Saturday, January 29, 2011
Innovation, Investment? Look No Further Than the Snake River
In Tuesday night's state of the union speech, wild salmon became a part of the national discussion when President Obama used fisheries management as an example of bureaucratic redundancy in the federal government joking, "I hear it gets even more complicated when they're smoked". The reference has proven to be a popular launching point for advocates of wild salmon who say that the president lacks the necessary understanding of salmon's complex biological, social and economic role in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps more significant than the off hand reference to salmon was the presidents emphasis on the importance of innovation and investment in clean energy and transportation, and how smart government spending can tap the potential of the American economy in the 21st century.
To find a perfect opportunity for visionary leadership and investment in clean energy and transportation President Obama need look no further than the Snake River. Currently millions of dollars are spent annually to maintain the four lower Snake Dams and to mitigate their impacts. Obama also alluded to the fact that government dollars need to be spent more wisely and in a fashion that fosters long term economic benefit and innovative solutions, sadly the status quo on the Snake is just one mitigation band aid after another and ensures further declines of wild salmon and steelhead. The President was right in his assessment that salmon management is complicated but its time for his administration to take the issue seriously and provide leadership on a path towards a lasting fix for the Snake system. The four lower Snake dams generate trivial amounts of energy. Investment in alternative and truly green energy such as wind could easily replace the power generated at Ice Harbour, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams and improved rail and highway transportation along the Snake River corridor would provide a salmon friendly alternative for transporting wheat and other products from the region.
At present the Snake River corridor is being managed to achieve one end transportation, specifically barging. Imagine for a moment the economic benefit of a restored lower Snake River. Creating 150 miles of free flowing river from Clarkston and Lewiston to the mouth of the river would bring tremendous benefit to the communities along the Columbia and Snake Rivers through tourism, commercial and sport fisheries, green energy, and rail shipping. If we hope to free the lower Snake River from dams and unlock the long sunken potential of the Snake River it will take leadership from Washington's senate delegation of Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and also the Obama administration. Leave the failed Bush plan behind altogether and bring stakeholders together to address the needs of every party at the table. The future of the Snake River's economy, culture and ecosystem depend on it.