river" which means no flood control storage. The reservoirs must be kept within three feet of the top to run locks for barges. Barges that plow along side railways and highways that until 1975 carried the regions cargo at no cost to salmon or to U.S. citizens. All in the name of calling Lewiston, Idaho a "seaport" 450 miles inland from the sea.
So, how does removal start? To begin, the assumption that Congress needs to authorize breaching of these dams has been incorrect. The Army Corps has been given a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that all of their projects are economicly viable as well as not harming the environment, being technically sound and not endangering anything. >> Continued in comments >>