Saving Orca Whales: Extinction Via Bureaucratic Bungling and Stupidity

The following are two jaw dropping presentations by former Army Corps Engineer Jim Waddell. Prior to his retirement, Waddell assisted in preparing a seven-year $30 million  Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on four Snake River* dams that prevent salmon from returning upriver to breed. Released in 2002, the EIS explores a number of potential options for preventing impending salmon extinctions. Predictably the Army Corps rejected the cheapest and most effective, namely incrementally “breaching”** the four dams

The lower Snake River dams became operational between 1961 and 1975, with the goal of providing hydropower for Bonneville Power Administration.*** Ironically BPA has always produced a surplus of electricity, which until a decade ago they sold to California. With California’s big uptake of solar and wind generation, they no longer buy power from BPA. This means the dams operate at a loss to taxpayers.

On top of growing maintenance costs, the Army Corps of Engineers and BPA have spent $1 billion over the last 15 years on fish hatcheries and salmon recovery schemes that have done nothing to increase the salmon population.

Impending Orca Whale Extinction

Because declining Chinook salmon are their sole source of food, the resident Southern Orca population also began to crash in the early 1990s. Orca calves essentially starve to death before they can reach maturity. The current population has been steady at 75 since the species was first declared endangered in 2002.

Orca biologists estimate the whales need 580,000 Chinook salmon a year to breed successfully. At present, the Snake River is only returning 40,000 per year to the ocean.

December 1 Deadline to Breach Two Dams

When the first video was made two years ago, Waddell was stressing an the urgent need to breach the first dam by October 2016 – with a plan to breach the other three in successive years. Owing to the deteriorating condition of the 20 breeding Orcas, he now maintains the two lowest damns must be breached by December 1, 2018. He estimates this would return 1-3 million Chinook to the ocean after 8-12 months.

The entire cost of the operation would be funded by the Army Corps of Engineers and BPA – in lieu of costly dam maintenance and costly and ineffective salmon recovery schemes – at great savings to taxpayers.

Although maintaining the four dams is extremely wasteful to taxpayers and of no real economic benefit to business or farming interests, dam breaching is being blocked by a handful of professional lobbyists and bureaucrats in Washington governor Jay Inslee’s office and Washington senator Patty Murray’s office.

You can sign a petition supporting the urgent dam breaches at Time is Running Out

*The Snake River is a major river of the greater Pacific Northwest and the largest tributary of the Columbia River.

**In the first video, Waddell explains the difference between “breaching” and “removing” a dam. The latter is prohibitively expensive. In contrast, breaching only requires two bulldozers to dig a notch in the earthen berm to one side of the dam. This allows the river to flow around the dam.

***The Bonneville Power Administration is a US federal agency operating in the Pacific Northwest charged with marketing power produced by the Snake River dams and constructing facilities necessary to transmit that power.


The second video is an August 14, 2018 update on the Snake River dam controversy.




Standing Rock: The Documentary

Black Snake Killaz: a No #DAPL Story

Unicorn Riot (2017)

Film Review

The main significance of Black Snake* Killaz is the continuous historical record it provides of the 2016 Standing Rock occupation and blockade of the Dakota Access  Pipeline (DAPL). The occupation drew participation from indigenous supporters all over the world, as well as environmental activists and veterans. It also inspired dozens of support protests in cities around the US.

By engaging in continuous direct action, either placing their bodies in the path of construction equipment, vandalizing it or locking themselves down to it, the Water Protectors succeeded in bring pipeline construction to a total halt.

The Full Scale Military Campaign Launched Against Standing Rock

The film also brought home for the first time the full scale military campaign launched against the occupation by federal, state and private security personnel. The basic counterinsurgency strategy employed was drawn up by TigerSwan, a private security company operating illegally in North Dakota. Their battle plan was virtually identical to the military operations launched against jihadists in Afghanistan.

Black Snake Killaz also helped me understand that the DAPL (which the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe challenged in Federal Court) was illegal from the outset. Although the private land used for pipeline construction was just north of the Standing Rock reservation, it was routed through sacred land ceded to the Sioux in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Moreover the Army Corps of Engineers granted a permit for pipeline construction to start (across this private land) in August 2016 without the legally required comprehensive environmental impact assessment.

At the point Energy Transfer Partners commenced pipeline construction, the Army Corp had yet to grant a permit for the pipeline to cross federal land. In fact, they granted permission for Water Protectors to set up camp (which they named Ocetic Sakowin) on federal land.

Trump Approves Pipeline Via Executive Order

Shortly following Trump’s election in November the Army Corp announced their intention to shut down Oceti Sakowin. They had finally ordered a comprehensive environmental impact assessment (as a condition for granting the easement for the pipeline to cross federal land). However Trump scuppered it four days after taking office, when he signed an executive order directing the Army Corp to immediately approve the easement.

Although the Water Protectors ultimately failed in their efforts to halt DAPL, the massive publicity generated by the nationwide Standing Rock campaign would lead US Bank and a Norwegian bank to withdraw funding for the pipeline. It would also lead numerous cities to divest from Energy Transfer Partners and the banks that fund them.

The pipeline has already caused three oil spills since it began operations in May 2017.

*The Water Protectors refer to DAPL as the Black Snake based on an old Sioux prophecy that a black snake would come out of the North and poison their water.