Saving Snake River Water and Salmon Simultaneously: The Biological, Economic, and Legal Case for Breaching the Lower Snake River Dams, Lowering John Day Reservoir, and Restoring Natural River Flows
53 Pages Posted: 23 May 2001
Snake River salmon, historically constituting the most abundant salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin, today teeter on the brink of extinction. Their decline has prompted federal, state, and tribal restoration plans, some of which advocate breaching the four federal dams on the lower Snake River and eliminating or lowering John Day reseroir on the Columbia River. These measures would restore natural flows in portions of the Columbia and Snake Rivers and significantly decrease salmon mortality, but opponents claim they are sceintifically unjustified and too costly. In this Article, the authors comprehensively review the major scientific and economic studies on breaching the lower Snake River dams and conclude that this option is not only scientifically sound, but also economically affordable. In fact, they assert that dam breaching may prove less costly, both economically and socially, for upriver interests than attempting to improve the current restoration program. Designed to have as little effect as possible on cheap hydropower generation, navigation, and irrigation, the current program relies on a trucking and barging program to transport salmon downstream. This program has proved to be a twenty-year failure. The Article also explores numerous legal mandates to restore Snake River salmon that make continuation of the status quo legally unacceptable.
Keywords: environmental law, natural resources law, water law
JEL Classification: K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation