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Dam Dispute Surfaces in Salmon Policy

Andrea Matzke at Wild Washington Rivers

The road map for balancing environmental needs with the need to generate power from the Northwest's hydroelectric dams is being revised. And the move has some people worried it could open the door to destructive dam projects on Washington rivers.

Every five years, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council reviews its fish and wildlife plan. One of the current plan's programs puts part of certain rivers off-limits for hydropower development.

Now, the Snohomish County Public Utility is asking for a provision to allow exemptions to that protected status. That, coupled with the PUD's pondering of a new hydro project on the currently protected Skykomish River near Sunset Falls, has some people worried about how that would impact salmon.

Andrea Matzke with Wild Washington Rivers worries about the precedent it could set. 

"The exemption is just the camel's nose in the tent to open up wide the ability to put dams on rivers that have been designated protected for the fish and wildlife values within," Matzke said.

There are also possible hydro projects in the works for protected areas of the Snoqualmie River and the Bear River in Idaho.

The Snohomish PUD says it's simply asking that a provision for exemptions which existed in previous fish and wildlife plans be restored. It says any project it might propose would improve salmon habitat rather than degrade it.

Public comments on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's fish and wildlife plan are being taken through Tuesday afternoon.  

Liam Moriarty started with KPLU in 1996 as our freelance correspondent in the San Juan Islands. He’s been our full-time Environment Reporter since November, 2006. In between, Liam was News Director at Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon for three years and reported for a variety of radio, print and web news sources in the Northwest. He's covered a wide range of environment issues, from timber, salmon and orcas to oil spills, land use and global warming. Liam is an avid sea kayaker, cyclist and martial artist.