Today’s Urban Almanac is a bit different than normal. It’s part synopsis of the conversation about the lower Snake River dams, and part reflection from a young Idahoan (that’s me) on how this dilemma symbolizes our global climate crisis.
For millennia, steelhead trout and salmon reached the improbable heights of Redfish Lake and spawned as far east as Shoshone Falls in the Magic Valley. In the lands now known as Oregon and Washington, their trade helped create some of the wealthiest societies on the planet, and remain a keystone species — but a keystone that’s collapsing.
We’re watching what could be the salmon’s last chapter. The Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene, and other Indigenous nations have long argued, with other conservationist groups taking it mainstream in the 1990s, that four dams on the Snake River in eastern Washington must be demolished for salmon to have a chance at survival.
In late July, some of those groups announced plans to sue to make it happen. Specifically, they argued that the dams have slowed and stalled the river, allowing it to heat up to lethal temperatures.
The Lower Monumental Dam in eastern Washington. (Getty)
Others, predominantly business and agricultural leaders, defend the dams arguing that removal would hamper commerce, the area’s hydroelectric power, and pose an expensive, arduous transition process.
The back-and-forth has some people wondering if we’re in a permanent gridlock.
As a young Idahoan, I can’t help but be frustrated by the idea of this political stalemate. As we watch the tourism-bolstered wildfire crisis unfold in Hawai’i, temperatures spill over into a climate we’ve never navigated before, and political crises abound, it’s clear that we need to use different maps for plotting the course forward.
As large as the dam dilemma is, it’s a regional practice round for the problems laid out in the coming decades. The question of the four dams is a question of how much we will sacrifice and adjust to bring other species with us into the future — and how long we think we can survive if we don’t.