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Sen. Ericksen: Leave Snake River dams, get rid of Ballard Locks instead

The 1914 Salmon Bay Bridge, as it appears to hundreds of thousands of annual visitors to the Ballard Locks. (Feliks Banel)

Many different ideas have been proposed as solutions to the plight of the Southern Resident killer whales, but one state senator has a never-before-mentioned idea — get rid of the Ballard Locks.

The Southern Residents, which can only be found in the wild in the Puget Sound, are endangered due to a lack of Chinook salmon, their main food source. Three more whales have died this summer, bringing the total to 73.

One of the ideas proposed by lawmakers and environmentalists is to breach the Snake River dams, to allow salmon to migrate through the waterway and spawn more easily.

In one of its 36 official recommendations last year, Gov. Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force suggested that a potential breaching of the dams be studied. The Seattle City Council passed a resolution requesting that Idaho breach the Snake River dams.

Could breaching Snake River dams save Southern Resident orcas? 

But Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) sent out a press release with a few alternatives.

“I don’t think a lot of people in Seattle actually realize the amount of significant environmental impacts that have been done to create Seattle,” he said. “I think we should take a long, hard look at trying to fix some of those environmental issues that would help salmon stocks, that would help the orca whales, before the city of Seattle starts trying to tell people in the Tri-Cities or Idaho how to live their lives.”

A trip to the Museum of History and Industry in South Lake Union reveals, through interactive displays, some of the ways in which Seattle’s land was altered to accommodate growth. For example, when the Ballard Locks were put in, Lake Washington and Lake Union were lowered by 10 to 15 feet.

Ericksen suggests breaching the Ballard Locks and raising these lakes back to their 19th-century height.

“That’s a lot of salmon habitat that was lost due to lowering those lakes,” Ericksen said. “[Let’s] breach the Ballard Locks first, before we start talking about Eastern Washington, and restore Lake Union and Lake Washington to their natural state that was there before European settlers showed up here 168 years ago.”

This would also require filling in the Montlake Cut between the lakes.

He also suggests breaching the Skagit River dams in the North Cascades — Gorge, Diablo, and Ross — which provide about 20 percent of Seattle’s electricity through Seattle City Light.

“We should take a look at the environmental damage that has been caused by putting in those dams … There’s nothing there for economic purposes — there are no locks, so they aren’t used to transport wheat or hay or products,” he said. “They’re just simply there to produce electricity for the city of Seattle.”

Ericksen also proposes daylighting Ravenna Creek and perhaps restoring Denny Hill. If Boeing Field is flooded, he said, the economy will recover — and this would bring the added bonus of increased water sport and tourism opportunities, such as kayak tours over the former Boeing plant.

“I don’t even get into the Seattle seawall, which is the largest bulkhead in Washington state, which also has very negative impacts toward aquatic life,” he said.

Legislators who want to tell Eastern Washington and Idaho what to do should be willing to enact change at home first, according to Ericksen.

“If they truly care about the things they’re talking about, lead by example,” he said. “Let’s see them go and restore those things.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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