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 millionĀ  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.