Water over the dam

October 16, 2014

Here’s a riddle: what has been around since WWII and is covered with wooden and metal spikes?

If you said the Buckley Dam on Washington’s White River, congratulations!

For those that got it wrong, here’s the deal: This dilapidated old dam once diverted water to a now closed hydropower facility, but today its main function is to collect salmon, steelhead, and bull trout so that they can be transported to spawning grounds above Buckley Dam and a larger dam a few miles upstream.  It’s obsolete, with wooden shards and exposed rebar for the fish to bash into and impale themselves on. It literally looks like something from A Game of Thrones.

For the past two years, Resource Media has been working with a coalition of Tribes, conservationists and community leaders to get the Army Corps of Engineers to fix the dam.

Now here’s another riddle: what do you do if the Corps has agreed to fix it – but won’t commit to a deadline?

It can be very hard to accelerate the grinding machinery of government. But the best lubricant: steady pressure from a diverse set of interests. In a federal budget-constrained environment, our challenge became to push the Buckley Dam to the top of the Corps’ to-do list. The Puyallup Tribe, Muckleshoot Tribe and American Rivers have worked tirelessly to spread the word on this issue, securing support from elected leaders at the local, state and federal level – as well as a growing mass of supporters.

Last week, the figurative dam broke. Under pressure from the lawsuit brought by American Rivers, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Corps released a plan for a full renovation of the dam and its fish passage by 2020. Not soon enough for us, but a victory nonetheless.

Local television even went so far as to call Buckley “Death Trap Dam.”

This is good news, but there is an element of Déjà vu to it. The Army Corps has promised these fixes before, but hasn’t delivered. So we must keep the pressure on. The coalition is keen to this fact, and will continue to poke, prod and encourage the vast bureaucratic machinery of the Corps to deliver on its promise – for the sake of the salmon, and the communities that depend on them.

Brendan McLaughlin