Many of Washington’s native salmon runs have been listed as either threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Indeed, some of the first salmon listed under the act were runs native to the Snake River. Residents of the region have been debating for years how to best protect and revitalize the salmon runs while allowing the livelihoods dependent on them to continue. A solution frequently offered is the breaching of some dams along the Snake River.
Breaching the dams would certainly destroy the livelihoods of the communities and people who depend on the water, navigation and power they provide. It would virtually end the ports serving the Snake River. But it might not help the salmon at all – experts are divided as to how much, if any, relief it would provide.
Most of the agricultural goods grown in the inland Northwest are barged down the Snake River to markets across the nation and globe. If barge navigation were stopped – as it would be by dam breaching – it would take an additional 120,000 rail cars to move that cargo to market. Washington’s rail system is currently at capacity; it simply couldn’t absorb that type of increase. And some areas are not adequately served by rail. Truck movement isn’t viable either: it would take 700,000 more semi-trucks to move that amount of cargo, placing unacceptable burdens on the state’s highways.
Salmon recovery is important to Washington – no doubt about it. But so is getting goods to market, and barge travel is a crucial component of Washington trade. It’s imperative that a solution be found that protects both environment and economy.