When Hydropower is Unsustainable

DamNation: The Problem with Hydropower

Directed by Ben Knight (2014)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the growing US dam removal initiative At the time of filming, the US had 75,000 dams over three feet high. There is growing consensus that dams built (especially those on the Colorado River) to supply water to desert farms and cities in Southern California  were misguided and unsustainable.

America’s 75,000 dams have caused untold damage to US fish population that return upstream to spawn.¬† Despite spending billions of dollars on fish hatcheries and fish ladders, current US salmon and trout populations are less than 9% of their pre-dam numbers. The film depicts images of salmon trying to leap up 12 foot dam walls to reach the upstream shallows where they hatched.

It would be Nixon, with his 1973 Endangered Species Act, who provided the greatest boon to migrating salmon. The Act holds dam operators responsible when a fish species becomes endangered. The Edwards Dam on Maine’s Keanebeck River was the first major dam to be removed (in 1999). This saved taxpayers several millions of dollars annually on (largely unsuccessful) endangered fish mitigation schemes. Thus far the Elwha River Dam on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State was the largest dam to be removed (in 2011).

The segment of the film I like most concerns the ongoing campaign of US Army Corps whistleblower Jim Waddell. It was Waddell who first brought to light a $35 million Army Corps feasibility study that recommended “breaching” all four dams on Washington State’s Snake River.

The Army Corps, which owns the dam, spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on failed salmon mitigation to sell power at a loss (due to competition with local wind and solar power). Even more distressed than endangered Snake River salmon, are starving Puget Sound Orca whales who feed on them. The latter are literally on the verge of extinction. See Orcas Extinction Via Bureaucratic Bungling and Stupidity.

Please support the bill Representative Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) has introduced to breach the three Lower Snake River dams. (See GOP Congressman Proposes Snake River Dam Removal).

Industrial Salmon Farming and the Die-Off of Wild Salmon

Salmon Confidential

Directed by Twyla Roscovich (2013)

Film Review

Salmon Confidential is about the Pacific Canadian salmon farms that are killing millions of wild Frasier River salmon and the deliberate cover-up by the Canadian government.

Like land-based Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFO), the rearing of salmon in crowded stationary pens creates a rich environment for fish pathogens such as sea lice and numerous salmon viruses. The most lethal include salmon anemia (ISA), which is also known as salmon flu; salmon alpha virus; and piscene reovirus.

All but one run that wild salmon use return to the Frasier River (to spawn) travels through commercial fish farms. The fish that swim through the farms are becoming sick and dying in massive numbers – while those that bypass the farms are thriving.

Because the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) refuses to test either wild or farmed salmon for ISA, a grassroots group called the Department of Wild Salmon has sent numerous samples to independent labs. When a significant number tested positive, the CFIA tried to close down the labs rather than the fish farms. ISA is an internationally notifiable disease. For CFIA to acknowledge that Canadian salmon carry it would result in both the US and China banning all Canadian salmon exports.

In the most alarming part of the documentary, biologists test farmed salmon they buy in supermarkets that show obvious evidence of ISA (deformed heads and body shape, bleeding eyes and open lesions). Many test positive for ISA, as do raw salmon they obtain from sushi restaurants. Consuming raw fish infected with ISA, a type of influenza virus, has ominous implications for human health.