Money down the drain

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to spend up to half a billion dollars to build a water-mixing tower and fish enhancement project at Detroit Dam. Is it a waste of tax money? 

How much is $500,000,000? It’s a number us average mortals have a hard time getting a grip on. If you earned a dollar a second, it would take nearly 16 years to amass that much money – at $86,400 a day. All that money, and it likely won’t solve the problem of declining salmon and steelhead runs on the North Santiam River. In fact, it might make it worse. 

Some blame the the dam for blocking many miles of spawning grounds. It is, for sure, one of the problems, but the dam is here to stay. We had robust returns of fish for 35 years after the dam was built, so there must be other reasons for the declining fish runs. Let’s look at those. 

The wild fish policy was put in place in 1999. Hatchery production, put in place as mitigation for the dam, has been reduced. The native fish have decreased during this time. 

Predators such as sea lions cormorants and caspian terns proliferated in record numbers since protections were put in place. The sea lions consume up to 40 percent of Columbia River springers and have almost wiped out the winter steelhead staging at Willamette Falls for their journey upstream. Predator birds kill up to 25 million salmon and steelhead smolts heading for the ocean. 

The rising temperatures of the Willamette leads to diseases in both adult and returning fish and outgoing smolts. The only dam on the system capable of releasing cold water to help cool the Willamette is Detroit Dam. Let that sink in for a bit. 

So what will help the fish? We have no control over the cyclical ocean conditions that are a big factor. We need to control the predators and return them to historic population numbers. We also need to greatly increase hatchery production, especially the spring Chinook. Their carcases after spawning and dying provide an invaluable food source for juvenile salmon and winter steelhead. Without an abundant salmon run, the ecosystem breaks down. Man has caused this and without hatchery mitigation, the fish will disappear. 

Finally, we need to quit arguing about who is going to catch the last fish and pointing fingers at each other. All the fish advocates need to join together as one voice. That hasn’t happened as yet. 

So, what about the expensive mixing tower at Detroit Dam. It needs to be abandoned. A similar project on the Lower Deschutes at Round Butte has not worked as promised. Instead, it has degraded the water quality below the dam and it appears to be a mad scientist’s experiment with PGE customers’ money. There have been nothing but negative effects, thus far, on one of the nation’s greatest fisheries. 

Let’s hope the Corps finds a better way to spend all that money on the Santiam and use some common sense for a change. Increase hatchery productions using state-of-the-art science and help improve habitat below the dam. 

In return for a change in policy, we’ll have more fish coming up the river instead of tax dollars being flushed down the river.