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Flood Threat Stirs Dam Controversy in Eastern WA

February 15, 2007

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is holding public meetings starting tonight about the future of four Snake River dams in Southeastern Washington, older structures the Corps says are in need of maintenance. Conservation and community groups claim that's a nice way of saying some levees may have to be raised several feet to keep Lewiston, Clarkston and downstream areas from flooding, making the waterfront less accessible and less attractive.

Samantha Mace, Inland Northwest Project Director for the group Save Our Wild Salmon says taking out all four dams is a viable solution -- but the Corps will be tough to convince.

"I think the Corps of Engineers wants to keep the status quo, no matter what it costs, and they're certainly going to look at raising levees. But ultimately, they do have to answer to the public."

Mace says sediment builds up behind the dams and raises the water level, causing the increased flood risks and also negatively impacting salmon and steelhead runs. She adds the Corps' suggestions, to raise nearby levee heights or dredge the reservoirs, don't solve the problem.

"Any of these options that they are looking at are only stopgap options. The sediment is going to keep building up, the flood risk is going to continue to increase."

The Corps has said the dams are necessary to maintain the Snake as a waterway for barge traffic. Tonight's meeting is in Clarkston, the other meetings are scheduled for Boise, La Grande, and Portland over the next two weeks.

Chris Thomas/Jamie Folsom, Public News Service - WA