Guide Recovering a Lost River: Removing Dams, Rewilding Salmon, Revitalizing Communities

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Energy Versus Eternal Delight 6. How the Mighty were Felled 7. When the Levee Breaks 8. The Fifth H 9. A River Resuscitated The Heart of the Monster.

Beacon Press: Recovering a Lost River

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Lists What are lists? Login to add to list. Be the first to add this to a list. But the vice president [Hubert Humphrey] was scheduled to come out and dedicate the dam. The Corps hoped mightily that no one would notice. The Corps, he soon realized, was engineering a cover-up. The next morning, I see another front-page article on the disaster.

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It says go to such and such a page for photos. He became a fisheries consultant, working with tribes and conservationists to maintain and reestablish lost salmon runs, eventually focusing his efforts in Idaho, Eastern Washington, and Eastern Oregon. More recently, he brokered a deal to put salmon back into the Umatilla River, which involved getting water back into a river that had been chronically sucked dry by farmers for nearly a century. This strategy has been promoted with the same gleeful boosterism found in the bucolic projects of the national farm organization with the same 4-H acronym.

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Habitat lost to logging, mining, agriculture, and development should be repaired. Hatcheries should operate on the frontiers of conservation biology but not sacrifice industrial efficiency.

Harvesting should be cut back. Hydropower production, by contrast, should be maintained at current levels at virtually any cost. Under the guise of this holistic-sounding approach to restoring salmon, solutions to the problems that dams alone have created for salmon can be neatly deflected onto tributaries, estuaries, the ocean, fishermen, global warming, or the host of salmon predators that hunt the river.

Chaney contends there is a fifth H. Being a man of letters and not a scientist, I was intrigued by this idea, recollecting that some Indians who fished the falls at Celilo assigned a religious significance to the number five. Could the fifth H be a New-Age, anadromous Third Way, another iteration of the tao of physics, a corroboration of the impending harmonic convergence between science and ancient wisdom? The answer was revealed to me in church--the church that had been converted into a deli where we were having lunch.

According to recent numbers, gleaned from an interagency, decade-long endeavor dubbed the Comparative Survival Study, a very conservative estimate for current overall salmon mortality due to the hydrosystem in any given year would be half the population. A Ninth Circuit court decision assigned the blame attributable to dams for that overall decline at 80 percent.

Chaney pointed out that all other stakeholders in the Columbia--from grubby gillnetters working the estuary in Cathlamet, Washington, to the spey-rod swinging yuppies in a riffle on the Clearwater, in Idaho--were left to fight among themselves for their share of the remainder. And that amid this squabbling, Chaney said, too little attention has been paid to a last-ditch salmon barging experiment the federal family has since upheld for three decades as a viable restoration plan.

Recovering a Lost River

In the mids, some horrible drought years beset the Pacific Northwest, steepening the alarming descent of Snake River salmon stock toward extinction just as the last four federal dams on that river were completed. The decision was made to gather juvenile salmon at the dams and barge or truck them downstream below the tailrace of Bonneville Dam.

So it was that traveling Interstate 84 back then, one could witness a sign of ecological turmoil as surreal as the image of the Cuyahoga River on fire. Wheat, timber, and other commodities were being hauled up the river to the mountains of Idaho, while Idaho salmon swam in tanker trucks going the other way on the road. What began as a salvage operation, a dire action to prevent catastrophic mortality for fish, has morphed into the preferred plan for getting migrating salmon to the ocean.

Survival is measured by the number of fish that survive the boat ride. This is like claiming a cure for cancer by pointing out all the terminally ill patients who survived the van ride from hospice to the chemo ward.