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Can Dams And Salmon Coexist? Congressional Hearing In Pasco Highlights Difference On Both Sides

Tribal canoeists on the Memorial Bridge in Lewiston, Idaho, on the Clearwater River just before the confluence with the Snake River. The group joined the larger Free the Snake “flotilla” demonstration, Sept. 7-8, 2018. CREDIT: MIKE BEISER


In the past few days, dam advocates and people who want more wild salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers have been putting on their best shows.

It culminated Monday, Sept. 10, with a U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee hearing in favor of the dams in Pasco, Wash.

Before the official hearings, though, over the weekend a family festival highlighted the goodness and economic benefits of dams with dozens of informational booths, prizes and free swag bags. Meanwhile, on Friday and Saturday on the Snake River, hundreds of kayakers plied the waters near Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston, Wash., for orcas, wild salmon and a free-flowing river system in the now-annual Free the Snake “flotilla” demonstration.

At the U.S. House committee hearing on Monday, dam advocates gave the bulk of the testimony.

More than a half-dozen advocates for the Bonneville Power Administration, wheat growers and river shippers spoke at length about the benefits of dams. Just two invited experts spoke on the importance of wild salmon recovery.

On the salmon’s side was McCoy Oatman, vice president of the Nez Perce Tribe. He warned that his people could also be considered an endangered species.

Washington U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, left, and Dan Newhouse speak at a pro-dam event before the House Natural Resources Committee hearing in Pasco on Monday, Sept. 10. CREDIT: ANNA KING/N3

“I have three young daughters, and so they’re going to grow up and have children,” Oatman said. “And I’m really worried that there can even be any fish left when future generations get here.”

Rep. Dan Newhouse, whose 4th Congressional District includes much of central Washington and the Tri Cities, said he wants to push through pro-dam legislation that would benefit power production, irrigation and navigation.

Newhouse and fellow eastern Washington member of Congress Cathy McMorris Rodgers conducted the committee hearing to highlight the benefits of dams. Newhouse says dams are big, imposing structures – and catch the blame where maybe they shouldn’t.

“To just point to the dams as being the culprit is not based on science, it’s more of an emotional reaction,” Newhouse said.

Copyright 2018 Northwest News Network

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Copyright 2018 Northwest Public Broadcasting

Anna King loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network, a journalism collaboration of public radio stations in Washington and Oregon that includes JPR.