One of my earliest childhood recollections is of standing close enough to Celilo Falls to feel the spray, watching Indian fishermen lean from their flimsy scaffolds, ropes cinched around their waists, and thrust huge dip nets on long poles into the frothing water. I was thrilled, but also a bit frightened. What if a rope broke? What if a platform collapsed?
It was a magical place! It remained one of my favorite destinations right up to the day in 1957 when the reservoir behind The Dalles Dam swallowed the falls, drowning 10,000 years of tradition, and stabbing the river in its heart --- literally, because the five miles of turbulence from Celilo to Long Narrows served as pump, regulator, and filter for the lower river, just as Kettle Falls did before Grand Coulee Dam sealed off the upper river and erased the fishery there.
I was fortunate to have a father who understood what Celilo Falls meant, not just to the Native Americans who fished and traded at the site for more years than anyone knows, but to the health and wellbeing of the Columbia River. But like most people, he accepted the havoc wrought by The Dalles Dam --- and the other dams, I suppose --- as the price society had to pay for "progress."
Times have changed. To a growing number of ecologically-informed people, so has the definition of progress. The Dalles Dam is an anachronism waiting for its power-generating replacement to render it obsolete. If I were in charge of things, I would speed that day.
Envision the dam as a museum. Envision a free-flowing Columbia River between Bonneville Dam and John Day Dam. Envision Celilo Falls restored to its former glory. Envision a vigorous Indian fishery in which all the traditional tribes participate, from as far away as British Columbia and the Great Plains.
Aha! say the skeptics. How do we replace the lost electricity?
Simple. Put progressives in charge of developing alternative sources --- something that should have started with a fury in the early 1970s when we had our first wake-up call. Give them free rein. Bring cutting-edge technology out into the open. Encourage innovation.
Ah, but how do we pay for it? Taxpayers won't stand still where billions of dollars are involved!
Oh really? Ignoring the hundreds of billions being wasted today, with hardly a peep from taxpayers, hark back to President John F. Kennedy and his vision of putting a man on the Moon in 10 years. People a hundred years from now will still marvel at that accomplishment. The same will be true of the breakthroughs in energy technology that are a few years out --- if we knuckle down.
I don't think it will take long, once we get rolling. Innovators are lurking in the shadows, like mammals waiting for the powerful, ferocious, meat-eating dinosaurs to drop. Once we wrest control of our energy future from the corporatists, a domino effect of eco-friendly events will sweep across --- but I digress.
Say you replace the electricity. How do you flush out the accumulation of metallic and radioactive poisons built up behind the dam since 1957?
How do porcupines make love? Very carefully. Here again, despite the billions of (yes) taxpayer dollars spent to solve the problems of waste removal, vitrification and storage at the Hanford Reservation, technology has lagged. But I don't see this obstacle as insurmountable. Put bright minds to the task --- keeping the bureaucracy to an absolute minimum --- and they'll find a way.
What about wild salmon? Won't they go extinct in the process?
They're very close to going extinct now. Removal of The Dalles Dam may well turn their decline around. I intend to ask this and a thousand other questions of people who study these things, but drawing on Native American sources, I believe the fish will return, once the river is cleansed and free-flowing, as they did after countless volcanic eruptions, landslides and floods. In my crystal ball, this won't take more than a few years -- the blink of an eye. If you tell me I'm wrong, back it up with proof.
Maybe one day, with dirt-cheap energy available to everyone, we'll see all the dams come down, and salmon running so thick you can walk across the river on their backs. For this, we will earn the undying gratitude of future generations.
Is the restoration of Celilo Falls worth pursuing? Talk it over with family and friends, everyone who matters in your life, and let me know what you think.
I'm putting together a loose organization --- no dues or other obligations. I'd like to add as many names as possible to the roster before I approach elected officials. Drop a line to "Restore Celilo Falls," PO Box 44, West Linn, OR 97068.