The state of Oregon has a plan that could cost Idaho farmers, electricity rate payers and others a bundle of money.
The plan — to reintroduce salmon and steelhead in Pine Creek, a tributary of the Snake River — is part of Oregon’s draft Clean Water Act proposal. The plan spans 20 years and, depending on how it works out, could expand to include adding fish to other tributaries.
The plan is Oregon’s contribution to Idaho Power’s efforts to renew the federal license for its three dams on the Snake River, which runs along the Oregon-Idaho border in Hells Canyon.
Idaho farmers and other ratepayers say they have a billion reasons to question the plan.
If fish are reintroduced upstream from the dams, Idaho Power would have to provide them with transportation up- and downstream, around the dams as they migrate to and from the Pacific Ocean. In addition, Idaho water users such as irrigators would have to adjust the river’s water quality and temperature to sustain the fish. That’s being done, but not on Oregon’s schedule.
The estimated pricetag: $1 billion, give or take a few hundred million, that would be paid by Idaho water users, electricity rate payers and others.
It’s hard to express how cock-eyed the Oregon plan is. That Oregon’s leaders want more fish is OK. Fish are apparently the top priority of every Oregon official, from the governor down. More than a decade ago, former Gov. John Kitzhaber said Oregon had spent more than $1 billion on fish. Who knows what the total is now.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2014, the most recent year for which figures are available, Oregon, Idaho and Washington and federal government spent $357 million on endangered Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead.
By our lights, that’s more than enough. We look at that sum and wonder what else could be accomplished that would benefit people instead of fish.
We can’t explain Oregon leaders’ obsession with fish, but we do know that whatever they plan to do, the cost shouldn’t fall to the people of Idaho.