A new twist in dam removal on the Snake River

My biggest Chinook. © Ken Cole
My biggest Chinook. © Ken Cole

Recently Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) announced that in talks about salmon recovery that dam breaching should be on the table. It’s not an endorsement of dam breaching but it is a departure from former Senator Craig’s stance.

On top of this development comes a letter to politicians signed by several business owners in Lewiston and Clarkston who will be affected whatever happens to the dams.

If the dams are breached then river transportation will go away. If they stay then the cities will require significant infrastructure to keep the rising waters from flooding them due to the fact that the dams are filling with sediment.

One interesting thing mentioned in the letter is that the promised economic boom from dam construction never came.

I argue that the dams should be removed for various reasons, not least of which being the ecological benefits of recovered salmon.

A new twist in dam removal on the Snake River
By Lance Dickie
Seattle Times editorial columnist

Crapo takes a politically risky stand for salmon
Commentary: Kevin Richert – Idaho Statesman





  1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    The idea that the dams would create a gigantic boom in Lewiston was flawed from the start. The Snake River Dams are much like the famous Alaskan “BRIDGE to NO WHERE”. This was a SEAWAY To NO WHERE! Breach the Dams. Start with the farthest one upstream and flush the silt downstream to the last dam and remove it all from one place.

  2. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    Now that we know what we know, yes perhaps it was flawed, but when the idea was floated many years ago, based on what they knew then, it was not flawed, in fact it was a boon, of course I believe 100% that the dams on the Snake should be breached, but you are never going to get the dams on the Columbia breached, not in our lifetime, not in our children’s or our grandchildrens lifetime.., nice dream, but not based in reality..there are far to many large cities that depend on the dams of the Columbia, Like Portland which has 1 million plus..in population..whether we like it or not, there is going to have to be comprimise in the future…

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I don’t think the Columbia River Dams should be breached. Maybe a few exceptions, but damming the Snake River came later, in stages, and there were much fewer benefits, but similarly high wildlife and fishery costs.

    By the time the last dam Snake River dam was completed (Lower Granite, 1974) which made Lewiston, ID a seaport, opposition had grown a lot, but obviously not enough.

    Anti-breaching forces, now on the defensive, are promoting the dams as sources of carbon pollution free, hydropower electricity. They know most Americans are unaware of the history or character of the Snake River dams.

    These are by law first navigation dams, not hydrodams. In terms of hydropower, by law they are made to be greatly suboptimal electricity generators.

    Proponents of them will stress their generation capacity, but they rarely have the water physically or legally available to generate at capacity.

  4. mikepost Avatar

    If you folks have never seen a silted dam cleaned out, then you have a real treat. The impacts on roads and traffic, air quality, wildlife and public use are very significant and goes on often for years. Not to mention, where is all that silt going to go? I don’t disagree with the breaching concept but as usual, nothing is black and white.

  5. wetherman Avatar

    Hey Ralph–I would be thrilled to see any of the dams on the Columbia-Snake system breached, so your post stating that (any, some–not clear) on the Columbia shouldn’t be breached is a bit puzzling to me.

    Your argument/statement that Columbia River dams came first is really irrelevant (and inaccurate: John Day, Priest Rapids, Rocky Reach, Rock Island, Wanapum and Wells are all on the Columbia and all were constructed at the same time or after the 1st lower Snake dam). If a dam is relatively high in costs and low in benefits, what does the age of the thing matter?

    Also, what does the history of the lower Snake River dams have to do with what we should do now? I would also ask that you elaborate on how the dams are “suboptimal” electricity generators, aside from the fact that the Snake doesn’t have as great an annual flow volume than does the Columbia. How would you prefer they had been built? One or two high dams with greater storage and head and no fish passage facilities?

    I realize the removing one or more of the lower Snake dams may be the most politically-palatable first move, but what does that have to do with whether you would approve of Columbia River removal as a concept?

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    In response, the Columbia River dams do generate a lot of electricity compared to the the Snake River Dams. So the benefits are greater than Snake River by far.

    The real coffin-nail driver for anadromous fish on the Columbia was Grand Coulee Dam with its lack of fish passage facilities, and any attempt to undo its damage was precluded by the dam building frenzy just upstream in British Columbia. I should add that the destruction of the Columbia in B.C. was part of and international treaty. It was not at the simple initiative of the the Province of B.C.

    I wouldn’t particularly defend John Day, Priest Rapids, Rocky Reach, Rock Island, Wanapum and Wells on the Columbia, but I don’t think breaching any one of them would yield many benefits. Breach all of them and you have lost a lot of hydropower, and hydropower is clean power, especially after the dams’ other environmental harm has been suffered.

    I am certainly glad the Hanford Reach was finally protected as the one free flowing stretch of the Columbia.

    Regarding suboptimal power generation, I mean the dams were not built to maximize power generation. Their design is wrong for that. They were built to make Lewiston, Idaho a seaport. They are navigation dams with hydro as a secondary feature.

    Sometimes these dams are touted as irrigation dams, but that should be seen as entirely bogus because these dams are not water storage dams. Irrigators do extend their siphons into the pools, but they could just as well put them in a free flowing Snake River. They are not flood control dams either.

  7. Mal Adapted Avatar
    Mal Adapted

    The real coffin-nail driver for anadromous fish on the Columbia was Grand Coulee Dam with its lack of fish passage facilities, and any attempt to undo its damage was precluded by the dam building frenzy just upstream in British Columbia.

    Some of you might like this novel, on the theme of the Columbia River dams and their impact on salmon. It’s kind of far-fetched and convoluted (a Chinook Indian avenger, a disgruntled Hanford scientist, a family of right-wing fanatics, etc.) but it held my interest, and the ending was pretty exciting. The author is John Hockenberry, a former journalist who displays an impressive knowledge of the history of the Columbia basin.

  8. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I was in Stanley, Idaho last weekend and there was a short fishing season for hatchery salmon. Campgrounds were packed for ten miles in all directions and fishermen were trying their luck at every hole and bridge. Stanley was booming. The economic boost from renewed salmon runs to Idaho would far outweigh the benefit, if any, of the 4 Snake River dams and the subsidized Seaway to No Where. The silt is going to be a problem whether the dams are removed or not. Salmon recovery should be just as important as wolf recovery. Breach the 4 salmon killing Snake River Dams!

  9. Chuck Avatar

    Also what people seem to not know is that there were tug & barge traffic on the Columbia before the dams were built, yes they might have to do some dredging to remove all the silt that has collected, but by no means are they cut off from getting their crops to the market.

  10. Eric T. Avatar
    Eric T.

    Nice South Fork fish!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Bob Akerson Avatar
    Bob Akerson

    Whenever I am traveling in the neighborhood of Bonneville Dam I make it a point to stop and say a prayer that the dam be removed.

  12. wood0771 Avatar

    Most of these dams don’t generate the electricity that your thinking of. Wind and Solar are getting more cheaper by the day and eventually will replace most of these. As for the silt, don’t worry about it. Short term yea it might be a problem, but eventually nature will take care of it


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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