“Decisionmakers ought to view skeptically those critics of mitigation measures based on study designs with minor imperfections, who at the same time espouse other mitigative measures that have little or no reliable data to support them. The best example of this double-standard problem is seen in detailed critical treatment of transportation as a mitigation tool on the one hand, and the uncritical acceptance of drawdown as a mitigative tool on the other.” Drs. Don Chapman & Al Giorgi (1994).1

“I would like to be the first Secretary of the Interior in history to tear down a really large dam.” Bruce Babbitt (1994).2

As we have seen, it was and is an article of faith among the flow theorists that the most important thing that salmon need is high velocity in the Columbia and Snake Rivers. There are two ways to increase the velocity of a river: move more water past the same point, or move the same quantity of water through a smaller river. The smaller the cross-sectional area of a river, the higher the velocity must be to get the same quantity of water through.

The mainstem dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers offer an obvious way to decrease the cross-section of the river: simply lower the level of the reservoir. The critical dispute in salmon recovery today is whether the Pacific Northwest should draw down reservoir levels to assist salmon, or instead rely on transportation and continuing passage improvements at the dams.

Governor Andrus Gives Snake River Drawdown a Boost

Former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus was one of cleverest politicians west of the Mississippi. He knew that Idaho irrigators, primarily potato farmers, were removing millions of acre-feet of water from the Snake River. The flow advocates in the Idaho Department of Fish and Game told him that the problem for Idaho salmon was insufficient river velocity. Governor Andrus feared that the federal government would try to increase velocity in the Snake River by taking water from the farmers and releasing it downstream.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game told him that a drawdown strategy could save the potato farmers, albeit at the expense of Northern Idaho interests that wanted to maintain a navigable river to the port of Lewiston, Idaho. They explained to Governor Andrus how reservoir drawdowns could produce higher river velocity with the same amount of water.

In April 1993, Governor Andrus’ office put out a glossy brochure, which is a textbook example of propaganda promoting the Great Salmon Hoax.3 This single brochure, which was widely distributed at public expense, contains all the key elements of the Hoax. Blasting the dams as “deadly” and the “principal killers”, Governor Andrus claimed that “[y]oung salmon stalled in the slack water reservoirs lose their urge to migrate, become easy prey for predator fish, or perish from stress-related causes”.4

According to Governor Andrus: “The remedy is known. The dams must be modified so reservoirs periodically can be drawn down to speed water and young salmon to the Columbia River and thence to the ocean.”5 This was to be contrasted with the option of releasing water from upstream reservoirs like the ones Idaho irrigators relied on. That “won’t fix the problem”, said Governor Andrus, because “[i]n a typical low flow year, it would take more stored water than exists to flush young salmon through four full reservoirs on the lower Snake River”.6

Besides, he said, “[d]raining upstream reservoirs would destroy many agricultural economies and communities, devastate resident fish and wildlife populations, and force building expensive coal-fired or nuclear power plants”.7 Draining the four Lower Snake reservoirs in Eastern Washington would have the same effects on Eastern Washington communities (and also require building power plants), but that wasn’t Governor Andrus’ concern. After all, he was the Governor of Idaho, not Washington. Governor Andrus even had the state buy billboard space in Washington to advertise his slogan: “Idaho salmon should not be dammed!”8

Dam removal efforts have tended to focus on the four lower Snake River Dams, Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite. Few people remember that when those dams were authorized, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made “an all-out effort to convince Congress to authorize the Lower Snake River Fish and Wildlife Compensation Plan, the largest in the nation at the time”.9 By the end of 1996, Northwest electric ratepayers had invested $215,696,000 in the Plan.10 People also tend to forget that at the same time Lower Granite was completed in 1975, Congress also created the Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area, and deauthorized the last major dam planned for the Snake River.11

Governor Andrus’ aggressive promotion of the drawdown plan for salmon recovery caused a split between Northern and Southern Idaho interests that persists to this day. Northern Idahoans fought for 50 years to get out from under the rail monopolies and have river navigation from Lewiston, Idaho to the sea. Governor Andrus’ answer: while waterway transportation would be “temporarily interrupted”, ports and shippers “did not create this problem, and should not have to pay for fixing it. Their costs should be mitigated as part of the overall solution.”12 No one has ever bothered to estimate how much it would cost to build new rail lines; the existing lines are crowded enough that shippers experience frequent delays.


D. Chapman & A. Giorgi, “Comments on Work of Biological and FCRPS Alternative Work Groups”, at 4 (footnotes omitted).

2 Quoted in K. Petersen, River of Life, Channel of Death 248.

3 C. Andrus, “Snake River Salmon: National treasure at risk of extinction”, April 1993 (Office of the Governor).

4 Id. at 6.

5 Id. at 7.

6 Id. at 8.

7 Id.

8 See J. Cone & S. Ridlington, The Northwest Salmon Crisis 319 (reprinting a picture of a billboard in Clarkston, Washington).

9 K Petersen, River of Life, Channel of Death 18

10 Interim Report, “Lower Snake River Fish and Wildlife Plan, Lower Snake River, Washington and Idaho”, at 26 (USACE Walla Walla District April 1996).

11 Id. at 5.

12 C. Andrus, “Snake River Salmon: National treasure at risk of extinction”, April 1993, at 8 (Office of the Governor).

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