Idaho's Delegation backs Craig's salmon water rider. Lawmakers want to ensure Idaho's voice in the salmon debate won't be muted.

With Larry Craig’s loss of power, the other three of Idaho’s congressional delegation have taken up has efforts to make sure nothing is done to help the salmon and steelhead that still manage to migrate (just barely) from the ocean back to where they were hatched to lay eggs and spawn.

The delegations’ position has always been hard to fathom because the things that have done the most to destroy the runs in recent years are the 4 dams in the Lower Snake River. These are in Washington State, not Idaho. They are navigation dams, not water storage dams, and they produce very little net electricity, because the navigation aspect of the dams conflicts with electrical generation.

Their stance, as far as I can tell is cultural. That’s was makes so many of these “Western” issues hard to deal with. They are not really about economics. So rational discourse is not possible.

Except for the far inland seaport of Lewiston, Idaho which was made possible by these pork barrel dams, these lower Snake River dams harm Idaho economically, especially the towns on the spawning streams like Riggins, Salmon, Challis, and Stanley. They also harm Idaho agricultural water users because the alternative to tearing down the 4 dams is to run a lot of water down the Snake and Clearwater rivers to create a current in the reservoirs so the salmon smolts don’t get lost on their way to the ocean.

Fortunately, it looks like Democrats may block the Idaho delegation’s plans. Advice to these Republicans . . . maybe you should vote for things children’s health insurance and to redeploy the American troops in the Iraq civil war. . . you get favors by doing them.

Story: Delegation backs Craig’s salmon water rider. Lawmakers want to ensure Idaho’s voice in the salmon debate won’t be muted. By Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman.






  1. Buffaloed Avatar

    While this does not surprise me there is one thing in this story that does. Harry Reid from Nevada is making a push to return steelhead and Chinook salmon to northern Nevada by way of the Owyhee River. The fish were blocked by the three Hells Canyon dams and the Owyhee Dam in Oregon. one of the bigger spawning areas was what is now the Duck Valley Shoshone-Paiute Reservation.

    The fish also ascended Rock Creek and others near Twin Falls. They couldn’t go past Shoshone Falls or up the Malad River in historical times.

    Another benefit to providing passage to salmon and steelhead to the Owyhee would be that they would have access upstream to Diversion Dam in Boise, Black Canyon Dam on the Payette in Emmett, the entire Weiser River, and the Snake River to Swan Falls which was historically a major spawning area for Fall Chinook salmon.

    Boy, that would change the character of the Treasure Valley.

    There would need to be some very large changes made to the Hells Canyon Dams as well as Owyhee Dam to provide for passage but the Hells Canyon Dams were built with the promise that they wouldn’t stop salmon and steelhead from migrating to the areas that they inhabited, primarily the Weiser River.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks for pointing this out, Buffaloed.

    That Harry is quite the guy, love him and hate him, but love him on this one.

  3. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    This is slightly off-topic – sorry – but for everybody interested in the salmon and steelhead issue please consider reading “My Story, as Told By Water” by David James Duncan.

    It’s the most powerful book I’ve ever read, except for the Bible. I cannot recommend it too highly.

  4. Layton Avatar


    ” but the Hells Canyon Dams were built with the promise that they wouldn’t stop salmon and steelhead from migrating to the areas that they inhabited, primarily the Weiser River.”

    Now don’t go starting a fight here, cuz I’m just curious (I wish they’d knock out the dams tomorrow) but is what you say here really true??

    I thought the Rapid River hatchery for sure and maybe the hatchery on the Salmon River above Stanley were part of the mitigation for the loss of fish in the Snake River above the dams. Incorrect??


  5. Buffaloed Avatar

    Maybe I overstated the “promise” part. There were very meager efforts to preserve the salmon and publicly people were led to believe that salmon would remain but I don’t think that there was a real effort made to preserve them. I can say that there was an incident which killed a huge number of salmon below Oxbow Dam during its construction. The fish were buried in pits just below the dam near Indian and Blue Creek. I have heard stories about the incident involving the CEO of Idaho Power at the time. I don’t feel that Idaho Power acted in good faith with regard to salmon.

