American Rivers, a national river conservation group lobbying for the removal of four dams on the Snake river in the US, has released a report proposing an alternative irrigation system for the farmers who depend on the Ice Harbour dam for irrigation water supply. Removal of the Ice Harbour dam would render the existing irrigation system, which supplies water to 37,000 acres, useless. The alternative irrigation system proposal by the environmental lobby group was intended to blunt opposition to dam removal, voiced by agricultural communities.

According to the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), unless an alternative irrigation system is provided, dam removal would eliminate 2256 full-time and part-time jobs and US$72.2M in annual economic benefits. American Rivers proposed that an alternative irrigation system should be provided primarily at federal expense and urged the Clinton Administration to expand its study of salmon recovery options to address the social and economic impacts.

Another study, sponsored by the conservation group Trout Unlimited, has found that the Pacific Northwest region will actually benefit economically in the long-term as a result of dam removal. The study used and analysed data collected by the USACE in reaching its conclusions.

While the fate of four Snake river dams is still being debated, the next battle on the river is already shaping up. Idaho Power’s licence to operate three dams, collectively called the Hells Canyon complex, expires in 2005.

The three dams are more than 100 miles upstream from Lewiston on the Idaho/ Oregon border.

Although no serious challenge has been made to the Oxbow and Brownlee dams, one environmental group has already warned that it will demand major changes at Hells Canyon dam, the farthest downstream. The Hells Canyon dams do not have any fish ladders and allegedly block fish from hundreds of miles of upstream spawning habitat.