By all accounts, the sky is falling and we should all run for cover. That seems to be the message coming out of both sides of the argument over whether to maintain or reduce summer spills at Columbia and Snake river dams.

In a classic case of "Chicken Little," we are being asked to believe that Umatilla River salmon are about to meet their demise, or that the altruistic people who run electrical-power companies are truly worried about rising costs for consumers.

These polar extremes define positions taken by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Bonneville Power Administration, as both sides square off on the suggestion to reduce or eliminate summer spills at the dams.

Spills in the summer have been used to usher juvenile salmon down the rivers and to the Pacific Ocean. The tribes embrace summer spills due to their cultural connection with salmon, but power generators view the spills as money lost because water goes over the top of the dam instead of through the turbines.

Like most environmental issues that surface in the Northwest, few begin with calm dialogue based on the best available science.

The BPA concedes that some fish may be harmed if spills are reduced, but it contends the spills cost millions of dollars. The tribes say it's worth the cost of saving fish.

Meanwhile, both sides push estimates of fish loss to their own benefit. BPA says only about 24 fish will be protected by the spills, at a cost of $45 million. The tribes say as many as 140,000 fish will be killed. Ironically, both sides claim science led them to these numbers.

But whose science?

These inflammatory statements only confuse the issue.

What's needed is impartial science, which will lay out the cost of spills for Northwest rate payers and the impact on salmon. Armed with real facts, the public and the agencies involved can make informed decisions.

Until that happens, this issue will continue as a reenactment of the children's tale, as the BPA and the tribes share the role of Chicken Little.

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