    The Rapid River and Pahsimeroi hatcheries were built as mitigation. They are both funded using Idaho Power dollars but the Pahsimeroi has never achieved its goal of actually mitigating for the lack of salmon.

    There was an extremely limited fishing season last year for chinook salmon on the upper Salmon River where something like 150-300 hatchery salmon were harvested. It was the first time in about 30 years where there was actually a fishing season for chinook in the upper Salmon.

    There is a detailed explanation of the history behind the Hells Canyon Complex with regard to salmon and steelhead.

    The decline of salmon and steelhead has a long and sordid history with many claims made to mollify the critics of the dam building. I remember reading about one claim made which stated that you could pass a mule through the turbines of the Snake River dams. Unfortunately the mule would still be dead when it came through the other side.

  6. Buffaloed Avatar

    You also have to remember that there are several entities involved in this issue. The Hells Canyon dams are owned by Idaho Power and the dams on the lower Snake and Columbia are operated by the Army Corps of Engineers.

  7. sal Avatar


    Isn’t he the author who was in West Yellowstone as a keynote speaker for the GYC annual a few years back?
    I have to say… if that’s the guy, and book, you mention…

    It’s not really off-topic.

    He was a wonderful speaker and very honest about the way things are in the water-world of the west.

    (I had thought of another book I had to read in a seminar, at first–it was the daily observations of an upriver migrating salmon. Most of us complained about it and said so in discusssion. The prof. seemed to be promoting his buddy’s book. It was a terrible bore, though somewhat factual.)

    I haven’t read the book you mention, though I would like to. Thanks for reminding me to go get a copy and do just that.

  8. sal Avatar

    Buffaloed: (Hey!)

    “You also have to remember that there are several entities involved in this issue. The Hells Canyon dams are owned by Idaho Power and the dams on the lower Snake and Columbia are operated by the Army Corps of Engineers.”

    So where does Bonneville Power come into this?

    I know they were part of the panel hearing public comment when I testified on the dam-breaching issues for the lower Snake R. years ago.

    Are they simply the nongov’t agency that administers the physical facilities?

  9. Buffaloed Avatar

    Hi Sal!

    BPA is a government agency actually administers the power generated by the Corps dams as well as some other facilities, namely the big nuclear plant that never came online in Washington State. In other words the dams are paying for the nuclear plant. It’s a big jumble that I don’t totally understand. I know that BPA also sells hydropower to the big aluminum smelters on the Columbia at below market prices. There’s the free market for you.

    There is the Northwest Power Planning Council which has never done the job that was mandated by congress because it is staffed by political appointees. They are mandated to make sure that salmon are given equitable treatment to power production but they always get the shaft when push comes to shove.

    Th Lower Snake River Compensation Plan also comes into play as well as the agencies NOAA Fisheries, IDFG, ODFW, WDFW, Nez Perce and Sho-Ban tribes along with others. I get confused.

  10. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    sal, I don’t know if DJD was the keynote speaker for the GYC annual or not, but I know he’s presented quite a bit around the country.

    Please let me know how this book make you feel; what it made you think. I cried every night I read it. I believe DJD to be a genius.

  11. Buffaloed Avatar

    BPA also funds fisheries studies.

    I feel that these fish have been studied to death and that the real problem is the dams. There is no technical fix other than breaching at least the 4 lower Snake dams.

    I wonder if there might be a way to provide passage to juvenile fish in the Hells Canyon Complex. I think that it would probably have to involve some way to collect them above the slack water and let them migrate through some kind of system that keeps predators out and doesn’t crowd the fish to such a degree that disease is a problem. Unfortunately the system, from the slack water of Brownlee Reservoir to Hells Canyon, is about 80 miles long. I doubt that the fish could survive in the reservoir without help but I think barging and trucking are out of the question. Essentially a floating tube or canal, or combination of both would have to be used but that would be very expensive and not really provide natural migrating conditions. It would be a huge challenge but I thought this country was up to challenges.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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