Congressman Mike Simpson’s $33 billion proposal to breach the four lower dams on the Snake River is quite a read. My review of this unique and costly plan raised more questions than were answered by the initial explanation.
My entire public and professional career has been focused on water issues and water policy. Working directly with those affected by these issues and policies has always been the cornerstone of my activities. I fully appreciate the deliberate approach that is absolutely necessary as we discuss water issues and set water policy that has the potential to fundamentally change the very economy upon which Idahoans depend.
These are some of the questions that come to my mind as I think about the Congressman’s ambitious plan:
Congressman Simpson seems to have consulted with environmental groups, the tribes and officials from the states of Washington and Oregon and has tried to thoroughly vet their issues and concerns. But what about Idaho? What about the issues and concerns of those who have elected him to 12 terms and sent him to Washington to represent their interests? Where and when was the same involvement with the officials of this state? Or with the Idaho State Water Board, with the Idaho Department of Water Resources, with the Port of Lewiston or with the countless farmers and ranchers, the counties and the dozens of Idaho cities who will be seriously affected by his proposal? All of these have more than a vested interest in the pros and cons of a proposal that has the potential of doing nothing less than to change the entire custom and culture of our state.
How do we replace the thousands of megawatts of inexpensive, clean, reliable electricity generated by the four hydroelectric dams — affordable electricity that every Bonneville Power Administration customer, including numerous Idaho cities, farmers and industries, depends on? When we figure out how to get Oregon and Washington to site small modular nuclear reactors along the Columbia River, then maybe we could consider removing these four dams.
If Congressman Simpson’s proposal is all about saving the salmon, why is there zero discussion about controlling the predator population at the mouth of the Columbia River, predators that studies have shown kill up to 35 percent of all the adult salmon attempting to return to Idaho? That’s not to mention the predators that negatively impact the out-migration.
What about Idaho’s only seaport? It is estimated that fully 50 percent of Idaho’s wheat production and 10 percent of the wheat grown in the USA moves through the Port of Lewiston each year. How will Idaho’s grain producers be affected when they would be forced to trade the cheapest form of grain transportation for something that all admit will cost significantly more?
What about the 487,000 acre feet of water that leaves Idaho every year under the ESA biological opinion? Congressman Simpson is the first to admit that breaching the dams will not guarantee survival of the salmon. Will the powerful interests downstream of Idaho demand additional Idaho water if breaching is unsuccessful? Will we be asked to then breach additional Idaho dams?
As I review the plan, I find myself asking many more questions about it than are being answered by Congressman Simpson’s proposal — at least the proposal as it’s been made public to this point. Until these and other vital questions are openly addressed with Idahoans, not one more drop of Idaho’s precious water, not one more piece of Idaho’s culture, should be sacrificed to the Washington, D.C., power brokers.
This column was written by Idaho Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.