To be sure, [Bruce Babbitt]'s dream faces several obstacles, not the least of which is that the dams-like thousands of others across the country-were privately built and are privately owned. But federal licensing and regulation of the dams is in jeopardy because they do not comply with federal environmental standards. And the dams' owner is trying to negotiate their sale to the government.
The proposed destruction of the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams is sending waves of worry beyond the Olympic Peninsula. From the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, farmers, manufacturers, ranchers, miners and loggers have come to count on the dam-building Bureau of Reclamation to provide plentiful water and cheap hydroelectric power regardless of the toll on the environment or the taxpayer. If the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams can be ripped down in the interests of a few salmon, critics ask, where would it stop? And how many jobs in industries long dependent on the dams would be sacrificed?
Babbitt is quick to observe that the rest of the nation's dams will not fall like dominoes in the wake of the Elwha and Glines dams. Both dams offer a unique opportunity for river restoration, he said. Alternative sources of electricity are available, and the dams' owner is willing to sell if the price is right. Since one of the dams and virtually the entire river lie in the protected Olympic National Park, the prospects for the return of fish and the restoration of natural habitat is seen as good.