Debating Dams: What’s The Best Way To Protect Salmon?


– [Narrator] If you had to pick between dams or salmon,
which would you choose? Dams provide hydropower,
help control floods and make rivers easier to navigate, but they also give salmon a hard time. Salmon have run in Northwest water, since before people were here, but after people began building
dams in the late 1800s, salmon numbers plummeted. Wild salmon in the Snake River
in Eastern Washington state face an especially tough challenge, four dams cross the lower Snake, generating enough carbon-free
electricity to power Seattle, they also make it possible
for ships and barges to reach Lewiston,
hundreds of miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. For decades, wild salmon
advocates have claimed the only way to bring back
the Snake River salmon is to remove the dams. Many alternatives have been
tried, or at least proposed. Spilling juvenile fish over
dams, barging them around, building fish ladders for
adults to swim passed dams, there have even been a
few stranger alternatives. In the 1970s, managers
briefly flew fish in airplanes and dropped them into the
water passed the dams. More recently, a company is experimenting with what’s been dubbed the Salmon Cannon, it’s like a water slide, but for fish, but a federal judge recently concluded, that removing dams may
be the only solution and cleared the way for the government to study what that might mean. This wouldn’t be the
first dam removal project in the Northwest, but
it would be the largest. So what happens when you remove a dam? First, rivers become more unpredictable, engineers wouldn’t be able to control river levels and speeds and ships and barges wouldn’t be able to make it as far inland. Second, all that carbon-free
power shuts down, unlike wind and solar,
hydropower is reliable, it provides steady
power like a coal plant, but without the emissions. Steady power sources are hard to replace, without using fossil
fuels or nuclear energy. Third, fish come back. A few years ago, two dams on
the Elwha River were removed, today fish counts are the
highest they’ve been in 30 years and it’s not just fish,
animals that rely on salmon benefit as well, like orcas. Ever since dams were built, people have been trying to engineer ways for dams and salmon to coexist. Decades later, the clock is ticking and we’re still debating, can salmon survive with dams in place? Can our economy survive without dams? (gentle music)

5 thoughts on “Debating Dams: What’s The Best Way To Protect Salmon?

  1. Hard to imagine that the economy cannot survive dam removal… that seemed a bit over the top, especially with wholesale electric prices at historically low (even negative at times) levels.

  2. Hmmm. Seems overly human economy focused. The line about supplying enough electricity to power Seattle is a bit misleading and needs clarification (the dams provide that level of power only briefly in the spring when power demand is fairly low).

  3. A study of what is happening from the moment fish leave the river and enter the ocean needs to be undertaken. There are so many things that dams do to negatively impact fisheries but the dams and associated water behind each dam and their effects are not always clear. The one thing that stands out in my view, of how fish move to the ocean is detrimentally effected, is the time it takes, the energy it takes the fish to get there. When there is a free flowing river a few things come to mind. The water is cooler in general, the speed of the water is considerably faster, the food sources are much more predictable and there is far less predation. A fish that moves downriver utilizes the river flow for nearly all its progress, therefore requires less energy to get where they are going. When using less energy there will be less body mass depletion by the time they reach the ocean. The fish will arrive at the ocean in really good physical shape in contrast to the ones that travel through the slack water of present. A healthy fish has very little trouble out maneuvering predators, whereas a fish that travels the present method is going to be much depleted in muscle mass and is going to be tired out. This present scenario results in easy predation on the fish.

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