The Washington state Legislature is wasting $750,000 of our tax dollars on weighing the impacts of a breaching of four Lower Snake River dams to aid in salmon recovery.

This issue has been studied and studied. Yet, those who believe that breaching the dams is a panacea for salmon survival — and as an extension for orcas — apparently don’t like the conclusion of previous studies so they now want to take a different approach.

The legislation approved by the Democrat-controlled House and Senate calls for a “neutral third party” to develop a process for local, state, tribal, federal and other stakeholders to weigh in on the issues in a discussion or forum related to breaching the four federal dams, The Seattle Times reported.

This “statewide dialogue” was a recommendation of the task force established by Inslee as a way to recover the dwindling southern resident orcas that frequent Puget Sound. Chinook salmon are prime food for killer whales, which are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Eastern Washington’s two representatives in Congress, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, also see this $750,000 exercise as pointless.

“The governor does not have the authority to breach our federal dams on the Lower Snake River, and allocating state taxpayers’ funds to consider breaching them would be wasteful,” McMorris Rodgers and Newhouse said in a joint statement. “Congress has the sole authority.”

In 2010 the Obama administration demanded a study and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers followed the orders. The conclusion was similar to a study done in 2001.

It seems clear breaching the dams would — as the 2001 study said — increase the chances of salmon restoration only slightly, if at all, while significantly hurting the Pacific Northwest’s economy. Taking down the dams would change the flow of the river, putting some areas under water. It would force a significant change to irrigation systems, likely putting an end to many agricultural operations.

In addition, crops and other goods could no longer be barged down the river, forcing the products to be hauled by trucks on the roadways. Boosting the truck traffic would be environmentally irresponsible.

The loss of hydropower would also be a blow to the environment as well as the economy. The water that flows through the turbines at the dams creates electricity that can’t be produced as cleanly or cheaply any other way.

While this study was done nearly two decades ago, it still holds true today.

Dam breaching isn’t the answer.

But that doesn’t change the fact that boosting salmon survival is critical to a healthy environment. It would have been far more productive to spend the $750,000 on that effort rather than waste it on an unnecessary a study or a discussion by stakeholders. 

Editorials are the opinion of the Union-Bulletin's Editorial Board. The board is composed of Brian Hunt, Rick Eskil, James Blethen and Alasdair Stewart

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